It says something that a perennial sports underdog is opening a sportsbook. Yet that’s exactly what the ownership of the Chicago Cubs recently announced. The team, like many others, is betting that gambling is a growing future for fan engagement (and revenue).
My friends and I used to bet beers on the out-of-town scoreboard while attending White Sox games. We were Cubs fans, but it was easy to get cheap seats for the Sox, so we’d entertain ourselves by getting deeply invested in, say, the Blue Jays/Twins game. We didn’t even know who was pitching, but it was fun.
Imagine we could instead bet $20 in an app but have that spread across a 50-bet parlay on individual events in the game in front of us in real-time. Talk about high engagement for a low investment. Of course, the house always wins by charging a service fee. Now imagine that, but we’re at home and the game is virtual, played by robots or avatars. These futures could be just around the corner.
This is an issue about sports, but it’s about how we, as fans, consume sports.
We are in an era where the NFL is losing stature, but it’s still the only consistent mass sports audience in U.S. TV. An era where entire new worlds of virtual and esports are opening. An era where you can buy a LeBron dunk of your very own as an NFT. If you just thought, “I’m sorry, do what with a what?” read on.
It’s a great time to be a fan of something. But as with all entertainment, the future of sports is diversifying, stratifying and fragmenting. And there’s a growing role for the individual content creator. The pandemic saw the meteoric rise of esports players streaming their individual performances on gaming streaming platform Twitch even as “broadcast” coverage of esports didn’t take off to a major degree.
What is clear is that sports fandom is becoming even more interactive and crossing many platforms. The worlds of collecting, engaging with brands and betting will play a big role in how we engage with the teams and players we love—even if some day those players are virtual, not human.