When a global lockdown hurtled us into isolation, our jobs weren’t the only thing to become so remote. Our hobbies and interests were suddenly squeezed onto laptop screens or cancelled altogether. Sports and arts were paused everywhere for months, which made for a lot of bored enthusiasts and empty schedules. Then, of course, the allure of blockchain gripped the world’s attention — and hasn’t let go.
That’s the part of the story that everyone knows.
Something else happened, though. Friendly online communities sprang up around blockchain projects as word spread about each one. If you found an intriguing concept, you could hop onto the team’s Discord server and instantly feel surrounded by friends. Blockchain communities are still thriving, but what sparked this particular flavour of camaraderie, exactly?
It was empowerment. Sure, there’s shared optimism around decentralization, but these communities are byproducts of empowerment. A project is valuable because the community decides to make it so. Enthusiastic supporters became a precursor to longer-term success in the blockchain marketplace, rather than the mere bonus group of loyal customers that traditional brands experience.
Team fandom vs. crypto communities
Sports teams and leagues have a distinct community-building advantage over typical brands. Team fandom implies lifelong loyalty and emotional connection, and touts its rare ability to unite strangers.
So what are sports organisations to do with this new attention ecosystem in a blockchain market, one undoubtedly brimming with sports fans? Well, two things distinguish sports communities from others: unwavering scale and prominent live events.
Live events once again feel normal for most, and sporting events in particular continue to be the most-watched telecasts every year. With that, sports betting and fantasy rosters have cemented themselves as fans’ favourite ways to feel more involved in the myriad of live sporting events.
But teams are not able to engage with these markets very effectively. Betting laws vary, and it’s unreasonable for an official sports organisation to compete with the fantasy sports and betting platforms that already dominate the market.
Teams also won’t be able to mirror the engagement of a crypto community. It’s easy for teams to create a rush of interest with an NFT release or some other exclusive asset, but a swarm of transactions is not akin to community. Social media and centralised forums are where sports fans consistently engage, and that won’t change any time soon.
The most sensical blockchain applications for live events are those providing utility. Ticket fees and services are atrocious. Stadium concessions are riddled with long lines. Teams forfeit significant revenue for credit card processing. These opportunities are less flashy, but they address real issues for both fans and organisations.
This is not to say that utility is the ceiling for sports and blockchain — not even close.
Pursuit of more audacious blockchain concepts should explore deeper engagement with fans who won’t be at the game. While sports organisations may find it impossible to bottle the magic of crypto communities, they should focus on a key advantage: the sheer scale of a loyal fanbase. Rather than treating it as another marketing channel, blockchain can be a toolkit for experiential fandom from afar.
Partnerships as progress
Partnerships are ubiquitous in sports, and transformational blockchain applications should bolster that trend. By partnering with apps that sustain broad sports fan communities, teams could offer elevated gameday experiences with their exclusive access to stadium events.
A strong example is yet to exist, but it’s still early. Crypto exchanges frequently sponsor sporting events and some teams have released their own NFTs, but no sports blockchain endeavour has genuinely pushed the envelope.
ClubStubs is one of the applications working to do that: the app, built on the Solana blockchain by creative technology studio Appetite Creative, sells collectable NFT Stubs for every live game in a sports league. Fans buy these team-specific (and artistically playful) Stubs before or during a game, and holders of the winning team’s Stubs may collect their share of cryptocurrency rewards when the game ends.
As the longer-term blockchain ecosystem takes shape, partnerships with such community-focused platforms will be key for teams to engage with — rather than extract from — their fanbase. Sports leagues have a massive onboarding advantage with so many loyal fans, and broader blockchain adoption will benefit everyone. Rather than create yet another sales funnel, teams that embrace crypto as a bridge between remote fans and live games will define digital sports fandom for the next decade.
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