Football and Web 3.0 – where do we go from here?

I’ve been discussing the world of football and Web 3.0 recently with David Orman from Hatch-House, so we decided to put our thoughts together.

It’s a fairly long read, but we wanted to take a step back to look at how we got here, and where we might go next.

Cryptocurrencies, crypto platforms, NFT launches, fan tokens. 

Many millions of dollars have been piled into sport (especially in football) in the past year from these new categories, with sponsorship directors and agencies welcoming them with open arms. 

But with all of these new products and brands, it’s complicated. And it hasn’t been easy for those of us who work in the industry to get our heads around some of these concepts, let alone the average fan in the terraces. 

With the emergence of crypto and all things Web 3.0, investors are chasing the ‘digital-gold’ at the end of the proverbial rainbow. But with the crypto and NFT markets currently in a downward spiral, how do rights holders engage with the future opportunity while protecting both their commercial positions and reputations in the immediate and longer-term?

We see two key questions:

  1. Do sports fans understand these products and are they ready to engage with them in serious numbers? 
  2. How do rights holders innovate and explore the opportunities created by Web 3.0 while protecting their brand equity and relationships with fans? 

First, a bit of background

The breakout of the 2018 ICO market was led by communities of retail investors. Tech-savvy, digital nomads who came together to build, market and finance new cryptocurrency projects, developed on their Layer 3 blockchain protocol of choice. 

Back then, individuals who wanted to invest in ICOs had to try and make sense of how to move your FIAT (regular) currency from your private and secure bank account, into decentralised wallets accessed through web-browser plugins, like Metamask.

Everyone trying this for the first time seemed dumbfounded and many gave up altogether. Those who persevered had to hold their breath as money disappeared from their bank accounts only to reappear (after several nerve-rending minutes) on a public wallet address, visible to anyone with access to the internet. Usually minus extortionate ‘gas’ (commission) fees.

To solve this problem, along came a raft of beautifully designed Crypto Wallet Apps making access to the buying and selling of Cryptocurrencies far more simple than trading on complex Crypto Exchanges. And there were lots of them, all desperate to earn their credibility amongst nascent crypto communities. 

In flowed the retail investors as the crypto communities grew, eagerly followed by Silicon Valley Venture Capital firms providing startup companies like eToro, Coinbase and Robinhood with huge marketing war chests. Soon they were followed by the hedge funds and institutional money.

User adoption started to grow beyond the early adopter blockchain innovators and ‘libertarians’. The mainstream media started reporting on this surging price of Bitcoin, along with its occasional panic-inducing falls. Other coins came along, with even more wild fluctuations in their value. 

With all this noise, awareness and adoption of digital currencies grew at a pace. Wallets and Exchanges, with their engines running smoothly and with their KYC/AML checks now in place to appease the regulators, now started to fight for their right for market share and global dominance.

The race for awareness and credibility 

With the market maturing, as we’ve witnessed with many new tech sectors, these companies turned their attention and their marketing dollars towards global sponsorship opportunities – viewed as one of the most rapid and effective strategies for building brand awareness and credibility among mainstream audiences.

We witnessed the start of the Web 3.0 gold-rush, with many clubs (often cash-strapped and in need of fresh revenue streams on the back of Covid), leagues and even federations embracing crypto sponsorship deals, launching fan tokens and dabbling in NFT projects.

Below is a chart from Crytpimi.com showing some of the biggest crypto sponsorships deals announced in 2021:

No alt text provided for this image

Since then, Crypto.com became a sponsor of the FIFA World Cup for a reported $40m, Socios secured Lionel Messi’s services for $20m to be a global brand ambassador and Tezos struck a £20m deal with Manchester United, among other deals…

But then came the crypto crash. In this week’s news, companies like Crypto.com and Coinbase have announced hiring freezes or mass redundancies, with Coinbase warning of a ‘crypto winter’ to come. 

A new opportunity for football  

Notwithstanding the current situation in the crypto market, you can see a beautiful marriage of convenience between football and Web 3.0 businesses. Not only is this a lucrative new sponsorship category, it’s potentially a whole new way to connect with and monetise global fan bases (the “future fans” that were the motivation behind the doomed European Super League project). 

Web 3.0 technology, underpinned in some areas by the blockchain and offering limitless creativity, undeniably has the potential to lead to a whole new world of fan interaction and monetisation.

Take a club like Liverpool FC with c.430m ‘fans’ around the world and even with reported record revenues of £580m from last season, Web 3.0 presents multiple new potential revenue streams and opportunities which could significantly increase the club’s turnover. 

If we think back 10-15 years ago, rights owners were desperately searching for technology solutions to try and wrestle back ownership of their fan base away from the social media giants (they had allowed Facebook and Twitter to become the gatekeepers to accessing their own fans across the world). 

Are rights holders at risk of making the same mistakes through the short-term (but lucrative) partnerships they are currently signing with crypto platforms and NFT offerings? That’s a question for another post… 

Are fans ready for all this?

