The Metaverse is currently the marketing industry’s preferred dream repository, as brands and their agencies continue to hope that it will bring transformational possibilities across industries. For The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Hannah Thompson, Group Media Director at Tug, tells us that the sport is no different: the hopes for major transformation are real and backed by some genuinely exciting developments. But smart brands will proceed gradually.
Sitting in your living room to watch football on a virtual television screen is the very definition of “meta”. It also looks more and more like the future of sports listening. The metaverse buzz goes beyond hype, with sports activations predicting lucrative possibilities for broadcasters, streaming platforms and brands.
Digitized events such as the Roblox Lil Nas X concert have sparked tremendous excitement among sports teams and clubs around the world. This year alone, we saw the Atlanta Braves recruit Epic Games to virtually recreate the Truist Park stadium; Manchester City unveil similar plans for Etihad football grounds; and AC Milan are testing immersive streaming. Combined with the already growing popularity of esports, the potential for greater engagement among online fanbases is growing rapidly. But how should brands tap into it?
Metaverse Sports x: what opportunity for the brand? / Martin Sanchez on Unsplash
As the sport makes its grand entrance into the metaverse, getting major wins early on will require some smart play. Brands need to understand the likely evolutions of existing sponsorship, in-game advertising, and collaborative approaches, and be prepared to strike strategically.
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Sponsorship and Red Bull: It’s all about value
When you think of sports sponsorships, one brand comes to mind: Red Bull. Since its first partnership with a player in 1989, the energy drink giant has become a big name in Formula 1 (including the Red Bull Racing team) in a range of sports from motocross to tennis. He also took the lead in esports, sponsoring Halo player David ‘Walshy’ Walsh in the mid-2000s and now working with outfits such as Dota 2’s OG.
Red Bull’s status as a mega-sponsor is not limited to its prolific presence. As well as equipping teams with branded items, Red Bull brings something different by integrating into every scene. With esports, this means hosting tournaments, practices and live streams from the Red Bull Gaming Sphere, and hosting events such as Red Bull Kumite.
That’s the lesson for brands hoping to drive fan engagement in the virtual realm: to capture hearts and minds, deliver truly valuable experiences.
For starters, setting up virtual matches gives brands the ability to be the facilitators of shared sporting moments, creating strong associations between their brand and highly-rated teams. With recent advances in technology, it is also increasingly possible to provide value-added extras, such as multi-view cameras that allow fans to move around sports fields and courts, and personal sports centers . See, for example, the “fan caves” in SportsIcon’s Sports Metaverse, where users can watch games with friends and enjoy virtual player interactions.
But don’t overlook the value of personalized promotional messages. Among the best examples of a smooth virtual transition is programmatic perimeter advertising. Powered by Augmented Reality (AR), this approach is already being used in live sports to instantly switch advertising overlays for billboards or billboards in stadiums based on viewer location, weather conditions and action in real time. As sports streams move to new virtual homes, such targeting has the ability to help brands ensure greater relevance and deeper fan resonance.
Clever brand placement
Sponsored offers are not the only way for brands to gain greater visibility with the sports public. As the widespread adoption of games and esports has grown, more and more opportunities have emerged for in-app advertising and brand collaborations in virtual environments.
The main example of native in-game advertising is Fifa’s decision to launch its own programmatic auction platform, which allows a range of buyers to access in-game advertising space. , the growing commercial interest has not gone unnoticed on esports platforms. The likes of Fortnite and Roblox have seized on demand for reach on their large and passionate user bases. Fortnite introduced a slew of limited collections, branded items and product experiences from Nike, Ferrari, Balenciaga and, most recently, Timberland.
Often described as mini-metaverses or islands, esports platforms set the model for interactive and immersive branded spaces within their walls. In the future, we can expect further developments to remove these barriers and improve accessibility. Once users can travel through virtual worlds seamlessly, small and medium brands will have more room to invest in campaigns and virtual products that will give them greater traction.
For now, however, efforts are generally focused on raising awareness in the upper funnel for a limited time; and come from companies with already large footprints and budgets. Brands will need clever strategies, using activations to complement cross-channel promotions, instead of stand-alone efforts. For example, brands can direct spending primarily towards linear TV and live sports streams where they can capture the most eyeballs, with unique virtual experiences used to amplify messages and give products virtual life.
As some metaverse dreams come true, there are high hopes for benefits for sports leaders, platforms, and brands. Thoughtful implementation is vital. Keeping a close eye on early opportunities and maximizing user value will be key, as will smart applications at the right time to improve impact. Brands need to keep a cool head and focus on carefully calculated short-term steps before diving in.
Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay at the top of their game.