The business model of professional football clubs has been put to the test over the past years. Escalating salaries combined with empty stadiums due to COVID-19 have shown how fragile the business model can be and how clubs need to diversify revenue streams.
Opportunities to grow with traditional revenue streams are slowing. Digital ecosystems such as a "Fan Metaverse" will play a crucial role in ensuring future revenue for leading football clubs.
In the past sports leagues across the world have seen a decline in younger fans. For this trend to be reversed, clubs have to align themselves with a younger audience. This audience is a digital native and wants to engage with football on the platforms they use. The younger Gen Z audience will be some of the fastest to adopt new technology such as the metaverse and football clubs will need to keep up.
We have already seen some implications for the impact that the metaverse can have on the football fan experience. From a spectator standpoint, we have already seen that Serie A has broadcast in the metaverse. On May 21st 2022, AC Milan broadcasted their game against Fiorentina into the metaverse.
The metaverse location was an online pub where AC Milan fans came together from all over Italy (and the world) to watch their club fight for their first Italian title in 11 years.
It was not only Italian fans that attended. Savvy marketers enticed over 10,000 users from the Middle East and North America by issuing them with free digital tokens to access the pub and spend on merchandise such as Milan scarves and shirts.
Generating engagement and generating income go hand in hand for football clubs. Improving user-experience and launching initiatives such as fan tokens can boost engagement. They can also help key partners and sponsors to connect with your fan community.
Despite the great potential for the metaverse to engage younger fans and improve the modern football fan experience, the biggest hurdle clubs face when entering the metaverse market is collecting and leveraging fan data.
Direct-to-consumer (D2C) technologies enhance the immersive experiences that fans crave. More fans than ever want to own their own data-based digital assets, for example, non-fungible tokens (NFT).
However, for clubs to be able to provide these experiences and products for their fans they need to embrace digital transformation. Clubs face the issue of getting buy-in from executives who view trends like the metaverse as another passing fad. But we will quickly see that the early adopters come out in front as the metaverse becomes a long term trend.
Beyond AC Milan, we have seen numerous other clubs investing in the metaverse for their fans. Buy-in from major clubs demonstrates the power the metaverse has and that it is an innovation worth leadership attention.
Man City has partnered with Sony to build ‘Etihad Stadium’ in the metaverse. This will be a digital replica of the team's famous home stadium and give fans the chance to experience a home game in VR.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit football clubs hard with the ban on live events. Having an alternative option to physical events or a move to an immersive hybrid model can allow clubs to cushion themselves against future events that may lead to stadium shut downs. Importantly, it also opens up esports fan engagement to new experiences and fans all over the world.
Barcelona FC is another club getting ready to dive into the metaverse experience. They have not provided specific details about the projects they will be undertaking, however, the club president Joan Laporta said that they intend to develop their own metaverse experience. NFT’s and other new business technologies are on the cards for Barcelona fans. The club hopes to use metaverse technology to increase fan engagement and dive into the world of esports.
Holograms are another aspect of the metaverse the club has mentioned they are looking into. This would give fans the chance to meet their favourite players even if they are on the other side of the globe.
Web 3.0-enabled metaverses are opening up the door for new fan engagement innovations for football clubs. From holograms that allow fans to meet their favourite players to VR stadiums and pubs that allow fans to connect with the club from any location. We are only scratching the surface with this new technology and over the coming years, we expect it will bring more new and creative ways to engage with fans.
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