Sports Leagues Play to Win with Digital Innovation

45 Minutes
06 Oct, 2022
Episode 6
Host Siobhan O'Neill-Schwenk

Episode description

Sports and athletics have long been leaders in driving fandom, so it should surprise nobody that the shift to Web 3 has encouraged sports leagues such as FIFA, ICC, and the American NBA to lead the way in creating new ways to drive – and monetize – fan engagement. This week’s guests shared with us h

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Episode Description

Sports and athletics have long been leaders in driving fandom, so it should surprise nobody that the shift to Web 3 has encouraged sports leagues such as FIFA, ICC, and the American NBA to lead the way in creating new ways to drive – and monetize – fan engagement. This week’s guests shared with us how the media licensing and sponsorships of old are evolving into collectible NFTs, memberships, personalized experiences, even ownership rights? If one thing is certain, there’s so much more space to play!

Episode Transcript

This is Forward Exchanges by Nium, what’s next? A modern money movement, one global conversation at a time.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Hello and welcome to Forward Exchanges from Nium. We know you’re trying to stay on top of fast emerging changes in global payments when it’s all you can do to keep up with your day to day challenges. Hi, I’m Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk.

And on this podcast we’re joined by trailblazers and veteran players to investigate the real driving forces that are modernizing money movement and what’s building or blocking a digital transformation veteran or you just wanna hear some great advice on what strategies create momentum in the global digital payments revolution, then this is the podcast for you.

Today I am joined by Samarth Bansal, the Global APM Head at Nium. Unmish Parthasarathi, founder and executive director at Picture Board Partners Asia and Finn Bradshaw, the head of digital at the International Cricket Council. The trio are here today to talk to us about how global professional sports leagues are making a successful play for and winning at digital innovation. All right. Good morning gentlemen. Welcome, welcome to the show.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Good morning. I’m gonna get right to it. Finn, I’m going to start by picking on you first. So it is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a very proud Angelina.

Los Angeles has been my home for nearly three decades and I can think of few things that have wound up the sports ball community in this town, of which there are literally millions, 21 million to be exact like the renamed sports arena, formerly known as the Staples Center, now known as the Arena.

Most of us had never even heard of when this happened. And another good example of this might be FTX, which I know has been really active in the naming space. They named the arena in Miami, which is where the Miami Heat are based. And I know that FTX has been extremely active as an ICC sponsor as well.

I think made the rounds and was sort of the who what now because of crypto. What’s that? It sounded almost a little bit sinister to the mainstream audience. And as a marketer, I personally was curious as to why on earth that made sense. Why do you think that FTX or would wanna do something like this?

Well, I think it goes to the power of sports ability to, to introduce brands and, and to position brands in certain ways. And I think your reaction is, speaks exactly to why they would’ve wanted to get into that space because there definitely was a lot of skepticism around crypto there.

There would still be a lot of skepticism around the crypto after the last few months. And by attaching themselves to a product that talks to people that people trust and that people have passion for and that, that is such a big part of people’s lives that they trade on that brand equity.

I mean that’s why bots, you look at like Two Circles who’s one of our partners who helps with evaluation and they talk about when they track where they see the sports economy going in the next decade, they’re really bullish. And part of that is the power of sport as a broadcast entity, seeing that in terms of broadcast rights agreements.

Because people have gone off and done other things and thought that they could sort of create their own content that would be as good at bringing in audiences as sport is. And they found that most of the time not to be very difficult. And then same in terms of the sponsorship space. There’s very few other marketing channels that are so effective at introducing brands to consumers and generating an emotional connection with them.

And Unmish, you gave me a very succinct history of the brief, but fascinating history of sports engagement and monetization the other day. And one of the things you shared is that as we move from the traditional ways that leagues make money, the licensing and the sponsorships that we’re all familiar with.

And have gotten comfortable with newer methods, things like your fantasy sports, your DraftKings, your FanDuel or club owned merchandising, it was inevitable that sports got into sort of this Web3 digital goods monetization space. How’s that playing out right now?

Unmish Parthasarathi

Look, I think there’s a couple of things at play here. One, historically sport has made money on sponsorships and media rights. Both of them eventually are dealing with units of economics, which is the household. And ever since the iPhone and the smart device and the individual device ownership, the whole focus has gone from the households to the individuals.

And that gets very accentuated in the world of sport because a fan connects with a sporting brand at a very, very individual level. So that’s my first point. My second point is I think COVID has basically made everyone realize that fans have got options.

I have this notion that fan engagement is so last decade and it’s more about fan inclusion, fan as a consumer of content, fan as a customer of your service and fan as a citizen of your fandom as the case might be.

So you put those two trends together and you fundamentally got a one on one relationship, which is very natural for us. And that basically leads to very different kinds of monetizations. It’s not apart from, it’s in addition to the media and sponsorships.

