Our Sportsmen/Sports teams should explore new and emerging technology


What you need to know:

Sports is among the many industries that are early adopters of the Metaverse. The Metaverse is seen as an opportunity for creative and innovative fan experience and engagement.

New advancements in technology have recently taken the more developed sports world by storm capturing the zeitgeist of the times. From crypto to the Non-Fungible Tokens, to the Metaverse and Web 3.0. These sports teams from the Western world long came to the realization that sports fans are passionate and consume sports content beyond a match day.

These technologies provide an opportunity for our sports industry to leapfrog and somewhat catch up with the developed world just as the fourth industrial revolution is enabling Africa that did not tap into the benefits that came with the earlier revolutions to some extent even though largely on the periphery, also enjoy this phenomenon. We have Artificial Intelligence in Africa and Uganda albeit imperfectly with tools like ChatGPT already being applied here. Forgive my idealism.

Crypto has become prominent in sports with increased sponsorship packages and deals. The LA Lakers for example changed the name of their arena from “Staples Center” to “Crypto.com Arena” after the cryptocurrency company acquired the naming rights of the facility.  Crypto deals are expected to reach $5 billion by 2026. Sports teams are now offering players the option of converting their salaries to Bitcoin. Through these crypto assets, utility tokens have been created that give fans a look into the running of their clubs giving them influence over certain decisions made, and the right to vote on club matters giving them a say over kit designs and other initiatives and activities. A VIP-like experience.

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a blockchain-based platform that allows fans to digitally own, sell and trade video sports highlights and other exciting moments. NFTs unlike cryptocurrencies, cannot be exchanged. NFTs enhance the economic value of digital assets making them unique and authentic. This is a breakaway from fans just owning traditional sports memorabilia. Teams have created high demand-digitally collectible NFTs. The NBA especially has been the poster boy for NFTs with its “NBA Top shot”.

Sports is among the many industries that are early adopters of the Metaverse. The Metaverse is seen as an opportunity for creative and innovative fan experience and engagement. Sports' experiential nature fits well into the concept of the Metaverse which more or less enables a near-realistic experience in the virtual space. Sports teams have created virtual stadiums fans can watch games with their loved ones as if they were together at the real stadiums in real time alongside other offerings like exclusive video footage, souvenirs, and video games.

These matters are becoming very serious and we already have disputes in Court. Juventus took on Blockeras, an NFT company that had created and marketed NFTs featuring Juventus’ trademarks, as well as an image of Christian Vieri, a former Juventus player wearing a Juventus jersey. A Rome court held that indeed Blockeras had infringed upon Juventus’ trademark and rejected Blockeras’ innovative argument in my view, that Juventus’ trademark rights did not apply to digital goods. Even with Blockeras’ loss, I won’t be surprised if its argument takes the day in the future.

In a monumental case in the U.K, Osbourne v (1) Persons Unknown and (2) Ozone Networks Inc trading as Opensea [2022] EWHC 1021, NFTs have now been recognized as property in law meaning that NFT holders can enforce ownership and other proprietary rights.

We do not have a legal framework that will govern this space yet and there might be uncertainty as sports stakeholders attempt to explore these areas. The sports sector, however, can lead this charge by exploring these uncharted waters, the regulators and government can always catch up. Unfortunately, the powers that be seem to still have a recalcitrance towards anything with the makings of crypto.

I look like a dreamer with this piece, but why not?

Ojakol is a Sports Lawyer, Partner at Matrix Advocates, and Law Lecturer at IUEA