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Sport and Web3 - the debate continues....

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Title image for Sports & Web3 blog post

Over the last couple of years, Web3 has become a huge subject in the sports industry.

If you’re still in the camp of people not quite sure what Web3 actually means, it’s a bit of a catch-all for a vision of a new interaction of the internet, built on concepts such as the blockchain, immersive experiences (AR & VR), decentralisation and token-based economics.

In sport, Web3 and its applications are often viewed simultaneously as a paradigm-shifting opportunity to entertain fans in a totally new way, and also as creating new ways to generate (much-needed) short-term revenue.

But with the crash in cryptocurrency and NFT values we’ve seen during 2022, rights-holders have rightly become increasingly sceptical and cautious about diving too hastily into this new domain.

It’s time for sport to start thinking beyond crypto sponsorship deals, NFT drops or fan token sales. We both went along to the recent UP Web3 event at The Emirates and found it strange that so much of the conversation was still focused on NFTs and tokens. There is so much more potential in Web3 that just isn’t being talked about properly.

Further knowledge about all the opportunities innovation presents across the whole Web3 ecosystem is essential before strategies can be developed. Sport needs to understand how best to create long-term, sustainable and lucrative partnerships that also deliver genuine value, entertainment and utility to their fans.

That last point is crucial, and a lot of what we’ve seen so far in sport seems to have left the mainstream fan behind. Many of the early examples of crypto and NFT partnerships have left the majority of fans confused, unimpressed or even hostile to certain aspects of it.

Success in launching any new product starts with understanding what your audience thinks and how they behave. To make a start on that, Overdog and Hatch-House have teamed up to uncover some insights (using data from GWI and GWI Sports) on how sports fans around the world currently engage with the different aspects of Web3.

We’ve shared a few of the key insights below, and a more detailed report is also available to download here.

All of the data here refers to ‘global sports fans’, defined as people aged 16-64 within GWI with an interest in watching sport, from 48 of the biggest global markets.

Younger sports fans are increasingly drawn to online worlds

When asked if they prefer spending time online or in the real world, 53% of sports fans prefer online, compared with 47% of all people. But when we break that down by age group, it’s clear that younger fans are more likely to prefer spending time online, and this is a trend likely to continue.

Research show sports fans prefer spending time online

Sports fans see the metaverse primarily as a place for entertainment

This age-based difference is repeated when we look at general interest in taking part in a metaverse. Almost 87% of 16-24 fans are interested, compared with just 40% of 55-64s.

And when asked what activities they’d be most interested in doing in a metaverse, it’s things like entertainment, gaming and meeting with friends that top the charts for sports fans, much more than making investments or buying stuff.

The most popular activities that sports fans prefer to do online

By the way, don’t make the mistake of thinking that “the” metaverse is a futuristic virtual world

that Mark Zuckerberg is trying to sell us. Online worlds are already here, in the form of

Decentraland and The Sandbox. Even Second Life seems still to be alive according to this

data.... But, it’s actually gaming worlds such as Minecraft and Fortnite where you’ll find

significant numbers of sports fans spending time.

Research showing the most popular games online

​Gaming is massive among younger sports fans

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but most young people who like sport also like gaming. 62% of 16-24 fans also have an interest in gaming, dropping to under 25% of 55-64s.

Gaming is most popular amongst younger sports fans

Gaming will be, and already is, one of the main routes into adoption of Web3 applications like

the metaverse, VR, tokens and NFTs.

Bearing in mind that sports fans across all age groups are significantly more interested in

gaming than the overall population, this feels like a fertile area for sport to get even more

involved in.

VR adoption is still very low

Everyone wearing VR headsets while fully immersed in a virtual world is the default sci-fi (and Meta) vision of the future, but right now VR headset ownership is still very low.

Only 6.2% of sports fans globally own one, although that is slightly ahead of the wider

population. That number is, by all accounts, set to grow, and there are quite big differences by market (the US leads the way at 9% and Germany has one of the lowest rates at 3.9%).

Research of VR headset ownershjp: Sports fans v All adults

Again, gaming applications are most likely to drive greater VR adoption, with sport having an opportunity to capitalise on that. The potential is clearly there for VR to open up live and immersive sports experiences to the global audience who will never set foot in an actual stadium.

Not many sports fans own cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency ownership is a long way from mainstream adoption.

Only 15.5% of sports fans globally own any crypto. That is higher than the global average of 11.3% and it’s higher among younger fans, but we might have expected to see a bigger bump, given the levels of crypto sponsorship in sport over the last two years.

Cryptocurrency savings by different age groups of sports fans

Among people who do own crypto, 44% are interested in sport (vs. 32% of all 16-64s) so there is a rationale for sport in targeting this community, but it is, for the time being, a pretty small audience. NFTs have a serious image problem

Sport has been pretty quick to dive into the world of NFTs. A few projects have worked well, but many haven’t, and the net result has been to leave many sports fans pretty cynical at best.

The key concerns sports fans have in regard of NFTs

By the way, only 36% of sports fans understand what an NFT is, so there’s a long way to go in just explaining what these things are really all about, in ways that make sense to the non-crypto owning, mainstream fan.

Some fans do see positives in NFTs, but things like taking part in a community (16%) and getting access to real-works perks (18%) have low levels of recognition. These are arguably the kind of features that could provide real utility for fans, which suggests there is also plenty of work to be done in communicating the benefits of future projects.

So what next? There is undoubtedly huge potential for sport to harness Web3 technologies but the majority of projects so far have not been embraced by mainstream fans, and the data shows the challenge that exists in engaging them around things like crypto and NFTs.

These are important parts of the picture, but the reality is that there are many other Web3 technologies that we believe will form the bridge between the real and digital worlds - enabling everyone to have access to better, more exciting digital experiences in sport.

Hatch-House is already working across new formats for e-commerce, virtual reality, immersive advertising and new blockchain streaming technologies.

This is where the real value will be for sport.

All a little bit more exciting than just another NFT launch.... ... Eddie May (Overdog Marketing) and David Orman (Hatch-House) are collaborating to help rights-holders and brands in sport to develop successful, sustainable Web3 and innovation strategies.

If you’d like to have a conversation, email or

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