It was the shoes that put me in my place. As I queued up for SportsPro Live camp at The Oval in April, I wiped down my fellow rep’s shoes and realized that my traditional black leather boots referred to me as the dinosaur that I am.
If the older person in the conference is not literally, then also mentally. Reader, as upset as I was, I stepped out of my comfort zone in all things metaversic to frame your future engagement with the sport.
It was easy to fill my day on familiar ground, absorbing the lessons in developing women’s football, hosting major events and the latest digital marketing trends. But the mermaid invited me to VR rocks. And not just me, because the sessions about the metaverse and the wonders of Web 3.0 were complete.
Perhaps I was relieved to see an old man in a suit, who was necessarily the least familiar in the new age, frequently asked me during the breaks between sessions if I still understood. I felt tangible relief when I said no – they weren’t alone! But coming from The Oval, I think I now “get” the technology (not how it works of course, but what it does). I just don’t get how crazy the current sport is about this.
Most enlightening was the joint presentation by LaLiga, the top division of Spanish football, and their metaverse partners, GreenPark Sports. The plan is for a digital world beyond just physical reflection, a world in which fans interact online during LaLiga matches – having a dual screen – competing against each other to predict the flow and ebb of the game.
Welcome to the virtual world of sports at GreenPark – the first mobile stadium for sports fans. It’s time to get ready for your favorite team and beat your opponents in epic battles to win fans. Now you can prove, once and for all, that you are the most valuable fan. The game started.
GreenPark . site
Their target markets are gamers and collectors, two tribes that are attracted by the lure of virtual prizes that they can bid in the metaverse. How to monetize these types of “dungeons and dragons”? One example cited is participating in a real LaLiga match “unlocking” a virtual asset that cannot be won in any other way. But it’s hard to see that this is a big pile of bitcoins or the euro. It is also hard to think of competition from the global esports giants who will undoubtedly dominate the virtual reality (VR) gaming market.
Which is what makes Wolverhampton Wanderers’ strategy so interesting. Russell Jones, Head of Marketing and Business Growth at Wolverhampton, reiterated the eighth-placed team in the Premier League’s ambition to be the ‘ultimate contender’ with the ethos of ‘We dare to be different’. He tried to expand his brand into the entertainment world, by launching a record company and a high-end fashion line targeting the Chinese market (the club’s owners’ country, Fosun International).
The English Premier League club wolves have branched out into areas such as fashion and gaming
None of these brand extensions made my heart beat when I heard them explain. But I’m not looking for a pair of black and gold steps. However, Wolves Esports is another matter. Ten professional game teams have been created across a range of major title formats. They’ve racked up 20 million followers in China, and that’s helped them recruit the best players (check out King Pro League star Captain Fly – just swipe it…). Needless to say, they play with gold and black wolves-emblem kits.
Intersection with a soccer team is more fragile than LaLiga creating its own virtual world, but I can imagine real money being generated, effectively, by licensing the Wolves brand into major esports. Provided, of course, that sufficient financial strength is allocated to both sides of the empire – and neither is disappointed by performance on the field or in the other arena.
Fosun International has a market capitalization on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange of approximately 7 billion pounds ($8.6 billion). For all of wolves’ broad ambitions, it seems unlikely that his kin will be able to spare them the means to get him past his “contender” status, but there is enough in his role model to suggest he will be a source of turmoil over the next few years.
Compare Fosun’s valuation – of which the football club is a small part – to that of Chelsea. The media recently published a comment from Todd Boehle, the head of the consortium that won a 4.25 billion pound ($5.2 billion) bid for the club, which he made in an interview with Bloomberg a few years ago.
When I was growing up, we had a Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, but I certainly didn’t know Man United, I didn’t know Chelsea, I didn’t know Tottenham. Kids these days are very aware of what is best and the English Premier League is the best. I still think there is a global opportunity for the big clubs.
By my estimation, Boehly, 46, was a teenager when Pac-Man and Donkey Kong took off, and it was pretty impressive. If its goal is today’s impressionable youth with a parallel virtual presence stretching before them, mixed with electronic games, the evaluation given to the Chelsea brand begins to feel a little less crazy.
Buckle up next for your kids or grandchildren (remove them based on your age) who chase you in the future to get fresh skin from their favorite team, assuming of course you’ve already shelled out their VR goggles and any other necessary items. No more Panini stickers but their digital equivalent, not just non-replaceable or common tokens, but customizable tokens to improve their status and self-esteem in the metaverse.
Whether you can convince them then to venture through wind and rain to join you in a real game in the physical world is up to you and your ability to sell the attractions of heritage sport.
Ed Warner chairs the official charitable foundation of GB Wheelchair Rugby and Crystal Palace FC, and the Palace for Life Foundation. He presided over UK athletics for a decade up to 2017, as well as the 2017 London World Championships in Athletics and the World Para Athletics Championships. He writes about the sports business at sportinc.substack.com.