How Will The Metaverse Change Professional Sports?

On the court, the Brooklyn Nets are spiraling out of control. They are on an 11 game losing streak and quickly sliding down the Eastern Conference standings. Off the court, the team seems to be in a similar peril, however shipping out James Harden and bringing back Ben Simmons and a new supporting cast may bring the team new life.

One area the Nets are excelling in, however, is in the Metaverse. The Brooklyn Nets were the first pro team to integrate this new technology, which allows for an eerily realistic depiction of the game.  But with this great technological advancement comes many questions. The Brooklyn Nets previewed the metaverse integration on Jan. 15 during a home game against the Pelicans, and it was fantastic… maybe even too good. The camera angles and 3-D modeling allowed for the spectator to be directly involved with the action. In the clip, we watch the Brooklyn Nets look for the open shot in basically the perspective of the referee. You were quite literally on the court as the game was going on. If this can be used to experience the speed and physicality of the game, then the traditional viewing experience will transcend.

But here lies the questions. What is the ultimate purpose of this integration? At the metaverse’s best form, the angles and prospective given to someone at home may exceed the viewing experience of many of the spectators physically in the building. Will attending games be obsolete? Do we want the live experience to be a simulated one instead? Personally, during the pandemic I was itching to return to live action for the sake of being able to be in the moment, but what if the same experience can be essentially emulated from my couch? Undoubtedly if it were my only option I would do it, but something about this advancement in technology doesn’t sit well with me.

Perhaps I’m looking too deeply into this aspect. It’s not like live events will cease to exist… right? But for professional sports, and the NBA in particular, this metaverse angle makes a lot of sense the league has long explored ways to convert it’s popularity into capital. While it is one of the most popular leagues world-wide, it has had struggles with monetizing the product. Having a subscription to your favourite NBA team within the metaverse could be an easy way to secure funding from supporters.

Additionally, digitalizing the product will allow for a plethora of changes to the model as a whole. Advertisers will surely be able to integrate into the metaverse, perhaps even interactively, while the teams can sit back and collect revenue from the metaverse without significant insurance liabilities. Having you attend the game in person would be much more dangerous for them as supposed to you wearing the goggles in your living room.

But could there be a trickle-down effect of this integration? What if venues purposely reduce their capacities to make the in person viewing experience exclusive commodity, probably for the ultra wealthy, while the average consumer watches in the metaverse. After all, if all you need is the court to play 5v5 and nothing else, this would save a tremendous amount of overhead for these teams. Instead of collecting $100 from 10 thousand people, and paying on location staff to moderate the experience, they could charge 100 thousand people $10 with only server costs.  

Should professional sport leagues start the transition into the metaverse, it will be interesting to see what the new sport and entertainment model will be and how it will be received by the consumers. Additionally, how will the CBA be affected by an alternate viewing experience? If it proves to be a more profitable model to be direct to consumer, would ESPN and other large cable providers pull their investments into these leagues? Or would ESPN still be the prime distributor of sports in an app form? Since North American sports are based upon a revenue sharing model, it will be interesting to see if the model would evolve with the new adaptations to the viewing experience.

Regardless, the evolution of the metaverse should present brand new legal questions for our generation and new spaces for advertising and liability alike.

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