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Football and the metaverse

Football and the metaverse


The emergence and drive to create the metaverse means the sky’s the limit for tech companies – so how will the world of football fit into it?

As the world emerges from the wreckage of a pandemic, you’d be forgiven for at least attempting to get life back to normal. 

Football’s not immune to this, as we head back into stadiums, look forward to major tournaments and enjoying games ‘properly’.. again. 

But technology doesn’t, and hasn’t, relented in the past couple of years, and so we’re now faced with another major development – the metaverse.

To put it in the simplest terms, the metaverse is the next version of the internet.

It is a more immersive world, connected through headsets, that will allow you to work, socialise, and shop in a virtual, more 3D world.

Tech companies are essentially in a new space race to create the best products, and functionalities for the metaverse.

We’re talking about building an entirely new world. So, naturally, we’re interested in where the most popular sport in the ‘real’ world may fit into it.

Manchester City have recently unveiled plans to build their Etihad Stadium in the metaverse. 

They’ve partnered with Sony to render a virtual version of their stadium, with the intention to open it up to supporters who may never go to Manchester to pay to watch live games from wherever they are in the world.

It sounds fanciful, but with new tech, and crucially a lot of willingness from tech companies, the sky’s the limit.

My name’s Luke Franks. I host a podcast called ‘Welcome to the Metaverse’. So we chat to all the brightest minds in this space, of all this kind of a new world of metaverse future virtual worlds…

Luke Franks

I spoke to Luke about the increased possibilities in this fledgling industry, so where else could football go with the new space? 

This isn’t to replace the physical experience of going. That’s always going to be number one. And if you are a football fan, there’s nothing better than going physically to the ground and being there with your team and watching it in real life.

So the idea isn’t to replace that, but it’s just to kind of broaden that, and change the experience in a way that you can’t do physically.

So say you can’t attend the ground ground, right? Maybe you’re, maybe it’s very expensive or you are not physically there and you can’t actually get to the ground for whatever reason or there’s, you know, there’s a, there’s a limited amount of people that could be in the football ground physically.

So, with a virtual stadium, you could be watching that exact same game, but you could be placed anywhere. So you could pay for a ticket virtually to sit maybe in the front row, right there. 

I mean, there’s like early developments of this – Sky has some kind of VR applications, whereas it’s a little bit… the tech isn’t quite there yet.

You can get a sense of what’s happening. So yeah, you can, you can get really close to, to the action virtually or. So it’s kind of expanding what could be possible. 

You know, maybe you could pay for, you could pay for a premium ticket to sit and watch the game with one of your favourite players, like all time, favourite players as a premium package.

Luke Franks

Sounds pretty good, right? Being able to watch a real life football match sat alongside, and interacting with, your favourite players. 

You could join a manager’s post-match press conference in the room itself, kit your avatar out with club’s shirts, or discuss matches with anyone in the world.

However, football in the real world has problems – we all know that. 

And the problems that exist in real life are likely to exist in the metaverse. 

In amongst the excitement, and blue-sky thinking that is possible with near future tech, it’d be remiss to not address these concerns. 

So I sat down with my colleague here at Tortoise, Luke Gbedemah, who co-writes our Tech States newsletter, to further understand the overarching concerns that the metaverse could present.

The big problem is harmful content, which has been a massive problem in online spaces for a long time.

And an associated problem is the moderation of that content. 

So in these massive interconnected virtual worlds, which we’re now calling metaverse, is you’ve taken the surface area, I guess, on which people can project harmful content, and you’ve massively expanded it way beyond the size of a phone screen or the platforms that we’re used to being able to play games on.

And you’ve also made it much more immersive. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a VR headset, but in doing that, you do feel more connected to the experience. 

And that goes both ways. It can be awesome, but if you are seeing stuff that’s harmful and upsetting, then that experience can also be more severe.

Luke Gbedemah

Football has had its own huge problems within its community with hate speech, and especially more so in the last year or so.

Are we foolish to just assume that it will be any different in a metaverse?

Well, I don’t know if foolish is the right word, but maybe optimistic because these problems have been around in online spaces for a very, very long time.

And as you mentioned, football has had a very long standing problem with misogyny, racist, language, hate speech, et cetera. 

So to expect that they will, in some way, disappear as we let users and football fans out into these big metaverse experiences. 

Yeah, to me, it does seem to seem a bit naive. One way to think about it is that if you give people more freedom, more anonymity, and more interactions with one another and more spaces quite often, they’re going to do and say more rather than less.

Luke Gbedemah

Manchester City partnering with Sony to build a virtual stadium is merely the smallest of steps on what is going to be a long and winding road to the metaverse.

And it’s OK, at this stage, to acknowledge that when it comes to the metaverse, an awful lot is likely to change in the coming years as it is being built. 

The theory is likely to be different to what becomes reality – or, indeed, virtual reality.