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Published on: Jan. 13, 2022, 1:19 p.m.
The Meta version of sport
  • In NIKELAND, a digital showroom allows you to outfit your NIKELAND avatar with special Nike products

By Mustafa Ghouse. The author is CEO, JSW Sports

Few of us had heard of the Metaverse at the start of 2021, but in January of 2022, it is now a buzzword. The Metaverse is not a single technology but it’s a network of immersive experiences being built on the blockchain. The metaverse today can be easily recognised as a new civilization solely being created online, access through which can be gained via smartphones (for a less immersive experience) and via headsets (for the complete metaverse experience).

Today, on the metaverse, your digital persona aka your digital avatar, can build a home, attend a Justin Bieber concert, dress yourself in your favoured brands and even complete a look with a pair of Nike-branded sneakers – all from the comfort of your home.

New spaces for established brands The metaverse is being built, and the largest sports organisations across the world are already making some bold moves to build and own space in the metaverse. One of the first moves was by Nike which announced NIKELAND in November 2021. Everything created in NIKELAND is inspired by Nike IRL (in-real-life) global headquarters. Fans on entry can play mini skills-based sports like tag, or jump on the trampoline. Fans can immerse themselves further by using their accelerators to make a long jump or complete & compete (with fellow digital avatars) in a speed run.

And, of course, in NIKELAND, a digital showroom allows you to outfit your NIKELAND avatar with special Nike products. All this metaverse experience for free. In December 2021, barely a month after its announcement of NIKELAND, Nike announced its acquisition of RTFKT, a company solely born in the metaverse that creates one-of-a-kind sneakers and digital artifacts. 

Adidas, on the other hand, made its entry into the metaverse through its first drop of NFTs in December 2021. The collection, ‘Into the Metaverse’ included 30,000 NFTs created in partnership with established and popular NFT creators and was sold out in a few hours, generating $23 million in revenue.

NFTs, our easiest entry point to the metaverse Deloitte predicts that by the end of 2022, NFT for sports will generate upwards of $2 billion in transactions and upto five million sports fans will have acquired an NFT sports collectible, such as a trading card, fan token, or digital ‘moment’. I see that prediction as a pessimistic view of the potential of NFTs in sport.

An NFT will very certainly gain much more in value, when the NFT is limited to a single ‘digital moment’ of the major event: the winning ace at a Grand Slam, the last goal at a final continental tournament – digital moments that cannot be recreated and that will only appreciate in value as the clock ticks. 

As I was writing this piece, the Australian Open announced the launch of their NFT Collection, the first for any Grand Slam. The NFT drop is a collection of 6,776 NFT art balls, each associated with a patch on the AO Court at the Melbourne Park. Each NFT that will be minted in the metaverse on the Monday before the start of the tournament will include match winning data from the particular patch of the court.

These NFTs, are the second announcement from the Australian Open management with regards to the metaverse; they also announced their virtual AO Open in Decentraland, where fans can access the Australian Open, complete challenges, view historic AO content and interact with players and other fans all without trying to get into Australia.

Closer home, cricket has been the first to jump on the NFT wagon. The ICC announced their first NFT drop of digital moments from the 2015 and 2019 World Cup while Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Jhulan Goswami, announced their personal NFT collections. 

Experience IRL sport in the metaverse Sporting experiences in the metaverse are not too far behind. Manchester City partnered with Sony to build a digital twin of their IRL stadium, Etihad in the metaverse. In the digital Etihad, fans across the globe can visit the Etihad and interact with each other, and if all goes as per plan, watch their favourite football club, like in an IRL stadium and interact with players. 

This ‘all-access’ for fans from across the globe is literally a dream come true for most sports teams for whom fan engagement is always at the centre of the conversation. 

The transition from IRL to Metaverse, will be smooth for the sports enthusiast .IRL sport has always had its digital counterpart. Amateur athletes and fitness enthusiasts today use wearable tracking devices to record their activities and to compete against trends or contemporaries in the virtual world. As the metaverse evolves, the avenues of participation will reduce the barrier of entry as people discover participation, opponents, and teammates.

The metaverse is eliciting extreme reactions, ranging from scepticism to wholesale enthusiasm, but the choice lies in the hands of the stakeholders – us. Whichever goalpost you stand at, the metaverse is likely here to stay, and it’s time to get onto the playing field.

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