And by that I mean you’re still gonna have your B2B2C relationships whereby brands like Nium associate with federations like the ICC to connect with fans on a global basis. So that’ll remain the B2B2C. But the B2C which is kind of the work that [inaudible 00:05:58] pioneering and kind of work somewhat pioneering on the gaming side is more to do with stuff like digital collectibles.

It’s more to do with merchandising or merch to give it a more 21st century hip name and also a fantasy, each of which actually have an individual component in a larger collective community experience which is not the case of television viewing, which is not the case of sponsorships.

Samarth Bansal

And I think just adding on there, right, one of the points when Unmish mentioned is community. We are starting to see, especially during the last couple of years, three, four years, just this concept of community really come to the fore. So fans have always been this very vociferous, very emotional customer base for leagues all over the world.

Now they have the ability to form a part of this community and have, whether those are NFT, utility tokens, fantasy leagues, right. You’re now starting to see all of these alternate models of engagement as Unmish mentioned starting to really come to the fore.

So that was really interesting. I do hope that after sponsoring the Lakers arena, their stars change and their destiny changes. Doesn’t seem like it. Their lineup isn’t doing too well. I’m a great basketball fan, so I hope that their stars change.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Finn, in in terms of development in any of these areas, is the ICC focusing more on collectibles? Are you more firmly in sort of this idea of fan inclusion? I love that term by the way. Are you more firmly in that area or or something else or somewhere in the middle or are you sort of seeing yourselves as willing to innovate and experiment?

Finn Bradshaw

Yeah, I mean I think in the whole web three space, anyone who really knows what they wanna achieve in the next three years is just gonna be lying to you. We’re all experimenting. We have our own NFT program called Cryptos, which we’ve done in partnership with FanCraze.

And I refer to it as nostalgia on the blockchain because when I was sort of thinking about what I thought this could deliver to the sports fan, I was taken back to when I was a kid. The two greatest days of my year was when I got to go to the cricket.

I would always wanna walk away from that match with a memento from it, and it was usually the program, the magazine you got, if we’re lucky enough to have seats down on the bottom level, you go down and try and get it on the bowlers to sign it when they were resting a third man.

And so I’d take that home and be able to look back over those and remember all the matches that I’d been to. And then I look at my son now who’s six and obsessed with gaming and the stuff that he collects playing games on Switch in a virtual world, have as much meaning to him as anything that he has physically and probably more ’cause he’s had to work harder for them than most of the other stuff.

When you start projecting that forward and think, well if he becomes a sports fan and I’m trying my best to make sure that he is, whether he likes it or not, what will be his equivalent? And so, so when this idea of blockchain technology and then you marry that with sport, I thought that there’s something there.

And so even we went to market, we had a really clear idea that we had these assets that we had rights to, which were digital video clips and we wanted to be able to create something out of that. Now, initially I thought it was gonna be more collectible, sort of more your CryptoPunks or your Bored Ape Club kind of, one of 10,000 sort of thing.

I think now as we’ve experimented, it’s heading towards a combination of that and then a combination of more, you know, utility game playing. Like it’s gonna be another way that you engage with it where it’s like fantasy but it’s not. And it’s like gaming but it’s not.

It’s sort of, you know, it’s gonna be a bit of a hybrid of all of those things and you’re gonna see, it’ll be interesting to see where all those currently disparate areas of fan engagement where they merge and they end up. Yeah, I think it’s a really natural progression for sports fans, this idea of collectibles. And so you’re seeing that in our community around cryptos, like I call it the happiest community in digital sport.

Like it, it’s, you know, our Discord server is a highly engaged group. Like compared to our audiences and the channels, it’s tiny but it’s highly engaged. They give great feedback, they’re really positive about stuff when they love it. It’s just a really lovely community to be part of.

And then that separates it to what, what often unfortunately you see in other sports channels. And so to me again, that sort of says to me, oh there’s something here. You know, there, there’s a, this is a different kind of community to the one that we see on other social channels and around other activities that we do.

It’s a bit fan engagement, it’s a bit new technology, but it’s merging all those things to create something that’s new and really exciting.

Unmish Parthasarathi

I think it comes down to identity and the digital age. Fin’s instinct to take a memorabilia, an analog asset back in the day is at a time when his life and world was analog is, was two sides of the same coin. And you dial forward to a six year old child. For them a lot of their world is virtual or immersed as the case might be.

And for them identity, they don’t want the moon, they want a piece of the moon. So whether it’s a skin in a game or whether it’s a identifiable bragging right space asset but crucially which stands the test of time. I still remember when I moved to London and my

parents moved out of the house we lived in, a lot of my sort of autographs and the scorecards sort of went away.

