AC Milan’s pursuit of their first Serie A title in 11 years has provided plenty of drama and excitement for the San Siro crowd this season.
But what about those watching in the metaverse?
On May 1st, football fans in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region had the opportunity to enjoy a world first as Milan’s league match against Fiorentina was broadcast in this virtual world – an innovation that has not yet been attempted by any other European major leagues.
“Metaverse” has become a popular word in the virtual world, so what does it mean?
Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder who rebranded his company Meta last year, has called it “an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.”
He added: “In the Metaverse you can do almost anything you can imagine – meet with friends and family, work, study, play, shop, create. Think about how many physical things you have today that are only possible will be holograms in the future. Your TV, your perfect multi-monitor workspace, your board games and more.”
So why not watch a game there?
That’s the hope of those who run Serie A as they seek to increase the league’s appeal.
Serie A gave 10,000 fans in the Mena region access to their virtual space in the metaverse, complete with features such as a chat to interact with other users, a quiz to play, and a TV screen to watch the game, via Unique , Free digital tokens.
Sayed Hassan Al Mousawi, 26, from Bahrain, was one of more than 7,000 fans who virtually tuned in to the Milan-Fiorentina game.
He entered the metaverse at home with a connected device (this can be a phone, tablet, laptop or PC) and moved around (well, his avatar) using the touchscreen.
In the virtual room he entered there was a virtual TV screen and on this TV screen the game could be watched just like on a standard TV (see image below).
He could also choose general or game-related statistics via these two areas of the virtual world…
Or chat with people and “like” comments using these buttons…
“I could use my avatar to watch the game, walk around and read stats,” says Al Mousawi. “I also donned the new Serie A anti-racism campaign kit.
“I’m a software developer, so it was very easy for me to access the game. I downloaded an application, used the link provided on social media and accessed the Metaverse with my phone. The connection was stable, there were no lags at all. One problem is that I couldn’t go full screen or zoom in and that was annoying.”
The Italian soccer league caters to what is known as Generation Z, a young, seemingly inattentive audience who want to interact with their peers while they watch a game. The idea is that they can do all of this without leaving their digital world.
Serie A claims to have around 520 million fans in the world, but most are over 35 and with almost all the game’s big names playing in England or Spain, a move in a different direction was perhaps inevitable.
After a pilot project to understand the potential of this new way of broadcasting the game, the goal is now to generate revenue from it.
It could also have a domino effect for broadcasters. This process in the Mena region was only possible because there is no official Series A broadcaster there. In Italy, where Sky and DAZN have the rights to show games, that would not have been possible at the moment. If deals come up for renewal, however, Serie A could split up the rights to broadcast games on the Metaverse and sell them to anyone who wants to buy them.
The move is the league’s latest move to try to modernize. It started two years ago with the launch of the eSeries A – an official eSports competition. Serie A has also entered the contentious world of cryptocurrency – signing the first sponsorship scheme between a football league and a cryptocurrency platform in May last year.
Serie A has also expanded its broadcasting infrastructure, opening its new International Broadcasting Center in Milan last October. All top Italian matches are produced, edited, broadcast to the broadcasters and commented on in Italian, Arabic and English at the Centre. Five virtual promotional feeds are created for each game and displayed on localized LED boards in different countries around the world. People watching the game in the US see different commercials than those watching the same game in Italy.
Does this pioneering attitude pave the way for revolutionary broadcasting possibilities? Serie A seems to think so. The future could be that you can wear virtual reality goggles and be transported to San Siro or another stadium, taking the experience to a whole other level.
“We chose to be the first to broadcast a football game in the Metaverse because we believe that the frontier of technological innovation is extremely important for a modern league like Serie A,” said the organization’s chief executive, Luigi de Siervo.
Would Al Mousawi watch another game in the metaverse?
“Overall it was a pleasant experience, but if I have to, I’d rather pay a fee to watch a game on a computer or a TV because the small screen size was an issue. So I’m an Inter fan when the Nerazzurri play I’m pretty focused. I would run small games there, but not the big ones.”
Opinions are still divided, which is typical of a transitional period.
It is difficult to predict how things will develop as what we are seeing in football is just a reflection of larger societal changes.
But it’s worth remembering that not so long ago, a pay-TV model was controversial and seemed to have met little success. A few years ago, streaming games on the internet looked like a technological fantasy. Then came second and third screens and now the Metaverse. Everything is possible.