The EuroLeague considers itself to be an innovative disruptor both on and off the court and the world of Web 3.0 is its next priority. SportsPro found out more about the basketball competition’s plans for blockchain-based technologies and how they will deliver value for both fans and partners.
Disruption and innovation have been core principles of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague since it was formed two decades ago. It is now firmly established as Europe’s most prestigious basketball competition, and digital technologies have been crucial to this success.
At the season-ending Final Four in Belgrade last month, the league debuted new broadcast innovations and a virtual reality (VR) platform to engage viewers watching the action unfold at home.
But the reality is that television broadcasts can only engage fans for a few hours each week. The advent of mobile technology and social media has helped expand that relationship, but multiple activities and organisations are competing for the time and attention of every sports fan.
This challenge is why so many people within the sports industry are excited about Web 3.0. Blockchain-based technologies have the potential to transform the way fans interact with and consume sport, opening up a range of engagement and revenue opportunities.
The EuroLeague believes Web 3.0 can help fulfil its ultimate ambition of ‘24/7 engagement’ and has been carefully devising and refining its strategy for some time. Although it was eager to be an early adopter, it was also acutely aware of the embryonic nature of the sector and some of the criticism that crypto-based technologies have attracted.
Now, after more than a year of careful planning, the EuroLeague is ready to enter the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and bring its legions of fans across Europe into the metaverse.
Patient innovationFrom the outset, the focus of the EuroLeague’s Web 3.0 strategy was on fan engagement rather than speculation. It was adamant that any blockchain-based product would not be exploitative and would have to deliver genuine value for fans. Tokens might take the form of a highly desirable collectible or offer additional benefits such as tickets, merchandise, or experience.
It believed the utility of these tokens was what gave it value for fans to buy and sell, not because it was an item that would be traded like stocks or commodities.
“We have a responsibility to keep our fans safe,”Rayde Baez, Euroleague’s former head of digital content and marketing and now strategic consultant who helped devise the league’s strategy, tells SportsPro. “We cannot lead them to places that are unknown to them and they [spend] their life’s savings. With some [crypto applications] there is a certain element of risk but we are not selling financial instruments. We are an entertainment company, and we will offer functionality.”
During lockdown, the EuroLeague was inundated with approaches from various companies claiming to be able to assist the organisation with its Web 3.0 strategy. But initial experiments failed to yield the desired results and the organisation’s digital and commercial teams decided to “push pause” on their efforts so they could better understand the technological landscape and devise an effective strategy.
“It was the wild west out there,” recalls Baez. “Even though we know [Web 3.0] had massive potential, that particular potential wasn’t evident back then.”
The EuroLeague worked to create an approach that would allow it to maximise the benefits and revenues of Web 3.0 while mitigating both the risks to itself and its fans. The decision was made to work with multiple partners rather than a single end-to-end vendor, because this would allow it to diversify risk and choose the best partner for each product category.
Although the EuroLeague eventually believes crypto-based technologies can be applied to everything from ticketing to how individual clubs manage their back office, the most obvious areas of interest during the first phase of implementation were categories that were analogous to physical products such as trading cards.
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