And it’s still to this, this is 25 years later, it’s still, you know-
Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk
That’s like mom throwing out the Pokemon cards. That’s, that’s terrible (laughs). Unmish Parthasarathi

Let’s just say there were long silences and my father sort of took me out for a very nice steak lunch and a very large bottle of red wine. But yeah, I think it’s more about identity and how you move from the digital analog to the digital world, but there’s a much deeper sense of longevity as well involved, which I think is beautiful.

Samarth Bansal (11:46):

Very recently a nephew of mine and she’s what? 12 years old, it was her birthday and I asked her, “What do you want? What can I get you?” And typically the answers have gotten, “Hey, can I get this dress, can I get these shoes?” Et cetera. Her response just completely baffled me and opened an entire new world for me.

She said, “I want Roblox so I can buy’s [inaudible 00:12:06] bag in a specific world in Roblox.” And I didn’t understand like-

… so much of that sentence that I had to go and like figure out what is this? Like you asked me for [inaudible 00:12:18] bag and I was looking at my bank account, I was like, wait, sorry, you’ve mistaken me for someone else, right. But it was so interesting because I think to what Finn and Unmish are alluding to you have to buy into this concept that digital ownership is only going to get more relevant as progress further down, right.

That there is going to be an identity of myself, there is going to be signaling that I would want to do in a virtual world. There will be a society, an interaction that would happen completely in the virtual world, which would be very loosely knit to my physical interactions, right.

And so you want to start building your assets in the digital world and these collectibles, the utility tokens, the access to communities is essentially for the people who believe in that world progressing towards that direction, right. And so it’s very interesting to see

this world and like honestly takes a little bit of taking a step back and saying, yes, it’s not as unrealistic a scenario. The world’s already moved there, albeit in a Web 2 world.

But Web3 helps you just get a lot more clarity on the ownership. Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Yeah. It’s no longer me, the [inaudible 00:13:26] in my likers hat, it’s your daughter online with her little digital collectibles.

Unmish Parthasarathi

Uh, Siobhan I was just gonna say, I think, I think if you track the last 20 years, uh, 25 years, you look at email, you look at social media, you look at chat, you look at eCommerce, and you look at the virtual world, all of that fundamentally has got surrounded around the mobile phone.

And then if you start looking at phone factor, email is very formal. It is e-mail, it’s like webpage, but chat is chat. It’s a very different social and to, to someone’s point about if it’s LinkedIn or Facebook, it’s kind of chat but community.

And so all of a sudden if you look at that form factor, the… what I call CX rather than UX, and then you start looking at where that tendency goes. There’s an entire generation which has come up who don’t necessarily have email.

And we see that in Asia where 40% of half a billion people are below the age of 35. They more often than not, English is not their first language, but they say it’s the language of business and therefore the shorter the words and phrases they use, the better it is and therefore China is beautiful.

And then eventually you go from there in terms of ownership and identity. It’s, it’s, it’s actually a very, very good mix. I think it’s a, it’s a very fascinating time.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Mm-hmm. Samarth I turn to you for a moment since you know that firsthand that sort of these, all of this effort to move from the, the fan engagement to a fan inclusion model, um, has been rife with problems. Um, from a, from you know, how does the related data exchange traditionally suffers under the weight of costs, slowness, the opaqueness of it all.

So in terms of actually delivering on fan inclusion, it really hadn’t been able to actually do that up until now. Um, and when those fan experiences were monetized, how are the payments handled and how is money actually flowing?

Because now it’s not just about hey, we’re going to license this and we’re gonna pay you the NFL a million dollar the… we’re gonna pay the NFL a million dollars to show it on this channel. Um, it’s a lot more complicated now. There are, you know, revenue splits and shares and things happening all over the place. So how does that actually happen?

Samarth Bansal

Yeah, so that’s actually a very good question and unfortunately having been in payments for such a long time, I think imagination technology business models tend to scale very quickly across boundaries. Payments in your payment infrastructure does not, right.

So you’ll start looking at friction and moving even fiat today between borders, right? You make it sound simple in being able to do large money transfers. Honestly it’s not, there’s a lot of complexity, a lot of cost, a lot of opaqueness that still plagues that system.

Um, if I look at the Web3 today, you see technology and innovation like the conversations we are having, people having ownership in these what I would call almost islands, but they’re completely segregated from the Web 2 world or the mass adoption of payments, right. Like it’s very difficult for people to be able to interact with this world through fiat payments, right?

To give you an example, I had to buy my first NFTs and I kid you not, right, like I had to first go create my MetaMask wallet, top up my MetaMask wallet. A lot of the cards that I used were not suitable for crypto purchase.

And so the acquirers and the bank said, sorry, we won’t allow you to do a crypto top up figure out which bank allowed me to do a crypto top up, topped it top then tried to link my MetaMask wallet to one of these NFT marketplaces kept failing (laughs). And in all of these processes there’s this elusive concept of a gas fee, right.

