Digital engagement in sports is increasingly becoming a core focus for sports organizations around the world. Sports brands are leveraging different technologies to adapt to changing consumer demands. This shift has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which made attending sporting events around the world in person impossible.
The extent to which the sports world is adopting technology to increase online engagement differs between brands and organizations. On one end of the spectrum, many are increasing their social media presence and even releasing their own apps to increase fan engagement. Some are also providing a more personal experience. Formula One, for example, provided fans with the opportunity to talk to their favorite drivers every race week in 2021, in an initiative which was a direct response to the pandemics impact on in-person attendance. Others are taking this to the next level.
Sports brands around the world are already looking at blockchain, the metaverse, and NFTs as a form of digital strategy: Multiple Formula One teams have released NFT collections, Fifa has partnered with the Algorand blockchain, the NHL is set to launch a marketplace for hockey NFTs, the NFL have released NFT collections and are looking to release an NFT-based mobile game in 2023. The list goes on. Sports organizations are clearly aware of blockchain’s potential to increase digital engagement with their fan bases. But none have offered a more collaborative and immersive experience than the Australian Open (AO) 2022.
In January this year, NFT Tech’s Run It Wild pioneered an entirely unique and immersive digital sporting experience; the Australian Open Metaverse (AOM), curated in conjunction with Tennis Australia and other brands. The AO is one of the four grand slams in Tennis. It attracts over one billion annual global viewers and has a prize pool of over $50 million. It is one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
The AO is also the first major sporting event to embrace and integrate NFTs and the metaverse. For an event with such a significant global presence, being the first to deliver a successful metaverse experience is no small feat. That said, with over $5 million generated in revenue, significant widespread global media attention, and Run it Wild & the AO’s recent first-place announcement in the Cannes Lions Award for Sports Entertainment, on all accounts, the AOM was a great success.
In 2021, Australia had some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the world. For the AO, the result of this was a record low year of attendance. This contributed to a net loss of over $100 million for the Tournament which was closed as a nonprofit without ticket sales. The AO desperately needed to reconnect with fans in 2022. To achieve this, Tennis Australia decided to enter uncharted waters and level up immersive digital engagement in conjunction with Run It Wild, by creating the world's first metaverse experience for a global sporting event.
The AOM was hosted in Decentraland, an Ethereum blockchain-powered virtual world, developed and owned by its users, who can create, experience, and monetize content and applications.
The AOM offered several experiences within Decentraland. The Run It Wild team created a real-life replica of the AO precinct in Decentraland where fans from around the world could spectate and interact with each other in real time. Fans who joined through Decentraland could also view historical AO content dating back to the 70s, interact with their favorite players virtually, access exclusive content and participate in virtual tennis games and competitions from the comfort of their own homes. No matter where you were in the world, or who you were, as long as you had an internet connection, from January 17th-30th 2022 the AOM let you experience Melbourne.
One of the most popular experiences offered by AOM was the Art Ball NFT collection, which sold out in under three minutes and has generated over $5.5 million in revenue from secondary sales.
The Australian Open Artball was highly unique through its use of match data from the actual tournament. The court was split into 6,776 squares that each corresponded to a tennis ball NFT. These tennis ball NFTs would change based on where points were scored during the tournament. Art Balls were created with generative art, which drew inspiration from tennis culture, pop art, and modern art, which ensured that each ball was completely unique and visually exciting. The balls were designed by artists, but in the spirit of inclusiveness and participation, the AO welcomed community art submissions for a chance to be included as part of the AO Artist Series within the collection.
The AO worked with Run It Wild and Chainlink oracles to connect line call technology to digital assets in real time. Every match point during the AO rewarded a fan who owned that part of the court, by virtue of owning the respective NFT, with exclusive content. Match-winning NFTs’ appearances were even updated in real-time to evidence their significance. The owners of the NFTs that represented the area of the court where a championship point was won received the actual physical balls used to win the points. Art Ball NFTs allowed their owners to own a part of history, forever, transparently and immutably, on the blockchain.
Through leveraging blockchain technology, the AO was able to create one of the most immersive online sporting experiences to date. Indeed, the power that blockchain technology has to elevate digital engagement is well showcased by the tournament winning the Cannes Lions Award for Sports Entertainment - most innovative use of tech and platforms in sport.
The Cannes Lions Awards have been the undisputed global benchmark for creative excellence since 1954, celebrating ideas that grow businesses, build iconic brands and shift culture. Creative companies from over 90 countries enter more than 30,000 pieces of work across 28 Lions every year. They are judged by world-class members of the creative community from over 50 countries. Their sole purpose is to recognize the best work that pushes not just one business, but the whole industry forward. Accepting this award in the same category as major brands like Adidas, Nike, and Samsung reinforces the power of Web3 and its possibilities.
For users, the AOM was an opportunity to create memorable experiences and gain a deeper sense of witnessing the AO first hand in Melbourne than was ever before possible. The Art Ball NFTs provided a novel way to collect memorabilia and own a part of history. The beauty of deploying NFTs on an open-ledger like Ethereum is that ownership is verifiably undeniable. Tennis fans that own an Art Ball NFT cannot have that taken away from them by any central party. They own a part of the first-ever global sporting event hosted in the metaverse in perpetuity. Before NFTs, this was not possible.
For brands or organizations, NFTs and the metaverse are an innovative way of transforming your IP into digital memorabilia and tying it back to an experience. This includes historic IP which might otherwise be sitting dormant. In this way, the advent of blockchain technology is an exciting opportunity to leverage and monetize both existing and new proprietary content.
It is also a chance to tap into a global audience and different demographics. Blockchains like Ethereum’s permissionless and borderless properties allow anyone with an internet connection to participate. By definition, this means that leveraging this technology scales your outreach globally. The extent to which this has the potential to increase your fan base will only grow as the metaverse gains popularity. With McKinsey’s prediction that metaverse spending will reach $5 Trillion in 2030, one could argue that a metaverse strategy is something that deserves your brand's attention. In terms of outreach, spearheading novel metaverse strategies is also a brilliant marketing tool and a way to evidence yourself as an innovator in your field. The AOM was picked up by media outlets around the world, drawing more eyes to the tournament and generating more revenue for all parties involved.
The AOM has showcased the potential of blockchain technology in creating immersive digital sports experiences. It presents an opportunity for brands to level up their digital engagement strategies, and get their fans more engaged than ever before with their favourite sports, players and teams. As the technology develops, and more creatives are attracted to the space, the experiences that fans will be able to enjoy from their own homes will only get more exciting. Hence, and due to the success of the 2022 event, the AO plans to continue to deliver and innovate the AOM experience over the next few years. We look forward to working with them to deliver this vision.
Shabana A. (March 1 2022). Inside The Australian Open’s Successful Integration Of NFTs And The Metaverse. Retrieved from: https://news.crunchbase.com/fintech-ecommerce/australian-open-metaverse-nfts/
Ausopen.com (January 11 2022). AO launches into Metaverse, serves up world-first NFT art collection linked to live match data. Retrieved from:
Regan A. (June 8 2022). Behind the Australian Open’s NFT and metaverse success. Retrieved from: https://www.adnews.com.au/news/sydney-l-ve-behind-the-australian-open-s-nft-and-metaverse-success
Sinclair. S. (January 24 2022). Australian Open Metaverse, ‘Art Ball’ NFTs Ace First Week as Tournament Rolls On. Retrieved from:
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