Home Gaming Gamification, Sports NFTs, Metaverses: Does It Work for Premier League Fan Engagement?

Gamification, Sports NFTs, Metaverses: Does It Work for Premier League Fan Engagement?

by Jason Smith

The Premier League is often cited as the world’s most prominent sports “product”. Sure, you might see an argument that America’s NFL is worth more in terms of team finances, but certainly, in terms of global reach, the Premier League is the undisputed king. As such, fans around the world engage with the EPL in various different ways, and it goes well beyond attending the games or watching on television. The bosses behind that “product” are always looking at new ways to drive engagement, and that sometimes means employing gamification tactics.

Gamification is, as most are aware, the process of applying game-like elements to non-game contexts. Yes, football is already a game, but fan interaction is not. You watch football; you don’t interact with it in a traditional sense. The concept of gamification is not new, of course, nor is it new to football. A good example of direct gamification can be found in (the official) Fantasy Premier League. Indirectly, we might cite football betting, as millions of fans will engage with Premier League odds to bet on their teams throughout the season.

The Collectibles Market Is Seeing a Push

Yet, there is always a push for more types of gamification. An interesting area to look at is digital collectables, which mostly come in the form of NFTs. Arguably, the Premier League lags behind some of the big US sports leagues in this department. Moreover, there has been a decline in interest in NFTs since the massive hype of 2021. However, many clubs, notably Manchester United, have persevered in pushing digital collectables to drive fan engagement. This has been low-key, and many fans see it as a cash grab, but there is some merit to it.

We won’t spend too long talking about the pros and cons of NFTs, but it is enough to say that, at least on paper, they can drive engagement. For example, United’s NFTs serve the dual purpose of acting as collectables (famous goals, matchday records, etc.) and unlocking rewards. Some of them are free, whereas others you must pay for. That said, the problem is that the average matchday-going fan would not have a clue about this type of engagement. It works, but only for a small section of fans.

The Metaverse May Change Football Viewing 

Another interesting area of gamification is the metaverse. Like NFTs, the metaverse concept seems to have taken a backseat in 2024. Back in 2022, Manchester City announced it would be building a metaverse in partnership with Sony, allowing fans to visit a virtual version of its Etihad Stadium, watch games, meet players virtually, and so on. The project got a showcase at CES 2023, but it is still at what we would call the “proof of concept” stage.

On the face of it, you can appreciate how a footballing metaverse would work. Millions of fans around the world would be able to attend games virtually. The expense of attending live sports games has rocketed in recent years, so you can argue that the metaverse would act as a lifeline for those who feel seeing a game is out of reach. But will it really deliver? As with the rest of the metaverse projects out there, we are looking at you, Horizon Worlds, and there may be a sense of underwhelming unnecessity.

However, despite the promising potential of these gamification initiatives, the reality is that their impact on overall fan engagement is mixed. The metaverse and NFTs may offer novel ways for fans to connect with their favourite teams, but they often cater to a niche audience. The majority of fans, particularly those who have been following the Premier League for years, still prioritize traditional forms of engagement—attending matches, watching games on television, and discussing football with friends, even if the latter has progressed to social media discussions. In a sense, it feels like the Premier League is trying to fix stuff that isn’t broken.

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