And I consider myself to have been in payments for long enough to understand these concepts and grasp them. Been a digital native for a while now. So if it was this difficult for me, I can’t imagine how a regular fan wanting to buy cryptos or an NBA top shot would be able to purchase that as they’re used to, right?

So going back to Unmish’s point of CX, you’ve created this amazing engagement, you’ve created this amazing model where you can interact with a fan base, you can interact with your favorite player, get access to media days that these people do.

And that’s phenomenal. What’s challenging from a CX perspective is how do I get that token? How do I purchase or how do I find my ticket or my entry into this world, right. So I think that’s been honestly a complex journey and it’s getting more and more complicated.

For the right reasons crypto is being uh, regulated both from a CML perspective, which keeps adding onto the costs of getting access to these worlds and be a top shot has managed to solve this in a way that’s fairly straightforward, right, you just put your MasterCard details there, you’re able to buy the NFT and everything in the back end is just processing that the customer doesn’t need to be aware of.

So those bridges between this mass adopted payments, which is fiat and still continues to be fiat dominated to the Web3 world is where we see a lot of opportunity and a lot of uh, focus on solving for those on ramp capabilities.

Finn Bradshaw

Uh, just, I mean on cryptos we made a joint [inaudible 00:18:54] call with [inaudible 00:18:55] to not accept crypto payment early on. We wanted to avoid regulatory issues in because we’re a true global sport and you know, someone like the NBA or the NFL, as long as they catered the US market, that’s gonna be fine. We always wanted it to be accessible and approachable. And I mean if we’re honest, there’s still a bit of a, the crypto world does still seem like they’re a bit nefarious.

Is that too strong? You know, like there there, there’s certain preconceptions from a lot of people around crypto, crypto space warranted or not. We made that decision know not to say that we won’t reverse that in the future when it probably becomes a bit more… all of those things you talked about become a bit easier and there’s more regulation around it.

‘Cause we just want that certainty. You don’t wanna have to suddenly reverse change gears because of regulation changes.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Mm-hmm. And this is a great segue to my next question because this all sounds like a regulatory nightmare waiting to happen. And while that hasn’t happened to the ICC, I think specifically of, I believe it’s leaky Brazilian token marketplace. They offered fan tokens of local football teams that are tied to something called solidarity payments.

And that’s a feature that seems dangerously close to violating some third party ownership and influence of player’s economic rights regulations or I think also of Arsenal FC, if anybody here is an Arsenal fan, they offer the AFC Fan token with so[inaudible 00:20:23].com.

And they recently had some of their promotional material banned for quote unquote misleading customers due to the risks of investing in crypto assets. What role is regulation going to play in this? And Martha I was originally going to direct that a at you, but I’d love to hear from all three of you as to where you think regulation is going to step in and maybe flex a little muscle here?

Samarth Bansal

I think honestly an outside in view here is that if you take a step back and think of what regulators are most concerned by, right? Their ultimate job or what they’re looking to do is protect consumers, right. And the moment you start seeing some of these tokens over stepping the bounds of what they’re intended to do and start having repercussions, which a person buying the Arsenal FC token doesn’t appreciate the risks that he’s now having to deal with because of what he’s bought.

So I think that’s where a lot of the regulatory focus is going and will continue being there. And I think that’s the right way of approaching this because it just helps through Finn’s point remove some of the nefarious activities, some of the activities that are just not meant for the use case that consumers are buying in for, right.

So I think that part is helpful for the general ecosystem and the network to evolve and move in a direction that’s solving for fan inclusion. Unmish I’m stealing a term there, but I think that’s one area you’ll continue seeing a lot of regulatory focus. Honestly I think when it comes to collectibles or NFTs, the regulatory hurdle there is going to be lower.

It increases quite significantly the moment you get into crypto. And the very simple way of gauging that is fungibility, right? How easy is it for me to transfer value anonymously is the other concern that regulators are trying to solve for from an AML money laundering sanctions perspective.

And so if you’re purely operating in the NFT space, you could think of it as a digital collectible that’s got ownership very clear, that’s got blockchain backing it and ensuring that it’s not corruptible. But the moment this becomes a token, there’s a very different lens that regulators will start putting to where to do.

[inaudible 00:22:35] will require to understand who’s the beneficiary of these tokens ultimately.

Unmish Parthasarathi

I think the two sides of the coin here, there’s a regulator’s view and that there’s industry view and I’ll probably sort of talk more from industry view perspective. Sports fans are loyal, they’re not like most customers. I’m married to Liverpool fan. That loyalty is not three strikes and you’re out.

Sports fan implicitly trust what they see and they’re told and they invest their emotions into it. So that’s my first point. My second point is in this decade, as often happens in a lot of recessionary decades, if you look at the ’50s in the role of football in a postwar world, sports was gonna be a bomb to soothe a lot of people.

