With the huge upsurge of the Metaverse and Web3, particularly in 2022, the emerging space appears set to become sports’ answer to the next level of fan engagement.
Max Proctor, Managing Director at Doppelgänger, spoke to Insider Sport about his experiences of implementing these strategies to put fans quite literally ‘at the heart of the action’.
From starting off his career in advertising, where he worked on notable brands such as Pepsi and the NFL, Proctor emphasised that ’the projects I loved working on the most were the ones that revolved around sport’.
Therefore, after completing the jump into sports, he created Doppelgänger – a creative agency helping brands navigate the ever evolving worlds of the metaverse and Web3.
Insider Sport asked Proctor what impact the Metaverse has on the traditional sports broadcasting/streaming model, and the developments he expects to see in this area further down the road.
“Other than the ability to pause/rewind, the format of live sports broadcasting hasn’t significantly changed since its inception back in the early 20th century,” he responded. “With the emerging technology of volumetric 3D and AI Motion capture we will be able to recreate live sports in 3D.
“That means non-stadium-going-fans will be able to position themselves wherever they please within the action in real time: courtside, centre circle, wicket keeper, wherever.”
The company has already done this to a small extent in FIFA World on Roblox, where goals from the tournament have been re-staged using the platform’s avatars and fans can put themselves (or their avatars at least) in “the thick of the action”.
There has been some test executions already with the likes of Brooklyn Nets, which Proctor asserted ‘is only going to become more common’.
Furthermore, the MD highlighted a distinction between the metaverse and Web3. “For me, the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet,” he explained. “It’s the internet rendered in 3D, shared by many people in real-time. It doesn’t have to be Web3. Roblox for example isn’t a Web3 platform.
“Web3 is the notion of a decentralised internet made possible through the use of blockchain technology. Whereas Web2 saw us all handing over our data to the big tech giants, Facebook, Google etc. Web3 gives people the chance to reclaim ownership of their own data and assets.
“I think both the metaverse and web3 will certainly represent the future of fan engagement because it’s giving fans brand new ways to engage with the sport.”
Giving the example of the European Super League, Proctor noted the need for top-tier football clubs to strengthen fan engagement, but described the breakaway league as ‘floored’.
“If you take Manchester United as an example, 50,000 people at Old Trafford over the weekend, but there’s 50 or 100 million watching it around the world,” he said.
“Most of those people will never have the chance to visit England, let alone the stadium. So how can technology enable ways for them to get closer to the action?
“Doing stuff like recreating Old Trafford as a digital twin where people can explore the stadium and watch the game as it happens around them in 3D, I think stuff like that will undoubtedly drive fan engagement in the future.
“In terms of Web3, the philosophy of owning your own digital data should allow for more direct relationships between the rights holders and fans. You can see how demonstrating ownership of certain items can enable exclusive access and content being granted. But to be honest, there haven’t been many super compelling use cases so far.”
Prior to Doppelgänger, Proctor was a client at Wimbledon where he helped to enter and leverage tennis into the Metaverse. In 2021, the company was the first UK sports organisation to launch its own NFT collection – with Andy Murray.
The club also produced virtual worlds; The Virtual Hill and on Roblox with a metaverse platform called WimbleWorld.
“Most sports brands have an ageing fan base,” Proctor explained. “It’s difficult to convince youngsters who have been brought up on a diet of short form content and gaming, to sit down and watch a five-hour epic tennis match. So for Wimbledon we were always looking at ways we could engage those younger audiences.
“One way in which we did that was building an experience on Roblox – the biggest metaverse platform by far and one which skews much younger than our core audience. Another way was launching an NFT strategy that enabled us to tap into a niche audience of Web3 enthusiasts who otherwise would probably have no reason to engage with our brand.”
Delving into the main challenges Doppelgänger faces when bridging the gap between sports and the Metaverse, Proctor asserted that the main issue is the splintering of IP and splintering of rights.
He continued: “When you engage with a sports league, for example, you need to get the league’s agreement of course. But you also need the clubs’ agreement, the athlete’s agreement. Sometimes even the venue’s agreement to use all of their likenesses. It can be tricky to align all of these stakeholders who might each think that they are the most important piece of the collective puzzle.
“Similarly the media rights are often splintered in sport. Someone holds broadcast rights, someone else digital, someone else gaming etc. The metaverse executions that we propose can often span these categories so we need buy-in from all parties.
“The way we do this is by convincing all stakeholders of the collective benefit of reaching these new audiences. Attracting new audiences means the overall value of the brand rises which should in turn benefit everyone.”
Additionally, the Director also emphasised that there is a ‘tonne of opportunities’ for betting companies to interact with the sports scene via the metaverse.
“The biggest opportunities in my mind are for the betting companies to build their own bespoke metaverse products which will allow them much greater control of the experience as many of the existing platforms don’t allow gambling,” he said.
“I think Augmented Reality is also a big opportunity for the betting industry. Apple and Google will be releasing AR glasses over the next 18 months.
“You can imagine sports fans watching the action play out in front of them and being served unique insights via AR that give them the confidence to make a bet on the event. Firms could also serve live odds and promos in real time via the wearables.”