Modern Marketing Social Media Sports Marketing

How web3 will transform sport's digital communities

By Lewis Wiltshire | Chief Executive Officer, Seven League

September 26, 2022 | 7 min read

Assessing the digital landscape and what community means to fans, former BBC sport editor (and now chief exec at digital sports consultancy Seven League) Lewis Wiltshire weighs in on how web3 and the metaverse are set to kick off a revolution in the sports industry.

Orange football boots on gray astroturf

Web3 will revolutionize how fans experience and interact with sport / Fachry Zella Devandra via Unsplash

The future of digital usually hides in plain sight. Open Facebook and you’ll see Facebook groups. Post to Instagram and the app will ask if you want to share with close friends. Snapchat has private stories. As of last month, we have Twitter circles.

On a basic level, all of those give users the ability to engage with a select group of people with whom they feel most comfortable. On a macro level, we’re looking at a pivot toward privacy, and a return to communities.

Sign of the times

The first era of the internet was one-to-many publishing. It was dominated by internet service providers who gave us access to publisher websites, where our role was to consume, not participate. A gold rush of innovation in the mid-00s, known as web2, changed all that. Facebook was created in 2004, quickly followed by YouTube, Twitter, the iPhone and the Kindle. We had personalization and participation. It was clear that web2 was different to what had gone before.

Many of those services are still dominant today, but they’re changing. Enter web3, and suddenly terms like metaverse, blockchain and NFTs are now part of everyday marketing conversations. Whether you think NFTs are the future or a scam (there are plenty of people in both camps), we can agree that the emergence of those technologies indicate the transition from one era to another.

What the metaverse means for sport

Sport is one of the biggest global consumer interest industries and, as a result, is uniquely placed to capitalize on the return to communities that comes with the web3 era.

In Seven League’s 2018 annual trends report, we said there would be a ‘re-emergence of communities built around passion and interest points rather than colleagues, friends and family, and it’s now starting to materialize through sport.

NBA Top Shot, one of the first times many in the sports industry had heard of NFTs, was an early indicator that we were heading toward something new. A wave of sport-related NFTs followed, not all of which could boast the very high quality of the NBA Top Shot experience. But try to ignore the low-quality versions; NBA Top Shot and other premium NFT experiences still provide a glimpse of what’s to come.

Sports rightsholders and brands will continue to put technologies like blockchain at the heart of communities. It’s likely that NFTs will evolve to become our unique identifier in online spaces and used to buy tickets and experiences within sports. The metaverse as Zuckerberg imagines it doesn’t exist yet, but when it does, there will be opportunities to buy tickets to watch games in those environments, probably via the blockchain.

Sooner or later, one of the major global leagues will be the first to add metaverse broadcasts into its package of rights. For example, Premier League clubs now have truly global fanbases and most fans will never experience the stadium. So, imagine if fans in China could buy tickets to experience games in a 3D environment as if they were really there.

An opportunity for reinvention

When Facebook created new parent company Meta, it was a clear indication the organization wanted to reinvent itself.

Meanwhile, TikTok’s rise has been so breath-taking over the past five years that it is now dictating product strategy for most of its biggest rivals. TikTok is closer to a streaming platform than a social network. Its wild popularity is down to the power of its algorithm, detecting what content the user likes and showing them more of it. It rewards creative content, humor, and innovation. As that's happening, newcomer BeReal is rewarding people for being their authentic selves in one post per day, to select friends only.

We have a generation of internet users who grew up with smartphones in their hand, who know exactly when they’re being sold to and expect protection from intrusive ads. They want to interact with people they actually know around shared interests. Goodbye status updates, public timelines, and talking to strangers online; hello streaming, communities, privacy, and transparency.

Fans will lead the sport evolution

Web2 is nearing its end game. The evolution of the internet will force all other streaming and social media platforms to evolve their products, and it will all be in the direction of engaged communities, using web3 tools.

Ultimately, for sport, this is going to manifest most clearly in the way fans experience it and engage with their teams in the future. Sport, in principle, is fan-led. The very nature of the sport fan is forged in community. So, as ever, I believe our sport leagues, teams and federations are going to be the key players driving the new web3 era forward.

Lewis Wiltshire is chief executive officer at Seven League, IMG's digital sports agency.

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