And that begins to lead to regulators or governments making sure that the flock is tended appropriately. My last point is more in terms of the fact that this whole sport fan as a consumers and sport and as a customer as a citizen, I think the role of sport is much larger today than it ever has been in terms of social impact, in terms of accountability.

You look at race, you look at gender, you look at inclusiveness and sexual preference. These are large issues which have been played out fundamentally through sport. So you put all those things together and the role of sport to be a positive influence on a very passionate, blindly trusting basis suddenly makes the job of the authorities far more onerous and they’ll always earn the side of caution rather than not.

Finn Bradshaw

Yeah, I think that’s, that’s really good point. I mean, and then I think from an ICT point of view, we’d welcome sensible regulation because back to that certainty thing like whether you disagree or agree with regulations, it gives you something that the hardest bit to operate is when there’s no regulation and you’re guessing what’s gonna happen.

There’s definitely been some bad actors not just in the sports space but in that token like space generally. And I, I do think you have to be careful with sports fans because tokens

are very similar to memberships or season tickets called memberships in Australia and where you pay something and it makes you a member of the club.

But you get this tangible thing like a season ticket and you might also get voting rights and you might get some merchandise, special merchandise and whatever, but the end of the day there’s a tangible thing that you get. So then fan tokens come in and it’s easy for fans to go, oh this is like the membership thing but I’ve yet to see a token program that really has utility in it.

You get to choose the walkout music or something. The value underpinning it isn’t there. It’s not like when you buy a season ticket you can sell that season ticket again ’cause people know what the value of seat is, and that’s where to be really carefree with your fans because you’re right, like their passion is so strong.

We’ve thought about this and like it’s if we’re gonna sell something to the fans, we have to be sure that there’s gonna be a value that attached to it that the fans can understand, whereas if it’s this sort of fairly nebulous idea of utility, that I think I start to feel uncomfortable with that.

But that technology is super interesting for all those things I said. Like you know, everyone talks about the issue you have where you have a season ticket and maybe you can’t get to a game or you gotta go through the third party reselling platform if you wanna sell it.

And it’s all the things that good Web3 experiences should be able to solve, removing friction, easy peer to peer payments, all of that. If you can solve that but then you’re getting back to it transferring something with real utility and real value.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Yeah. Unmish you talked about loyalty and how fans are loyal but it also, it’s also built on trust and the fans have to trust the process and trust the partners and trust that all of those things are going to work.

And I think what Finn is getting to is interesting where there’s this concept of trust and it takes one hit to trust to start to maybe erode that loyalty a little bit. Finn, what are your thoughts on how regulation might impact your plans for the immediate future?

Finn Bradshaw

Yeah, when we started putting together our, our plans and our sort of proposal around the cryptos program before we made a partner. I’d never had project like that where we had to go and get legal advice in a better part of about 10 different territories. I mean if we wanted to be right into every territory.

But just to cover our main market, we had to do 10 territories and this was 18 months ago. And probably five of them came back and went, “I’m not really too sure.” It, it, it-

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk You wanna work (laughs)? Finn Bradshaw

… (laughs) there was that and then once we got into well what should the smart contract have it and then you know like can you imagine the conversation when we first had with our legal team where we were like we wanted to sell perpetual rights, no sports organization to ever sell perpetual rights to someone (laughs).

And there’s a lot of hurdles you could overcome but welcome sensible regulation but even just certainty ’cause even then like say least if you go well we can’t do it in that territory, it’s really unfortunate but you know, you’d rather be able to do that almost and rule it out than be in this gray area where you’re not sure if you’re legal or not.

I think the challenge is that governments are not stocked with people who by their nature governments tend not to take a particularly long term view unfortunately. And this is one of those areas where you need a government that is gonna take a 10, 20 year view and try and put a framework around that, that anticipates where it’s gonna go and the right balance between protecting the consumer with giving room for the growth ’cause it is potentially really exciting.

And that, that’s a hard balance. And, and if we’re honest, governments have had a lot of other really pressing things on their plate in the last couple of years, so you might see that stuff to change. And we’re based in the UAE and UAE has been a real leader in that space and they’ve moved quite quickly.

And so you’re seeing them attract in investment in the Web3 space because of that. And I’ll imagine Deb or other jurisdictions around the world going, oh, we’re missing something there. Like anything, economics will be the main driver.

Unmish Parthasarathi

I was quite taken by what Finn was saying about 18 months ago, projecting something out, which was 36 months or longer. I remember when I was living in, working in London 20 years ago when the betting or what they then called gaming, which was actually a, a euphemism for gambling.

