The 2020 Major League Baseball regular season was drastically shortened, 60 games as opposed to the traditional 162. But even more drastic: all the games were played in venues where there were no fans in attendance. Many teams put cutout fan pictures in seats and piped in recorded crowd noise, but really there was no substitute for the real thing.
Maybe there still isn’t, but the world of professional sports is moving a lot closer to a realistic fan experience that doesn’t require actual attendance. This week, the Atlanta Braves announce that they have constructed a metaverse reproduction of Truist Park, apparently the most complete simulation of its kind in American sports.
The simulated park is the creation of the Atlanta-based virtual platform company SURREAL Events, and is built using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine technology. The project has the blessing of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Braves organization. “It’s exciting to create a new way for our fans to connect with our team and their favorite ballpark,” said Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves President & CEO, in a statement. “The digital version of Truist Park will offer limitless opportunities to create unique fan engagements in the metaverse and we are proud to be the first team to offer this immersive experience.”
What have been the most successful business uses of the metaverse?
One of the inspirations for Digital Truist Park was the innovative work that rapper and producer Travis Scott produced in the Fortnite metaverse, particularly the Astronomical performance inside the video game that was viewed by more than 45 million people.
“We started prototyping the stadium in summer 2021, and announced it late last year,” said Josh Rush, cofounder of SURREAL Events. Other large sports organizations are likely to follow suit. In February, the English Premier League team Manchester City announced a partnership with Sony to create a metaverse version of its Etihad Stadium.
How will sports metaverses make money?
A metaverse-based sports arena offers several obvious revenue sources, beginning with sponsorship. Just as large corporations are willing to pay millions and tens of millions of dollars for real-world stadium naming rights and billboards, presumably they will pay to place their logos inside digital parks. Total Major League Baseball sponsorship in 2021 amounted to $1.13 billion, according to the consulting group IEG.
Similarly, the Braves envision selling tickets to virtual attendees. Currently, the Braves metaverse does not allow virtual attendees to watch a live game. But simulated game play is already fairly sophisticated; since 2020 there has been a MLB virtual reality app available for Oculus Quest to watch live games, although it requires a pricey subscription to MLB.TV. A digital stadium allows for many opportunities that are hard or impossible for physical arenas to provide. For example, a large group of fans could “sit together” in the same section, even if it is largely sold out in the actual park. Pivotal moments in a game, such as a grand slam, could be transformed into nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and instantly sold and traded like baseball cards.
Merchandise sales are another promising revenue source. Video gamers and music fans have shown themselves willing to spend hefty sums on digital merchandise. A December 2020 Lil Nas X concert on Roblox, for example, generated millions of dollars in digital merchandise sales, according to a Roblox executive. A report from Grayscale estimates revenue from virtual gaming worlds was approximately $180 billion in 2020 and could grow to $400 billion in 2025.
The outlet’s revenue possibilities are not limited to sports, notes Greg Mize, the Braves’ vice president of marketing and innovation. “We can offer concerts, we can offer meet-and-greets,” he told the Observer.