“Digital twins are the foundations that the metaverse will be built on."
Those are the words that David Weir-McCall, business development manager at Epic Games, told Amy Frearson from magazine outlet Dezeen in 2021. Now, we’re seeing those words ring true.
The U.S. baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, made an exciting announcement on February 15, 2022—the creation of a digital twin at the club’s Truist Park, powered by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. While digital twins have been used in sports, such as during the Tour De France in 2021 for project management, this photo-realistic version of the city’s baseball stadium marks a milestone for the fan experience as it brings the metaverse into the equation.
The Atlanta Braves Are Only Getting Started with Their Digital Twin
When the Truist Park digital twin launched on Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Opening Day on May 12, fans of the Atlanta Braves could attend the game virtually in the metaverse. Users are able to customize their avatar to their liking, collect Easter eggs, and interact with players. So, for example, if a fan isn’t in the city of Atlanta and, therefore, can’t attend the game, he or she can still explore the Braves’ clubhouse and interact with other fans via the digital twin application.
“The digital version of Truist Park will offer limitless opportunities to create unique fan engagements in the metaverse,” Atlanta Braves president & CEO, Derek Schiller, said as he expressed his excitement in a press release. “We are proud to be the first team to offer this immersive experience. We look forward to building enhancements along the way which will continue to showcase the innovation of the Braves brand in the digital world.”
What will those enhancements entail? Well, we know for sure that the organization has ambitions to implement Web3, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and other trendy technologies. Contests, NFT card trading, and mini-games will be other core aspects of the digital park.
Figure 1: Screenshot of Avatar Customization in the Digital Truist Park Metaverse (Source: Atlanta Braves)
MLB Has Its Eyes on the Metaverse
The Atlanta Braves didn’t go in on this digital twin project on their own. First, the club relied on SURREAL Events to develop interactive metaverse features. The SURREAL Events platform bridges the gap between virtual fans and the ballpark by providing an intuitive interface where participation and avatar customization takes place. Secondly, the MLB itself was actively involved for 2 years. It appears that the league office is highly interested in how to implement centralized digital assets in a manner that will enable other clubs to do the same.
Indeed, the Digital Truist Park will serve as an important case study for the rest of the league. MLB chief operations & strategy officer Chris Marinak hinted that other clubs are definitely interested. However, he stressed that they must be patient and see how the project in the city of Atlanta plays out. It will take time before the Atlanta Braves and the MLB learn how to monetize these new metaverse experiences.
Not the First Digital Twin at a Sports Stadium
Back in 2020, digital twin technology provider Willow took on Hollywood Park, owner of the 300-acre SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, as a new customer. But unlike the deployment in the city of Atlanta, Hollywood Park is using digital twin technology for improving operations on stadium premises.
Given the complex nature of such an enormous venue, SoFi Stadium managers needed a simple way to figure out what changes will work and what won’t. By using Willow’s software, SoFi has access to a replica of the stadium and real-time analytics stemming from myriad operations (e.g., construction, parking, etc.). By possessing full transparency on the stadium, Hollywood Park is ahead of other sports arenas when it comes to delivering better guest experiences.
More Metaverse Opportunities Await Sports Fans
The digital twin of Truist Park in the city of Atlanta may signal the beginning of a new trend in Virtual Reality (VR). The Le Méta-Tour, launched by The Nemesis, brought the metaverse to fans of the Tour de France. Much of the focus was on blockchain and exposing Web3 to newcomers.
Over in England, English Premier League, team Manchester City has teamed up with Sony to create a virtual twin of Etihad Stadium. The club expects the metaverse convergence with the sport to raise global engagement with the team. Sony’s subsidiary Hawk-Eye Technologies uses advanced image analysis and skeletal tracking technology to bring the real stadium to the virtual world.
While the metaverse is still in its early days, digital twin technology providers and vendors that develop metaverse experiences should definitely look at sports venues as a huge opportunity. It’s entirely possible that every MLB team and, by extension, every major sports organization, will want to offer metaverse experiences to their fans in the near future. Moreover, alliances like the one between Microsoft and PwC can give industry players the added resources and competencies to tackle the digital twin development and marketing within the venue operator space.