Finn Bradshaw
It’s all right, it’s not really gambling, we’re just, we’re just playing a game. Unmish Parthasarathi

Exactly. But, but even the regulator actually allowed to use the word gaming to describe or fundamentally what was gambling. And then from there you, you went to Asian facing websites, so you’re fundamentally selling on football and cricket websites.

We know who they are and nothing happened until there were three instances in the course of one football season across three countries of lights going out in stadiums, certain players being bought and sold and all of a sudden it’s a setback. Now you couple this with the fact that crypto is an alternative currency as opposed to fiat and all of a sudden central banks are involved and there’s money laundering.

The amount of money which is flowing around the world is unaccounted for 20 years later is very different. So you put those two things together with social impact and social citizenship and the fact that you’re actually dealing with a currency which could be a reserve currency.

There is a lot of focus on it. Uh, but I’m glad there, there is, I think it’s a positive kind of focus as opposed to the negative focus that regulators are often accused of.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

How might regulation hinder or help sporting leagues and sports in general find ways to scale and grow their business in a way that doesn’t set off regulators.

Finn Bradshaw

Well, the obvious example is gambling in the US. Gambling has existed in the US. I used to have Jimmy the Greek on the main network, NFL show talking about the odds while gambling was banned in 48 states maybe.

Finn Bradshaw

You could put a bed in Vegas and Atlantic City maybe.

I don’t, quote me on that, but that’s broadly, you know, was the setup and people would talk about spreads and all these sorts of things. And so not only was it not accepting the reality, but also the sports organizations were not getting the due cut they should. The sports organizations are putting on this content that is driving all this economic activity.

And the two issues with that is one, the sports organizations deserve to share in that upside. But two, it’s hard to regulate. And so all the stuff that Unmish was talking about before around activities, you know, like I previously working in Australia where gambling is very accepted but highly regulated.

And so then as a sports organization you can work with the betting companies with cricket. Gambling is, is technically illegal in India and so it’s a lot harder to then try and work against bad actors because it’s not exposed. And so I think broadly, you know, regulation brings stuff out of the dark into the light and that’s the greatest thing for us.

And so then you can then make sure [inaudible 00:31:13] that goes up in value. And if we think that that’s driving some bad behavior, you know, that’s why we insist on KYC because we wanna know who’s controlling those things. And I mean there’s nothing.

Finn Bradshaw

Remotely seen like that, but you know, the same way. So I would only welcome it really, said you don’t wanna stifle the growth, but it’s better than pushing it into the shadows where there’s more likely to be bad actors profiting from it.

Unmish Parthasarathi

Just to give a, a data point on what Finn said, if you Google Super Bowl betting one weekend and if you track it over the last five to eight years, it’s anything between three and seven billion dollars. The U.S. television markets ad sales at its peak in 2009, 10 was $68 billion across 365 days.

A decade on, you’ve got almost 10% of that happening in less than 1% of that time duration. You start putting that context into it because it is a very social thing. Everybody has a sweepstake and that becomes a cultural tradition.

But if you look at the value being unfortunately not being captured, it’s a huge seepage. So yeah, totally [inaudible 00:32:23].

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

Okay. Samarth, Unmish who do you think the winners are going to be that intersect with us here in the sporting space?

Unmish Parthasarathi

There’s gonna be only one winner and that’s the fan. You start from there, start from there, everything else follows. Because all of the stakeholders, club owners, venue owners, governments, leagues, brands, it’s without that fan, there is no basis for the… it’s very simple.

A business is created when you create value and you capture value. The fan’s loyalty, trust and passion enables that arbitrage to happen. Everything else is as detailed. So that’s where my slightly emotional rant is gonna stop.

Samarth Bansal

I think that the volatility is also ensured that some of the get quick schemes, for lack of a better word, right, the nefarious actors, the people who were just riding the speculative wave, have not had the balance sheet, have not had the [inaudible 00:33:16], have not had the controls to actually ride out this volatility.

So as through most downturns, the companies that emerge on the other side are gonna be stronger. The fan bases that emerge on the other side are gonna be more built for the long term, have seen this down cycle and therefore have the right controls in place.

So to Unmish’s point, I think ultimately who wins are the consumers, the fans, but also companies who have the right controls in place, who have the right technology in place and who’ve been prudent and haven’t chased this as the golden goose just in the short term.

Finn Bradshaw

To me the winner will be the fans because the speculators we’ll be chased out to a degree. So we’ll tack back to being a greater proportion of fans rather than just idle sort

of speculators who weren’t helping it to. And then it’s also forced the providers to think about what’s the utility they’re creating, what’s the experience they’re creating?

They’re not just throwing up a marketplace and putting up some rubbish art and trying to sell that, you know. Like they’re actually having to think through, back to Unmish’s point, how are they creating value?

