Now this is a field of dreams. On Thursday, the Atlanta Braves unveiled the first MLB stadium built in the metaverse, an online replica of Truist Park that hosted a few hundred visitors in an early test.
“We firmly believe that these types of virtual environments are the future of how fans will consume sports content digitally,” Braves VP of marketing and innovation Greg Mize said during an old-fashioned phone call.
Atlanta was originally inspired by Travis Scott, who performed a “concert” inside Fortnite for nearly 30 million players in 2019, Mize said. The team built what they call Digital Truist Park (which, if a mouthful, still beats a metaBraverse portmanteau) in the same Unreal Engine that powers the popular video game, with the help of virtual event platform Surreal Events.
On Thursday fans could join the experience from their computers, creating a customizable avatar before exploring the venue, searching for hidden items, and interfacing with other first-timers as well as members of the Atlanta organization.
“Younger generations are natives on these platforms,” Mize said. “Fortnite for this generation is the previous generation’s Instagram or Facebook. It’s where they interact. It’s where they consume. It’s where they socialize. So we really wanted to be on the forefront of creating these experiences—obviously to engage our current fans today—but also to build the foundation for the fan of tomorrow.”
It likely won’t only be the Braves’ New World for long. MLB is collaborating with the club on the venture as part of a recently formed working committee exploring further metaverse opportunities.
“We’re going to move as quickly as we can,” MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak said on a video call. “I think a lot of people are going to be watching and paying attention to see what the success areas are, what the opportunities for improvement are, and I think you’ll see some rapid progression from some other clubs after that.” Marinak mentioned the Chicago Cubs as a team that has been particularly interested.
Notably, the Braves and Cubs built massive fan bases decades ago thanks to expanded TV exposure on TBS and WGN. Now, they seem intent on finding similar success on HTTP and HTML.
“We definitely are of the mind that, at some point down the road, this will be commonplace in terms of how people watch live sports,” Mize said. “We see a place where you will be watching a Braves game live on the video board at Digital Truist Park and you and your avatar will be sitting on the outfield grass with four other avatars around you of your family and friends.”
Beyond attracting new fans, the Braves are also keen to find out what kind of new dollars could be discovered in the digital realm.
Future fans, for instance, could one day buy virtual merchandise at the team store for their metaverse avatar. The Braves are also exploring sponsor activation opportunities in their new home, such as test-driving a new car on pixelized grass.
“The possibilities are endless,” NextTech Solutions CEO Evan Gappelberg said. “It’s going to turn these teams into much bigger (global) brands.”
Already, Braves corporate partners can check out their logos in the hyperspace park, as newfound marketing opportunities emerge in the digital world. Coca-Cola Co., one of the team sponsors, recently partnered with Epic Games to launch a game-inspired drink that will release in Fortnite before it hits the real-life shelves.
“Over time, we’ll look to this venue to really become a revenue driver for us, much like the physical venue,” Mize said.
In the name of both verisimilitude and smart business, the digital stadium includes the 60-acre multi-use development (The Battery) that sits adjacent to IRL Truist Park.
The fan destination, where companies like Papa John’s and TK Elevator have moved their headquarters operations in recent years, features restaurants, residences and shops. Gappelberg believes the virtual exposure to these spaces not only provides opportunities to sell digital assets like NFTs, but the added visibility can potentially translate into more foot traffic there in real life too.
“There’s going to be more people going to the restaurants to support their team,” he said. “The team now will be part of the fabric of their lives. It’s no longer just game night—it’s every single day.”