In partnership with Sony, Manchester City are building the world’s first football stadium inside the metaverse to allow fans from all over the world to watch live games.
Hawk-Eye technology – a subsidiary of Sony – will use image analysis and skeletal-tracking to help create the virtual ground.
Club officials working on the project hope to fill the ‘stadium’ several times over, and want to provide opportunities for fans who may never be able to visit the Etihad in Manchester. All from the comfort of their own homes.
City have signed a three-year deal with Sony who have already visited the stadium to help start the digital mapping process.
Nuria Tarre, City Football Group’s Chief Marketing and Fan Engagement Officer, spoke of how limitless the future project will be for fans in particular.
“The whole point we could imagine of having a metaverse is you can recreate a game, you could watch the game live, you’re part of the action in a different way through different angles and you can fill the stadium as much as you want because it’s unlimited, it’s completely virtual.
But you’re also in control of what you want to be watching at that time. There’s not one broadcast point of view, you can look at it through any angle of the stadium. That’s the sky – the limit.”
People currently access the metaverse via a headset and navigate using hand controllers. Developers working on City’s ambitious project believe this type of technology would allow for a match to be replicated digitally, similar to how Fifa looks.
In the future, fans could have the opportunity to watch real games played within a virtual stadium, and that’s exactly what City are attempting to pioneer.
The project would completely change the way television broadcasting rights are currently distributed. At the moment, the Premier League collectively sell the rights to broadcasters, with clubs continuously exploring ways to own their own in order to package and sell them however they like.
But the metaverse isn’t simply about viewership, it’s also about how fans can interact with one another and what else they might do at a virtual Etihad. Things the Club are still exploring with Sony.
Although some might believe this venture to be a risky one, the Club strongly believes it offers a chance for more fans than ever to connect on a global scale. Who will also be able to access opportunities only available in the metaverse, such as meet-and-greets with players.
“The applications can be so large I think we’re just scratching the surface” Tarre states, and they might be right. The Sky Blues are really aiming for the stars with this one.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is going all-in on the prospect of a virtual reality world shaping our future and considers it the next iteration of the internet where everybody will connect, swapping flat screens for three-dimensional immersions.
No other club in the world are as intensely exploring the technology and its potential as Manchester City, who recently signed a three-year partnership with technology giants Sony and work is advancing rapidly on creating the Etihad Stadium in the metaverse and examining how the space can be used to engage fans from all over the world.
And that’s what this is: exploring new frontiers, stepping into unknown worlds, building them, digital block by digital block, shaping the very fabric of our future. It is football inexorably moving beyond the traditions of domestic fandom.
As Tarre points out, “at best one per cent of our fans will ever travel to Manchester to experience a game”.
Perhaps the most tantalising prospect is that in the future fans could watch games live in a virtual stadium, almost as if they were there in person, from the comfort of their homes. It remains a vision rather than a certainty, and would require a major overhaul of the way football television rights are distributed. Currently, the Premier League sells the rights collectively to broadcasters, but clubs are increasingly exploring the potential to own their own, to package and sell them how they wish.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is essentially a virtual reality version of the internet that participants can explore as digital avatars.
Facebook is taking the lead on bringing it to reality and is aiming to create “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you”.
If Facebook is successful, visitors to these virtual spaces will be able to work, play, learn, shop, create and hang out with friends, among other activities.
Other ideas being explored involve fans meeting players in the metaverse, interacting with one another and purchasing products that are not available in real life.