Samarth Bansal

The conversations that we’ve had in the Web3 gaming space at least to last year, everyone’s like play to earn is the new business model you need to have, you need to be in on this. And now suddenly people are coming out and saying, “Oh, but the economics don’t add up. How does a game make money if it’s always gonna be play to earn?” Right.

And so you see this almost like human sentiment, right, when the time’s good everything’s rolling, you just let me put in all my trips and I’m gonna get the next winner, right. And then suddenly you go back and you, but there’s no business modeling (laughs). Like where’s the fundamental, right?

And so you, you’re starting to see that reversion back and like over correction, which I honestly believe is the right thing to happen at this stage and get some of the rot out of the woodwork.

Finn Bradshaw

It’s his famous saying of 1999, right, when the shoe shine boy outside Wall Street is giving you tips on what stocks to buy. It’s true (laughs). Yeah. Well it’s probably too late by that but yeah.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

One of the things I’m curious about is if there are a lot of unscrupulous or other middle men, you know, one of the things that we’ve started seeing is this sort of direct relationship between fans and athletes and I wonder if sort of the leagues and sports could go the same direction.

Is it a fair question to ask whether or not every league or team could conceivably become their own technology company in the not distant future, cut out some of these partners. Do you see a future? Finn, I think you’re probably closest to boots on the ground here, but do you see a future where that could happen?

Finn Bradshaw

It would be the ultimate hubris for me to say that I could build stand up a streaming platform that can handle 25 million concurrent, but [inaudible 00:36:00] can do that, plus [inaudible 00:36:02] knows how to commercialize all of that. So partner with them and they, they’ve been phenomenal at that.

And then it’s the same with sort of developing the blockchain. I think you get a better result at the end of it where know what you are good at, know what you’re bringing to the table and then find the right partner to bring the other side of it.

Because the flip side is you constantly get technology that companies that come to you that fundamentally misunderstand fandom or you know, fundamentally misunderstand sort of how to engage fans. They’re trying to pitch these propositions and you’re like, no, no we, we’re pretty good on that.

But what we can’t do is build out games on blockchain. I think that model will be the one that sort of continues to be successful because also a lot of this stuff’s now relatively commoditized so that the cost of outsourcing stuff like that’s come down. But I’d be interested in your sense Unmish, you’ve been in the space a long time and you’re work with all lot of different organizations.

Unmish Parthasarathi

I think the whole SaaS model, the on demand model and the performance based model, which began with search and that has come on to with on demand Saas services. I think that really gives you a, it works both for the vendor and for the customer. Because today you’re doing 25 million concurrents because it’s the world final.

But you know what, when you’re actually doing the 19 boys or girls, you still wanna make sure that that one person who’s sitting in Holland or somewhere else still gets a good CX. Those are the extremes you sort of dealing with, which is really, really important.

And then to your point about if I had a penny or a bit more than every time somebody kind of said, oh can you introduce me to the ICC or FIFA. We got this great product that the challenge you have in dealing with technology companies who seek to service fandom is that they are fans at a B2C level, but the B2B sensibility of the business of sport is not something that they understand, appreciate.

And that’s a pretty tricky sort of message to get through. But it’s an important message to get to them. But you’re absolutely right.

Finn Bradshaw

But I think just as I sort of reflected on your question [inaudible 00:38:02] the, the idea our sports organization is gonna become technology companies. They’re not in terms of hiring developers and building out DevOps plans and, and whatever. But they do need to understand, I mean Unmish keeps using the word CX, which is absolutely right.

That’s at the heart of building great tech products. And so sports organizations do need to take those lessons from technology companies and from digital companies around putting the customer first or the user first and being customer centric in their thinking and then collecting insights from data that they collect around customers and the way they behave and all those things like that. And that is not something that sports organizations traditionally have been good at.

Unmish Parthasarathi

I’m sure my, my middle school English teacher would be proud. Uh, I think sports organizations need to become technological companies but not technology companies. You know, it, it’s a sensibility that they need to have rather than a skill set which is very different. Oh, I’ll go for that.

I’m not a big fan of the word fan engagement. It is very parent child, hello son boy. Come here. Sit on my lap. Let tell you a story which is not the way the next generation is built is very different where that’s how the whole idea of fan inclusion.

But I think the whole idea that sport now gets it that this is not an animal farm equality and it, we are an age where there’s a technology available, economics available, you know, on socialization available and also we’re coming together. I think that’s what really excites me.

You know, the fact that Thailand have got a T-20 team in the World Cup is humongous. You know, the fact that, that that um, you know, companies like Nium and the ICC are collaborating over a coding challenge or hackathon, I think that’s wonderful.

Because you know, you, you’re trying to actually get ecosystems and communities together going to someone’s original point on a very equal basis, not the animal farm basis, which the last decade has shown is quite skin deep.

