Now East It 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 initial test.
“We strongly believe that these types of virtual environments are the future of how fans will consume sports content digitally,” Braves vice president 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, while a mouthful, still beats a metaBraverse acronym) on the same Unreal Engine that powers the popular video game, with the help of virtual event platform Surreal Events.
On Thursday, fans were able to join the experience from their computers, creating a customizable avatar before exploring the venue, searching for hidden items and interacting with other rookies as well as members of the Atlanta organization.
“The younger generations are native to these platforms,” Mize said. “Fortnite for this generation it is Instagram or Facebook from the previous generation. It’s where they interact. It is where they consume. It is where they socialize. So we really wanted to be at the forefront of creating these experiences, obviously to engage our current fans, but also to build the foundation for tomorrow’s fans.”
It likely won’t just be the Braves’ New World for long. MLB is collaborating with the club on the venture as part of a recently formed task force exploring new metaverse opportunities.
“We’re going to move as fast as we can,” MLB director of operations and strategy Chris Marinak said on a video call. “I think a lot of people will be watching and paying attention to see what are the areas of success, what are the opportunities for improvement, and I think you will see rapid progression from some other clubs after that. Marinak mentioned the Chicago Cubs as a team he has been particularly interested in.
In particular, the Braves and Cubs built massive fan bases decades ago thanks to expanded television exposure on TBS and WGN. Now, they seem determined to find similar success in HTTP and HTML.
“We definitely think that at some point 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 from your family and friends.”
Beyond attracting new fans, the Braves are also eager to find out what kind of new dollars might be discovered in the digital realm.
Future fans, for example, could one day buy virtual goods in the team store for their avatar from the metaverse. The Braves are also exploring sponsor activation opportunities in their new home, like testing a new car on pixelated grass.
“The possibilities are endless,” said NextTech Solutions CEO Evan Gappelberg. “It’s going to turn these teams into much bigger (global) brands.”
Braves corporate partners can now see their logos in the hyperspace park, as new marketing opportunities emerge in the digital world. Coca-Cola Co., one of the team’s sponsors, recently partnered with Epic Games to launch a game-inspired drink that will launch in Fortnite before it hits the shelves in real life.
“Over time, we’ll look at this place to really become a revenue generator for us, just like the physical place,” Mize said.
In the name of verisimilitude and smart business, the digital stadium includes the 60-acre multi-use development (The Battery) that adjoins IRL Truist Park.
The fan destination, where companies like Papa John’s and TK Elevator have relocated their headquarters in recent years, boasts restaurants, residences and shops. Gappelberg believes that the virtual exposure to these spaces not only provides opportunities to sell digital assets like NFTs, but that the added visibility can potentially translate to more foot traffic there in real life as well.
“There are going to be more people going to restaurants to support their team,” he said. “The team will now be part of the fabric of their lives. It’s not just game night anymore, it’s every day.”