New Age Entertainment: Boosting Fan Inclusion in the Sports Industry

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Today’s guest columnist is Spencer Dinwiddie, CEO and co-founder of Calaxy and a guard on the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

Since the early 1980s, a small group of just over 100 people in sports media have acted as selectors for the National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Award, analyzing game after game and collating player statistics into a points system. Beginning in 2010, the NBA granted fans a single ballot vote using digital methods. Some interesting results have emerged from this, with fans often giving their first-place vote to the MVP winner.

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With that in mind, one wonders why fans have yet to be included in more meaningful ways, given the indispensability of inclusive marketing in the modern age. Emerging technologies, such as blockchain or hashgraph, implicitly engender more enhanced inclusionary practices that can bring fans closer to sports.

These technologies are already proving useful far beyond athletics, underpinning humanitarian efforts, making reliable HIV tests accessible within LGBT+ communities, and being recognized by the World Economic Forum as effective at boosting financial inclusion.

In this way, blockchain can be used to enrich national sports with greater fan inclusion—by bringing more incentives, including financial rewards, into the equation. As the gaming industry has created a highly lucrative market where play equals work, die-hard sporting fans could be encouraged to monetize their input into processes like choosing the NBA’s MVP award.

With fan engagement emerging as the focal point of social media apps such as Clubhouse, Patreon and Cameo, more intimate experiences are what we as a society are searching for. It seems only natural then that the spectator sporting industry should follow suit. After all, diehard fans are often so closely affiliated with their preferred team that they use the proverbial “we.” Don’t lie, we’ve all done it.

So what better way to enrich the sporting engagement experience than to embrace the ubiquitous “we” association with a technological foundation? The Toronto Raptors already deployed such a reward strategy, with the season-long “One Team” campaign, featuring anecdotes from season ticket holders, general fans and staff. On a Web3.0 platform, this experience could be replicated and reward fans for their contributions through a raffle-style process.

Using distributed ledger technology (DLT), engagement with live sporting events could be tracked, and those fans with the highest rate of engagement could be rewarded. Considering that revenues of the four major American professional sports leagues took a severe hit during the COVID-19 lockdown, enthusiasm could be regenerated by making physical attendance the ultimate prize for dedicated fans.

VIP season ticketing, meet-and-greets, and sporting memorabilia could be auctioned off using one-of-a-kind digital counterparts, or non-fungible tokens (NFTs), creating an ecosystem around the sporting industry that incentivizes consistent engagement: It’s a win-win.

Predicated on fan engagement, online fantasy sporting platforms like ESPN’s fantasy football game are free to play, but don’t let “free” fool you. Fans are heavily invested. Generating $2.91 billion in the U.S. during 2019, the highly remunerative online fantasy sporting industry has also made its way onto Ethereum, through SoRare, allowing players to trade and manage their virtual teams using DLT.

As an extension of this, it is fair to say that a lot of hardcore fans—some of whom are earning money playing fantasy sports—qualify as semi-professional sports analysts, as Moneyball thinking has transferred to the masses. If sporting managers embraced analyses from diligent and engaged fans, there’s no knowing what sort of untapped potential could be discovered.

For example, this NBA MVP Prediction Model was created by self-proclaimed “NBA Nerd” and data scientist Peter Li. Li’s model predicted the 2018-19 season’s MVP would be James Harden, who in actuality came second to Giannis Antetokounmpo that year. The lingering question, however, is would there be a benefit to build an added layer of value on the fan-inclusion process? Potentially.

The system could be built with analytics that tracked engagement in tandem with predictions made. These could then be cross-referenced with incumbent methods and integrated based on their efficacy, allowing amateur and professional analysts to financially prosper by participating.

This process could give rise to a financial layer, much like that of Axie Infinity, sitting on top of the global sporting industry. With profits soaring over $80 million in July, Axie Infinity has bestowed thousands of ordinary people with the ability to make a living through gaming. There is no reason why the sporting industry couldn’t replicate this degree of democratization, empowering fans to profit from their participation.

Given that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the way we view and consume sports, leagues should consider implementing blockchain and DLT integrations. The global sporting industry is headed toward a highly tailored, intimate fan experience, moving from solely TV and physical attendance to more portable smart devices and laptops.

Already, sports teams are recognizing the limitless potential of Web3.0 to enhance familiar practices, with an Italian soccer team hoping to boost fan engagement through the recently announced $INTER fan token. It seems the next obstacle to overcome will be striking the balance between digital community-building and novel financial opportunities stemming from new age entertainment.

Dinwiddie is entering his eighth NBA season, and in 2020 started Calaxy, the social marketplace built for creators, by creators. He previously built Project DREAM and The Dinwiddie Family Foundation, and has made a number of investments in technology, education and emerging financial markets. Outside of basketball and away from the boardroom, he is a self-proclaimed chef who enjoys spending time with his family.