Samarth Bansal

I’m brought into the metaverse concept. Like for me that’s one area that I wanna see a lot of development happening and I continue to see a lot of growth in, right. Like this concept of digital ownership, this concept of having an avatar that exists in the virtual world and making that accessible to everyone, right.

I think by the way that the technology is evolved right now, there are the haves and the have nots and you saw this in the mobile age then you saw this in the internet space and now you’re starting to see this in the crypto or the Web3 world where people who are crypto oriented or know how to buy Ethereum, send Ethereum, have this new world that’s opened up to them.

But that’s not the must or that’s not a huge population out there, right. Like we are creating through technology some of the haves and the haves not. And I think that needs to be removed fairly quickly and I’d love to be sitting here in Singapore at whatever, 10:00 PM in the night and being able to catch a basketball game live court side.

I know NBA and some of the other sports leagues are starting to do metaverse oriented virtual shows or virtual watch parties. So that’s really interesting for me.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk Finn, what about you? Finn Bradshaw

I think that, that really to resonates with where I’m excited about the potential of where this technology can take the fan experience because sport is inherently a communal thing. You know, it’s the community and it, it’s whether you’re local team or it’s what you talk about with your mates or your WhatsApp chats.

I bet you guys have all got multiple WhatsApp chats based around teams or sports or whatever, shared and the shared experiences and the social media age was amazing for teams to be able to broaden that one way conversation at scale. But even the athlete engagement was just another way of broadcasting essentially without certain gatekeepers.

And that was sort of the big change. The gatekeepers were different. It wasn’t the media company, it was the team or the athlete. The thing I’m excited about is the way that Web3 is evolving is I think gonna enable people to come back to that smaller community way sort of experience that’s with people in the virtual world.

Talk about, you know how I love the vibe of the Discord community on cryptos and I think part of that is they’ve got their shared interest in cryptos, they’ve got a shared love of cricket, but they’ve sort of, they’re in a very different environment to sort of the really mass sort of experience you get around social media.

And so that to me is really interesting. So how can we globalize, expand, evolve that deeply communal experience? ‘Cause when we do fan research, that idea of community comes back. Like we do these sort of diary studies and we had one guy who was very passionate contributor to our diary studies.

What he wanted was like a community where frankly people knew as much as he did ’cause his mates in the WhatsApp chat didn’t know very much, and he was sick of least their stupid opinions. I’m kind of paraphrasing what he said but you know, the point is true. And so the, not to say there’s not places where people go for that, like whether it’s Reddit or Discord or whatever.

But when you start layering on top of that, what sort of the Web3 technologies bring, I think that’s really, really interesting and really exciting and sport… it’ll mean more to sport than other areas ’cause we’ve already got that passion and that fun. We don’t have to create it around [inaudible 00:43:20].

Unmish Parthasarathi

(laughs) You know what Finn was saying about the sort of an Iraqi fans and a fanatic fan follower, classic segmentation. If you look at FMCG, if you look at P&G, if you look at Unilever, if you look at L’Oreal, they have got products which are at different degrees of sophistication, price point as a customer goes to a life cycle.

But if you look at sports output in terms of storytelling, whether it’s cameras, whether it’s audio, whether it’s commentary, whether it’s match reports, uh, there’s probably a dozen layers of nuance multiplied by five different languages which still exist.

And if you start looking at that from a sub stack distributed ledger creator economy payment to somebody who’s writing a particular report in [inaudible 00:44:07] in Central India or in Portuguese in Brazil where the game is now growing quite a lot to the women.

That’s a huge creator economy, which could not be possible were not for the technologies of this decade. And so that’s a kind of more 2030 view, but I think it’d be huge. Football has seen that, the athletic tried that, but this is at a global scale across multiple languages.

Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk
Right. Any final thoughts gentlemen? Finn Bradshaw
Unmish Parthasarathi
This has been fun.
Finn Bradshaw
Unmish Parthasarathi
This has been a ton of fun. Thank you. Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk
Unmish Parthasarathi
Yeah, thank you guys.
Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk

That went by really fast. Thank you gentlemen. This was a lot of fun. That is all the time that we have today. I wanna say thank you so much to Samarth, Unmish and Finn for joining us today to give us some insight and discuss what modern money Movement is really all about.

On this show, we’re investigating the real driving forces that are modernizing money movement, and what’s building or blocking its momentum around the world. Make sure you’re subscribed. Check us out at or wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you’re enjoying the show, leave us a review and tell us what you like. We’d love to hear from you. I’m Siobhan O’Neill-Schwenk and this has been Forward Exchanges from Nium.

Listen here or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts:


Samarth Bansal
Global APM Head, NIUM
Unmish Parthasarathi
Founder and Executive Director Picture Board Partners
Finn Bradshaw
Head of Digital, International Cricket Council


Siobhan O'Neill-Schwenk
Brand Marketing and Communications Strategist

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