How can smart technology bring more value to fans, brands, and rights holders?
One certainty with technology is that it will continue to get smarter. So smart in fact that a third iteration of the World Wide Web – Web 3.0 – was declared with the incorporation of decentralization, blockchain technologies, and token-based economies. This technological tide is not turning and is fast enveloping the sport industry.
For the majority of fans however the intricacies of these complex technologies will remain a mystery. This is why we assembled a panel of experts to help us understand how these smart technologies can be tested, adapted, and utilized to enhance the fan experience.
The panel – chaired by Ryan Skeggs, our Managing Director of Digital and Data – included Amanpreet Singh – Global Media Manager, Partnerships & Branded Content, Unilever – James Rothwell – Binance/TikTok/Netflix – Lucy Mills – Co-Founder, READY – and Rich Calacci – Chief Revenue Officer, Overtime.
PUTTING THE FANS FIRST
Common consent among the panel was that whatever the innovation, the key driver must be a service to the fans. James Rothwell highlighted three critical facets that a positive brand partnership can unlock. “The first is access – better content, more context and information, and more opportunities to engage. The second is ownership – how do you make fans feel a part of the ecosystem? Finally, community – fans, athletes, teams, and brands coming together as equals.”
Community and ownership are part of the identity of Lewes Football Club. The not-for-profit club is owned by 2,500 fans across 57 different countries. This model of sole ownership by the fans demands total transparency in how it is run, something which Lucy Mills – one of the owners and a nominated board member – believes is challenging football’s status quo.
“There is a shared dissatisfaction at the system. There are four billion football fans worldwide, yet a minority make all the decisions, skew the investments in favor of financial profit, and do not view the product as a source of public good. I feel hopeful however that brands can help flip this trend through blockchain-powered technologies, developing them according to fans’ needs and not for short term revenue gain. Like Lewes FC, creating more decentralized and democratic stakeholder experiences.”
According to Amanpreet Singh these experiences – enabled by NFTs, token-based technologies, and blockchain – offer brands a chance to “move from ‘storytelling’ to ‘story living,’ ensuring fans are able to share, shape, and live the story.”
WOMEN’S SPORT AND WEB 3.0
Lucy Mills co-founded READY because she understood that women’s sport was a significant opportunity for brands who were serious about inclusivity, and curious about maximizing the potential of innovation, technology, and Web 3.0.
“Top end tech is male dominated, however women’s sport – because of the inherent hustle, creativity, and dynamism required to overcome systemic inequality – is well positioned for the next era of blockchain-powered innovation. It is community-minded, populated by loyal and digitally savvy fans, and there is a real desire for access.” To overcome the financial barrier to entry – with women’s sport less able to take risks on new technology – she implored brands to consider alternate and reduced payment arrangements.
MASS MARKET THINKING
It is opportunity rather than scale that differentiates Web 3.0 from 2.0, according to Rich Calacci. “The lions share of audience will remain with Web 2.0 – with mobile literacy enabling the remarkable growth of platforms such as TikTok and BeReal – however the growth opportunity in Web 3.0 is a commercial one. Opportunities such as the integration of NFTs.”
It may not be on TikTok levels, but Amanpreet Singh – a former professional gamer – explained how gamification and personalization had achieved mass market appeal among Web 3.0 users for Unilever’s hair care brand Sundial. “We gave gamers the opportunity to create five different hairstyles for their avatar, a concept which shared the brand message but did so in a fun and engaging way. It drew 40 million game plays in five months, mass market appeal rarely seen in traditional Web 3.0 platforms.”
This desire to achieve scale, and enhance the fan experience, is shared by Overtime who forged an unlikely partnership with YouTube influencer group AMP. Rich Calacci explained, “we made AMP side-line commentators on basketball because they talk in a vernacular, tone, and pace that resonates with its fans.” It was part of a wider strategy to take television viewing from a passive to a passionate experience, which also included the introduction of the ‘vibe cam’ where players and referees are interviewed in real-time.
VALUING THE PROPOSITION
Each of the successful technologies we heard about had one feature in common and that was that they were fan-centric. James Rothwell closed the session with some thoughts on what can be learnt from Web 3.0. “While it should be separated by its functionality – blockchain, cryptocurrency, and inter-operability – I think it is its values which set it apart, and which I urge Web 2.0 to adopt – transparency, community, and shared ownership.”
Watch the full discussion here.