In Italy +197% revenue for sports in the metaverse by 2028

The eSports market will reach €40 million in value as early as 2023

Rome Business School published the research “The Business of Sports in Italy. The World Cup in Qatar and the new frontiers between eSports, crypto, NFT and metaverse.”

The growth of women’s soccer

One aspect has significantly affected the panorama of women’s soccer in Italy: as of July 1, 2022, female players have become professionals for all intents and purposes and consequently have taken on a market value, which will also allow the clubs themselves to generate capital gains or losses in future soccer market transactions. Greater interest in women’s soccer is in fact also found worldwide, so much so that the UEFA Champions League as of the 2021-2022 season has introduced a format by which the number of matches has increased and, with it, the guaranteed revenues: 24 million euros to be able to redistribute in favor of European women’s soccer, a figure four times higher than before.

This is because by increasing the number of fans in the stadiums, investors and sponsors are increasingly interested: the Women’s EURO 2022 tournament had an attendance of as many as 574,000 people, while the UEFA Women’s Champions League final alone totaled 91,648 fans between stadium spectators and television viewers.  Estimates predict as many as 328 million fans of the women’s soccer product in 2033 with the direct consequence that the revenues generated are expected to rise from the current 116 million to between 552 and 686 million euros, of which about 295 million are from sponsors alone: an increase of +427.5 percent from the current 69 million. As for the teams that instead take part in the most important competition on the European continent, UEFA has defined a prize of 400 thousand euros to all teams that qualify for the group stage. To these are then added bonuses related to sports performance: 50 thousand euros for each win and 17 thousand euros for each draw. Finally, winning the Women’s Champions League guarantees a match prize of 350,000 euros. In practice, triumphing with a clear path would bring 1.4 million euros into the club’s coffers, a figure that testifies to the growth of interest from broadcasters, OTT platforms, and commercial partners in women’s soccer.

The ingredients for the renaissance of the soccer world: cypto, NFT and metaverse

The value of sports sponsorships by cryptocurrency-related companies exceeded $1.5 billion worldwide in the period from January 2021 to June 2022 alone (Bankless Times, 2022). From Juventus with Bitget to Lazio with Binance, exchange companies are playing an increasing role in Italian soccer sponsorship: in the 2021-2022 season, the crypto sponsorship market on Serie A match jerseys touched €335 million. A market dominated by commercial sponsors (brands such as airlines), which account for 69 percent or 230 million euros, and technical sponsors (clothing brands) with the remaining 31 percent, worth 105 million. The growth from the 2020-2021 season-which had recorded 170 million-was +35.3 percent.

Among the tools of the crypto sector, the digital assets that are enjoying the most success, are fan tokens, special purpose cryptocurrencies through which clubs of various sports disciplines can interact with their supporters. There are 156 sports organizations in the world that have launched a fan token or entered into agreements with companies in the sector, and, the most highly valued tokens are those of Manchester City (€13.4), Paris St. Germain (€12.9), and Inter Milan (€7.6). The industry leader in sports sponsors remains, the official sponsor of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

According to Tommaso Marazzi, among the authors of the research, “if in marketing the key to success is to build customer loyalty, in the current sports landscape the secret is to ‘tokenize’ fans, to induce them to purchase fan tokens in such a way that they are entitled to actively participate in the life of the club.” The reason for the collaboration between clubs and crypto companies is thus a direct result of a trend that has its roots – in part – in the economic crisis produced by the pandemic. “On the one hand, clubs have a strong need for liquidity and economic/financial resources, and on the other hand, crypto companies need to find a way to make themselves known, and the world of sports, particularly soccer, is a showcase that guarantees space and visibility on a planetary scale,” Marazzi says.

In fact, there are multiple ways to increase revenues while engaging more fans.

  • Manchester United is about to open its own store in the metaverse where it can market official apparel, strictly virtual and accessible with cryptocurrency.
  • The Port will build its own virtual stadium while also adding collectible teams and players in NFT format. Within these spaces in the metaverse, it will be possible to live real experiences; we will no longer be mere spectators but will be able to interact with the stars of the sports world. According to Valerio Mancini, “So the metaverse will be the place where companies will have to build their competitive advantage by trying to attract their customers and especially to offer unique experiences and sell their products, experiences that go beyond soccer.”
  • Looking at best practices, the NBA for example has created a “netaverse” where users can benefit from an immersive virtual experience that allows them to follow the game from every corner of the parquet as the Barclays Center is the first arena equipped with 360-degree VR technology.
  • At the brand level, Nike launched Nikeland, a virtual playground used to attract new customers and test innovative products before launching them on the market.
  • In Italy, FC Clivense decided to manage merchandising sales through a dedicated e-commerce and launched a crowdfunding campaign selling small shares in the club, thus increasing the club’s income (+741 thousand euros).
  • In addition, Como has won the trust of its fans by purchasing a sports center, renovating the stadium’s turf, entering video games and creating a TV channel, as well as raising the bar by taking Spanish world champion Cesc Fabregas, a move that will undoubtedly increase the club’s visibility and thus also its revenue.

Thus, sports turnover in the metaverse could reach $40.5 billion globally by 2028, from the current $13.6 billion. Geographically, Europe is the leader in technology-supported sports turnover, with 42 percent, closely followed by North America and the Far East, but this would be the area with the highest growth between now and 2028.

The future of the football industry and the importance for Italy

In order to lift the World Football System, according to Alessio Postiglione, one of the authors of the research, “a series of measures aimed at securing the operation of the industry are needed, exploiting and enhancing the full potential of the sector: from developing new partnerships with companies in emerging sectors, such as cryptocurrencies, to trying to attract more and more new capital to making the metaverse and new technologies, as well as the gaming and eSports sector, one of the pillars on which to build the foundations of a new structure on which to rest the soccer industry.”

For Valerio Mancini, “Today the picture of Italian soccer cannot but be alarming: the system, accomplice to the pandemic, is more weakened and suffering than ever, in search of new revenues and interventions capable of regaining an economic-financial balance that has been missing for too long.” In this context, “the project of the European Super League – ESL, promoted by some clubs, including Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona, despite the very strong criticism received especially from FIFA and UEFA, could reverse the negative trend that sees more and more revenues and attentions focused on the economic monopoly of the Premier League and cope with the financial difficulties that are plaguing European soccer.”

Despite this, soccer continues to be one of the key elements that can bring Italians closer to the sport.To bring it to safety, “we need large investments in youth sectors and infrastructure, promote membership, increase the number of athletes selectable for the National Azzurri, and implement a reform of the leagues to ensure the economic-financial sustainability of professional soccer,” Marazzi concludes. The NRP plays a crucial role in this regard: the government has earmarked 700 million euros for facilities in municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, and 300 million euros for school gyms. Currently, there are 12 stadiums being planned and built on Italian soil for a total investment of 1.9 billion euros, but with a positive impact of both 176.8 million euros as ticketing revenues, increased spectator attendance at stadiums (+2.7 million) and employment (+10 thousand jobs).

Authors of the Research:

  • Tommaso Marazzi, Expert in sports business and Assistant Master in Sport & Lifestyle Management at Rome Business School;
  • Alessio Postiglione, Program Director of the Master in Corporate Communication Management at Rome Business School;
  • Valerio Mancini, Director of the RBS Research Center.

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