In the meantime, while sponsorship deals from this new category may have earned many a commercial director their end of season bonus, how effective have these projects been in converting football fans into NFT, fan token and crypto holders (or even HODLers?). 

The majority of sports fan tokens launched in the past year are trading below the launch price, and have had pretty underwhelming levels of fan engagement. And NFT drops have also struggled – even the mighty Liverpool (with one of the biggest global fan bases) recently managed to sell just 5% of their NFT collection, despite best efforts to explain and promote it to fans. 

What’s going on? Aren’t football fans meant to be some of the most passionate and loyal ‘consumers’ out there – ready to snap up almost anything with the club’s name attached? Are fans ready for all of this? Do they want it, or even understand it? What’s the commercial and reputational risk of getting it wrong? 

We decided to look into the data around football fans and Web 3.0 to see what’s really going on out there. And more importantly whether the research can give us some insight as to where the opportunity lies in this market in the next year or so.

Below we have summarised some of our findings…..

Cryptocurrency usage

Despite all the noise and the platforms making it much easier, general adoption of cryptocurrency is still low.

Only 16% of Americans have ever traded, invested in or transacted in crypto (Pew Research Center, November 2021) and globally, 11% of people own crypto (GWI, April 2022).  

At 14%, this figure is slightly higher among global football fans, which might be a result of all the football sponsorship activity, but could also be down to football fans having a general younger profile: crypto usage is driven mostly by the 25-34 age group. 

Awareness & understanding of NFTs

As of April 2022, despite the numerous football projects recently released, only 34% of football fans understand what NFTs are, with 25% still having never heard of the term.   

No alt text provided for this image

In the UK, understanding of what NFTs are is at just 26% of fans.

This lack of understanding inevitably translates into low levels of awareness about the potential features and benefits of NFTs. 9% of fans in the UK view NFTs as a way of owning digital assets and just 5% see them as an opportunity to be part of a community. 

On the other hand, 32% of global football fans view NFTs as an investment opportunity. This might have seen a few people get burned lately, thanks to prices tumbling across the board, as the Washington Post pointed out a couple of weeks ago. 

No alt text provided for this image

How likely are fans to buy NFTs?

Globally, 17% of football fans say that they purchase NFTs, with almost the same number buying cryptocurrency or fan tokens (both slightly ahead of the general population).

No alt text provided for this image

This is unsurprisingly driven mostly by younger fans, with 25-34 year olds being the most receptive age group, globally. 

There is little difference based on gender, with 18% of female football fans and 16% of male fans buying NFTs. These numbers flip around for crypto and fan tokens (18% of males, 16% of females). 

The propensity to buy NFTs is driven mostly by football fans in developing markets: 24% of fans in India, 23% in China, 19% in the Philippines and 18% in Thailand. 

By contrast, fans in the “traditional” European football markets are much less receptive to NFTs: Just 6% in Germany and 5% in the UK, France, Spain and Italy. 

In all cases, football fans are more receptive than the population as a whole, but there is clearly a lot of work to be done in many markets to explain, reassure and convince football fans about these projects. Whilst the data shows younger fans are the most prominent demographic, we must also consider that this age group are less experienced retail investors, investing smaller amounts in the current market.

Interest in the metaverse

Crypto currencies, tokens and NFTs are all, to some extent, wrapped up in the broader idea of the ‘metaverse’ and people spending increasing amounts of time and money in virtual worlds, where these digital assets will come into their own. 

And while many a Boomer or even Gen Z might scoff at the very idea, the data shows that younger generations are pretty keen on the idea (they already spend plenty of their time in virtual digital worlds – Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and others). 

No alt text provided for this image

It’s almost a perfect mirror-image, which tells us a lot about the direction of travel and why so many VCs and corporates are investing in the Web 3.0 space. 

So, where do we go from here?

There are many pitfalls to be avoided in this space, but (done properly) digital assets, NFTs, fan tokens and Web 3.0 in general do seem set to be an important aspect of fan engagement and revenue generation for rights holders in sport in the years to come. 

To get it right, here are a few things to think about:

  • Identify exactly what you are trying to achieve – is it fan engagement, community building, trying something out, or simply about revenue?
  • Research and understand levels of awareness and understanding of this space amongst your fans. It’s likely some of your fans are already way ahead of the curve and can help you on your way. Others will have no understanding at all. 
  • Develop an offering with genuine, long-term utility for the fan (getting beyond the idea of it all being about making a quick buck
  • Tokenomics modelling is essential and must be linked to long term marketing investment
  • Educate, communicate and engage properly with your fans 
  • Work closely with your existing sponsors and partners – there will be so much value in working together and sharing ideas and innovation opportunities
  • Make it genuinely fun and interesting for fans…we’re in the entertainment business after all

….

This article was jointly written by Eddie May (Overdog Marketing) and David Orman (Hatch-House). We are working in collaboration on a number of projects at this time, helping rights holders, broadcasters and brands in sport to navigate their way into the world of the metaverse and digital currencies. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.