Manchester City are seeking to be the first football club to truly embrace the power of the metaverse by constructing the world’s first virtual football stadium.
In a bid to engage with fans around the world and better monetise that relationship with a global audience, City are working with virtual reality experts at Sony to create a virtual Etihad in the metaverse that would allow fans to watch games through virtual reality, according to inews.
The report claims City have inked a three-year deal with Sony to develop the software with the goal being to fill the Etihad virtually and create another potentially lucrative revenue stream into the club, who became the first Premier League club to outstrip Manchester United for revenues when they posted their 2020/21 financial results last month that saw them generate £569.8m in revenues despite the impact of the pandemic and a season of fans being unable to attend games.
It is the latest move from City to add to their commercial portfolio and create new avenues to bring money into the club in a bid to try and create greater distance between themselves and the rest when it comes to financial power, leveraging their position as English football’s team to beat.
Finding ways to better monetise global fan bases is something that clubs have toiled with for some time.
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Liverpool have one of the sporting world’s most passionate, and large, global fan bases and the Reds have been seeking ways to try and use that to aid their own revenue generation and, in turn, aid their chances of investing in success on the field.
The Reds operate as one of European football’s most sustainable big clubs, with the Reds one of only two Premier League clubs to be in economic profit over the past five years, the other being struggling Burnley.
But with the club reliant on the financial health of the business to drive forward their ambitions on the pitch, what City are doing is something that will be on the radar of the Reds and, in time, commonplace among major football clubs.
“There’s always changing dynamics within the wider economy that mean that certain regions of the world or certain industries start to develop and create new opportunities,” former Liverpool commercial director Matt Scammell told the ECHO last year before his departure to Formula E.
“In my career there have been industries that have bubbled up out of nowhere that didn’t exist before. That is always going to happen, that is the world of technology enabling new propositions and that is always going to happen.”
Partnerships that exist in the background for FSG see them well positioned to try and make moves into the metaverse.
The investment from Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital Partners, which was concluded for $750m for 11 per cent of FSG last year, sees them partnered with a private equity firm that is at the forefront of investing in new technologies and new media, something that will play a bigger part as sport evolves in the coming years.
Then there is FSG and RedBird’s investment in FSG partners LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Spring Hill Entertainment business, a company that is also at the cutting edge of digital storytelling and a firm that will play an active role in shaping that for the Reds in years to come.
And, of course, there is the relationship with kit suppliers Nike, one that sees the Reds claim 20 per cent from the sale of Nike/LFC merchandise, both globally and virtually. And with Nike having made strides to enter the metaverse to sell merchandise, more possibilities lie ahead for Liverpool.
Nike have trademark applications that indicate they are planning to sell virtual branded items in the metaverse, through the likes of online video gaming worlds where billions are members.
A filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office was made in October last year.
The filing with the USPTO stated that Nike wishes to trademark “downloadable virtual goods, namely, computer programs featuring footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear, bags, sports bags, backpacks, sports equipment, art, toys and accessories for use online and in online virtual worlds.
“Retail store services featuring virtual goods, namely, footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear sports bags, backpacks, sports equipment, art, toys and accessories for use online; on-line retail store services featuring virtual merchandise, namely, footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear, bags, sports bags, backpacks, sports equipment, art, toys and accessories.
“Entertainment services, namely, providing on-line, non-downloadable virtual footwear, clothing, headwear, eyewear, bags, sports bags, backpacks, sports equipment, art, toys and accessories for use in virtual environments.”
The move opens up major potential for Nike, and indeed Liverpool, in virtual worlds through monetising the brand.
Scammell said last year: “They (Nike) are finding ways to engage with the global fanbase that we have never done before. If you look at our growth, a large portion of that with Nike is coming from non-EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) regions.
“I don’t want to speak in too much detail in an area that isn’t part of my remit but it feels like that will be an opportunity that Nike will be particularly strong in fulfilling the desires of fans in new markets.
“We are a global club, our fans are everywhere and they want Liverpool product in their hands.
“Having a brand like Nike involved that has that global distribution experience of marketing that product around the world will be enormously important for us as the partnership progresses.”
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In November, James, Carter and another FSG partner, Paul Wachter, all invested in the virtual reality space through a firm called Status Pro, a sports tech and gaming firm that combines player data and extended reality (XR), which includes augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), to create training and fan engagement products. Tennis player Naomi Osaka and rapper Drake have also invested in the firm.
The XR market is anticipated to be worth some £42bn in the next six years, and James, Carter and Wachter have been quick to seize on the opportunity, with the Nike links also in effect through the investments of clients Osaka and Drake.
StatusPro was founded last year by former NFL player Andrew Hawkins, who had previously been an employee of James and Carter at their SpringHill Entertainment company.
KB Partners, TitletownTech, Greycroft, Verizon Ventures, Haslam Sports Group, and SC Holdings have also invested, along with significant Leeds United stakeholders, 49ers Enterprises.
StatusPro, who currently have the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, the NFL Players Association and a clutch of NCAA collegiate teams as clients, all within the American football sphere, are set to use the capital raised to invest in advancing technology and making the move into other sports, with football potentially part of their next play.
With technology and sport continually seeking ways that it can be integrated and then monetised, the possibility of FSG seeking opportunities with firms that develop virtual reality software and artificial intelligence that could be used to provide a virtual Anfield experience for the legions of Reds fans around the globe who may never get the chance to experience it in person is one that is appealing.
With Manchester City having already fired the starting gun it may not be too long before Liverpool follow them into a multi-billion industry.