Sport Industry

Opinion: Play Knowingly in the Next Age of the Internet


At the start of 2022, digital agency Seven League released its annual digital trends report, a look ahead at what’s happening in technology and what it means for sport. Here, Consulting Partner Charlie Beall gives us his take on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry in the next age of the internet.

The key message for anyone working in sport is that we’re standing at the edge of a new era for the internet, one in which immersive online experiences and new models of ownership open up a wealth of opportunity. To take advantage of this opportunity, our advice for sport is to ‘play knowingly’.

After more than a decade in which large platforms have exercised fierce control over user data, content reach and distribution, there is a new hope that sport can wrestle back a direct relationship with its audience.

With emerging developments in and around web3 and huge investments in metaverse environments, sports will be able to experiment with new ways to engage their fans and build ancillary revenue streams.

This coincides with what we term the ‘Third Age of Sport’, an age in which digital disruption is restructuring how sports are being enjoyed, consumed, discovered and monetised.

The metaverse will not materialise as a single entity, certainly not in the next year or two and perhaps never.

As multiple players pursue their own ambitions, idealists will push for platform interoperability, but it’s likely we’ll have a multifarious environment of ‘metaversions’ – some immersive virtual reality-led experiences, others online gaming environments, others online collaboration and learning tools.

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Whatever one’s view on the long-term viability of cryptocurrencies, the blockchain technology that underpins them is being applied to more areas of life and commerce. There is no doubt that in sport, it will change membership, ticketing, ownership, participation and payments.

Some sports properties will be burned by poor execution and fraudulent activity, others will set themselves up for future success. If they don’t, there is a swathe of competitor upstarts, launching new formats and developing new IP that is resonating with younger audiences on new platforms.

We are seeing more sports platforms where the legitimacy of the competition is given not by a governing or sanctioning body, but by the community itself or a passionate creator.

Sport cannot be blind to the fact that many of us now spend the majority of our conscious time online – it’s where we make friends, make money, discover our heroes, achieve status and find meaning.

Sport will need to carve out its relevance in new spaces if it is to retain its relevance among younger audiences.

With so much uncertainty about where and how to do this, our advice is to play knowingly. In other words, do your research, understand audience behaviours, meet all the major players, and importantly, understand your own strategy.

Then experiment, place a number of small bets, be prepared to lose a few chips. What we’ve seen from previous eras of the internet is that first mover advantage is defined by those who embrace the change with a curious attitude and a test-and-learn approach.

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