Sports in the Metaverse
We have seen some notable examples of sports teams, leagues, and media groups jumping into the Metaverse over the last two years. I wanted to dig deeper on this topic, so I had calls with friends at an established sports league, a startup league, a major media company, and an NFL team. All are checking out opportunities in the Metaverse, but only some have taken the plunge. Here’s what I learned.
Most major sports properties are thinking about Fortnite and Roblox as a place to find new young fans. Fortnite has been aggressive at bringing team gear into their game. Back in 2018, the game hit new heights in culture when Drake, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ninja and Travis Scott livestreamed playing Fortnite. In November 2018, the game integrated NFL jerseys into the game as playable skins. In 2021, Fortnite added NBA jerseys and also 20+ global soccer team gear. Last week, Fortnite added Patrick Mahomes as a playable character, which he promoted with his new teammate JuJu.
Roblox is different from Fortnite in that anyone can build minigames in their universe. There is a huge variety of sports options on Roblox. You can play football, volleyball, basketball, hockey, dodgeball, and pretty much any other sport you like. Major sports teams and leagues are leaning into this open ecosystem to get in front of a tween audience. NASCAR has worked with Roblox for over two years, and you can play their driving game Jailbreak in the Next Gen race cars. The NFL launched a collab around the past Super Bowl on Roblox. LeBron helped establish NIKELAND on the platform.
All four of the sports organization I spoke with have been approached by or are in discussions with Roblox and Fortnite. With 50MM and 30MM daily active users respectively, these lighter Metaverse games are too big to ignore. Are either of these truly “Metaverse” products? That is up to your definition of Metaverse. However, the sports leagues are getting involved here, and I expect this to continue.
Most of the people I spoke with have heard from Meta (Facebook) about their Horizon Worlds product. This is a more obvious Metaverse product in that users access it through their Quest VR headset. Earlier this year, it was reported that Horizon Worlds had 300K users, so just a fraction of the larger games previously discussed, but still a solid number. My contacts are skeptical of committing to Horizon Worlds right now. They appear to prefer to see how the user count builds on this one.
We have seen several startups looking to bring big time sports into the Metaverse. One great one to check out is our portfolio company GreenPark Sports. Launched by a powerhouse team including founders of YouTube and Zappos, GreenPark’s mobile phone app allows users to explore lands from their partners — NBA, MLS, LaLiga, and esports leader Legends Championship Series. Once in the game, you can rep your favorite team with licensed skins, play minigames, and more. GreenPark has shown that it is possible to ink deals with major properties for new platforms. StatusPro is bringing an NFL simulation game to VR later this month with Lamar Jackson as the face of the game. There are two basketball games being launched in the coming months in VR — Blacktop Hoops VR and Gym Class VR. Neither have deals with the NBA, but both will have former hoopers involved. More sports are sure to come in virtual reality.
Several other startups are building their own sports Metaverse worlds. You can check out the Sports Metaverse from SportsIcon, another one of our portfolio companies. In their world, you can buy digital land and hang out in your own fan cave. You can also play a minigame with UFC champ Amanda Nunes. SportsIcon’s world is a PC game built using avatars from Ready Player Me, who just raised $56MM to build out developer tools for Metaverse creators. Another one to watch in this space is Stadium Live, who has launched a mobile phone app Metaverse. Stadium Live just closed a $10MM funding round to grow their universe.
Some of the sports execs I spoke with have considered building out their own independent virtual worlds. The big benefit of this is controlling the product and experience so that an organization can make it special for their own fans. The Atlanta Braves launched a digital twin of their Truist Stadium back in the spring, but I don’t believe this is still live for fans now. European soccer giants Manchester City and Real Madrid have also announced virtual stadiums for their fans.
The Braves partnered with a development firm called SURREAL Events on this project, in a new category called Metaverse as a Service (“MaaS”). There are several other companies offer this solution to sports teams, leagues, and media companies. SportsIcon recently opened this service following their successful Sports Metaverse launch, and they are deep in discussions with potential partners now.
If you are a sports executive exploring the Metaverse, I’d love to talk and share intelligence. This space is moving fast, and I expect lots of fun experiences over the coming years.
That’s all for today. Please follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates.
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