Sports marketing

Playing the Long Game: Sports Marketing and the Metaverse

There is more to sport than what happens on the pitch. The way audiences choose to watch and interact – with their team of choice and other fans – is fragmenting. But as Gravity Road’s Dom Curran explains as part of our in-depth analysis of sports marketing, that just means brands have a greater opportunity to reach the audiences where they choose to spend their time online.

After months of uncertainty, the Olympic flame has finally reached Tokyo. But there will be no stadium crowds gathering under its benevolent glow. Due to the increasing pandemic levels in Japan, all feats of Faster, Higher, Stronger will unfortunately only be seen on our screens.

It’s a stark reminder to the sports marketing industry that blind faith in any “return to normal” is a myth. Sports properties – their sponsoring brands and media – are optimistic about a quick and doubled return to the status quo, believing that they can soon return to the traditional sports marketing tropes that have served them well over the past few decades.

But it’s not going to be that easy.

Not just because the road to high-attendance post-Covid events around the world still has a long way to go. Something more fundamental is also happening: the road itself takes an interesting detour.

In virtual worlds

The pandemic has accelerated the diversification of sports fans’ media habits at lightning speed, producing new behaviors that simply won’t be unlearned. The power of live sport is indisputable. But what it means to “live” becomes much more multilayered.

As sports marketing has become accustomed to a content-driven, digital-driven world, the metaverse is coming to shake things up again. I’m not here to define the metaverse – many have done it better than me – but for that, it’s a place of intersectionality between the real, virtual and social worlds. This immersive, networked, three-dimensional world is always active and limitless. And there is something else that never ends, that is limitless and that merges the real, virtual and social worlds: fandom.

Sports marketers must move at the speed of the fans. For the sports marketer with the right technology in their hands, the imagination in their head, and the deployment of 5G, the metaverse presents an opportunity that will unlock a whole new level of immersive engagement between sports brands and fandoms. sportsmen.

So what do sports marketers need to do to get ahead and where are we starting to see it already in play? Here are six metaverse trends that are paving the way for the future:

Experiences now happen in more than one world: Connecting a physical place to a virtual universe, in real time, is a huge opportunity that is already happening. Verizon’s much-vaunted Super Bowl tie-in with Fortnite is the stellar example to date, but also watch the music pushing the boundaries of connecting people to a virtual event with Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite racking up 45.8 million views across five shows. The Lil Nas X concert in Roblox also had 33 million total views on the performances.

Know your value in the metaverse: The rise of NFTs and cryptocurrencies introduced the concept of value independent of physical existence. The global market for virtual goods is expected to reach nearly $200 billion by 2025 and notable examples are already flying, such as Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot with over a million users or RTFKT Studios, which partners to digital artists, selling for $3.1 million. of NFT sneakers in about seven minutes.

Mix traditional technology and new technology: Next-generation entertainment experiences must combine content and immersive technology and invite co-creation with fans. The NFL’s tie-up with Nickelodeon saw broadcast and technology converge to create a (very unexpected) mass family moment in which you could “scramble” the end zone after touchdowns and even see SpongeBob SquarePants make an appearance. .

Game culture is culture: Gaming is a social space and now the dominant force in mainstream culture and central to entertainment experiences. From Gucci and Balenciaga launching fashion-specific items, to goal-oriented games such as the exceptionally powerful addition of EA Sports/Kiyan Prince on Fifa 21. It’s not about esports versus gaming, but culture and purpose.

netzero account to everybody: Sports experiences must have a clear positive impact on the climate and brands will be held responsible for their partners as much as the rights holders themselves. The Extreme E motorsport series literally delivers a believable net zero message, as do the new carbon negative built stadiums.

People-focused marketing can make or break you: We know the power rests with the phones in the hands of fans and it will soon be in their faces with next-gen smart glasses bringing the metaverse to life all around them. Rather than catch them, smart brands need to join them. Think about communities rather than audiences. Tech-driven fan communities are key to building (or breaking) a global sports brand. You’ll want to be on the safe side of that power – see the use of hyper-individual 1-2-1 avatar experiences using AI technology (like ‘Digital Deepak’ for athletes) v fan power bringing down the European Super League in 48 hours.

If you still care about a “digital first/content first/data first” sports strategy, you’re already behind. The metaverse is here and it’s here to stay. It could be the perfect playground for brands among the never-sleeping fandoms. It might be a long-term game strategy, but the sooner you cross the line and step onto the pitch, the better positioned you’ll be to engage the future of the fandom.

Dom Curran is head of sports at Gravity Road.

Check out The Drum’s Sports Marketing Hub to learn more about how the marketing industry can achieve long-term success through association with sports.