Sports Fans + Bits + Blocks
How the new technology that powers Bitcoin could put fans at the center of sports
Fourth in Humans + Bits + Blocks where we use design to explore how bitcoin and block chains might change our everyday lives.
What does it mean to be a fan?
After the Boston Red Sox broke their 86 year championship drought in 2004, teary eyed fans wandered the streets exchanging hugs and high fives with complete strangers. Their decades of intense devotion had finally paid off. Ever been in a stadium or arena when the fans cheer in unison to create a deafening crescendo of energy? These electric moments of excessive enthusiasm are what make sports deeply emotional and fun.
While that emotional connection can result in ecstatic highs and crushing lows, the fan experience can feel superficial when watching from a distance. Block chains could bring fans closer to the action by supporting experiences and rewards that better reflect the nature of devoting yourself to an organization. As fans, we want to be recognized for our support beyond the dollars we spend.
Bitcoin and block chains allow for the creation of novel, end-to loyalty programs that are as open to participation as real currencies while being uniquely associated with the sponsoring team. As a permanent set of records, block chains also offer a way to track the unique history of one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia.
In the following design concepts, we’ve fleshed out five definitive moments in the life of a rabid baseball fan. But, try to imagine these new moments for any sporting team — or even any brand.
- Earning Your Fan Cred
It’s opening night at the Oakland Coliseum and you can’t wait to see Sonny Gray, the A’s star pitcher, throw the first pitch of the 2015 season! As you scan your ticket and walk in to the stadium, you feel that amazing buzz of excitement along with the buzz of your phone; it’s letting you know that you’ve just received 1,000 TruFan points for being at the game on opening day.
You open your TruFan profile page and see your updated attendance record in your profile. That’s ten opening nights in a row! You take a look at the leaderboard imagining you’re probably one of the A’s top fans. Sure enough, you’ve moved up into the top 150.
Why block chains? Block chains allow the creation of a loyalty currency unique to a team or league that is automatically secure and open. Tapping into these capabilities allows organizations to deliver sophisticated loyalty and rewards systems with lower investment than traditional points programs.
2. Authentic Moments and Mementos
The third inning rolls around and you begin to realize that this is your lucky day… Steven Vogt hit a home run and you caught the ball!
You scan it with your phone to record the event on your TruFan profile and get 5,000 points for the snag! The chip inside the ball gives it a unique identity, keeping track of its position throughout the game, and even the plays in which it was involved: who threw it, who hit it, and who caught it (in this case it’s you!). Ownership of this ball and everything it ever experienced is added to your profile, forever. Because Vogt is one of the most popular players on the team, offers are already pouring in from fans who would like to buy an authentic memento of opening night. You decline, you’re keeping this one for yourself!
Why block chains? As a permanent, transparent and unalterable database, block chains can serve to create the authoritative record of events. In this case, it can track your activities as a fan and can also be used to inform your reputation or even as a unique currency in the form of points.
3. TruFan Challenges
With that extra 1,000 points, you’ve done it! You’ve crossed a truly epic milestone, the elusive 100K point barrier. Over the years you’ve earned all those thousands of points just by doing things you would do normally: showing up for games, tweeting what’s going on, buying team merchandise, and playing different fantasy sports games. You love that you’re rewarded for being a fan, not just for spending money.
Because the Tru Fan currency is open, secure and interoperable, an entire ecosystem has been built around it. You can redeem points for unique experiences offered specifically to you both inside the stadium and out.
As you take a well-earned first sip, you dictate a reminder to yourself on your Apple Watch not to misplace your new ball on the way home…
Why block chains? Interoperability means that any new app dreamed up by an individual, startup, or big company can easily plug in to the currency create new experiences. It can also mean the ability to exchange the loyalty currency for dollars or other currencies. Beyond the closed system of loyalty points you accumulate today, these can be earned for participation in activities other than spending money and granted by anyone across the fans ecosystem.
4. Playing along
It’s the 7th inning and the A’s starting pitcher, Sonny Gray is in the midst of throwing a no-hitter. Your buddy tweets you a link to a “spot prediction” (ie. a pop-up wager placed in the moment) he just made from his couch: Sonny will finish out the game, and there will be no hits. You think that’s a little optimistic, so you vote against his prediction. You retweet the link to get more friends in the mix. A market is dynamically created allowing fans to use their TruFan points to participate in the game in a new way. Your buddy gets points just for creating the market, but you know he’ll lose the wager when Sonny eventually gives up a hit.
You love playing these prediction games, it’s kind of like fantasy sports but better. If you involve enough people, you can start to pop up mini, instant prediction markets about things like: Will the A’s win the pennant? Will Friday’s game sell out? Will Sonny Gray throw a strike [right now]? You get the thrill of gambling, while only risking your TruFan points instead of dollars.
Why block chains? Platforms that incorporate programmable contracts (like Ethereum) can securely track TruFan points, create markets on demand, and pay out winners in a truly interoperable and transparent way. Have a new or better user experience in mind? You can create your own app that allows points to be traded and wagered. Prediction markets like these may be useful as predictors for business decisions as well.
5. Tix Fix
The game ends and the A’s win! Sonny Gray did give up a hit but the other team didn’t score so you won the game and your spot prediction. As you head out of the stadium you receive a message that your nephew’s scouting troop would like your tickets for next Saturday’s game.
You open up your Tix Fix app and see that his troop is offering to swap you to better seats in order to keep their group together. And — get this! — they’ll even throw in a bonus 2,500 TruFan points for your troubles.
Why block chains? Block chains make issuing and securing a limited set of “tokens” (like tickets to a game) fast and easy. Tickets are stored directly on the block chain. Selling your ticket is just a matter of transferring the token to someone else. Block chains provide an open infrastructure for market creation, and ticket exchange, so peer-to-peer markets can be facilitated without profit-seeking middlemen.
These moments all provide a look at how block chains could impact the experience and participation of fans. Three of the five areas we previously identified show up again here:
Peer-to-Peer Exchanges: Block chains can enable connections directly between fans, players, and the stadium itself. Fans can log, manage, and exchange tickets, predictions, and stories. We’re curious: What happens when you give fans more control and participation? How will the business models of sports change when you can put your fans to work and reward them handsomely?
Frictionless Transactions: Block chains were originally designed to securely track digital currencies. This infrastructure can be repurposed to create new currencies distinct to any issuing organization. We’re curious: How might these currencies go beyond traditional loyalty points? How might they fluidly be exchanged throughout a brand experience, or outside of that experience?
Trust + Authenticity: Typically, a brand or organization defines loyalty by dollars spent and stores your data themselves. Block chains could enable more robust profiling and rewards that are controlled by individuals themselves and interoperable between brands. The distributed consensus of block chains allows for the creation of an authoritative record that can track an individual’s reputation. More importantly, the key system enables us to better control what and when we share that data with others. We’re curious: How might more complete profiles be leveraged by brands and fans themselves?
When thinking about sports and loyalty, block chains could help us enhance engagement and reward participation in fundamentally new ways: from new forms of loyalty going beyond dollars spent to creating new prediction mechanisms that allow fans to engage with each other fluidly. While sports is a natural place for these sorts of experiences to emerge, they could easily span to other brands ranging from schools to causes to consumer goods. Where might you find these new types of experiences valuable?