Ask anyone in the digital world about sports, and you’re probably going to hear about the next big NFT project or leveraging social media to generate more audiences for prime-time team viewing. While there is no question a lot of work is going on trying to translate team fan appreciation into digital products and new revenue channels from the same, it isn’t quite taking hold as well as people expected.
Eric Weinberger is not surprised; part of the problem has to do with the technical divide. People are quite familiar with what a TD is from an RBI from similar sports stats. However, start talking in terms of NFTs, ETH prices and other blockchain terms, and people’s eyes start to glaze over.
The above is not to say that all sports fans are tech-blind, far from it. However, in the business of sports entertainment, the digital world and more specifically, blockchain just hasn’t secured a solid beachhead. Proponents of Web 3.0 will argue about sales by celebrity players on Opensea or baseball card collections from Topps now available on the Wax network.
However, those are being pursued and bought by a fringe. In reality, Eric Weinberger points to the majority of sports fans who still want a physical baseball hat on their head, a football team jersey they can wear, and basketball hi-tops just like what their favorite b-ball star uses. In short, sports fans are still primarily putting their money on what they can feel, touch and hold. Digital products just don’t cut it in that regard.
The reach of social media is often pointed to as a counterargument, with the usual refrain of viewer stats and click-throughs being proffered as evidence of marketing success. However, Eric Weinberger argues from industry experience that this is a well-trodden illusion that has repeatedly failed to translate to actual sports entertainment industry revenues in the bank account.
Eric Weinberger notes the idea of a sports fan web 3.0 borrows from the well-known discord forum world of fast-moving NFT projects. Build and they will come, is the logic. However, what often happens is that there is a lot of marketing and a lot of grassroots shilling, but when it comes time to sustain, the projects frequently fall apart and end up becoming a bit of a Ponzi scheme.
That’s the last thing a sports digital marketing program wants to be involved with. On the other hand, streaming, online gossip and talk shows, videomaking and fan forums are hot, generating constant audience heat that offers significant potential to be translated into sport entertainment sales.
Aside from digital card-collecting, a number of major league sports have already made early ventures in trying to leverage fans online through social media following, with mixed success. While there are clearly ardent fan followers, as some European soccer league clubs have identified, it has also highlighted the ever-present problem of racist elements and trash-talking, a common problem in the digital world but fairly new in the traditional sports world, at least openly.
Eventually, the digital world will catch up, Eric Weinberger agrees, but the commonality of language, terms and general product understanding still needs to develop. It’s simply not there yet, despite the Web 3.0 hype.