At first glance, sports and blockchain don’t sound like a likely match. The latter is the corporate world’s favorite technology talking point, and the former usually involves throwing, kicking, or catching a ball of some description.
But behind almost any sport lies a web of technology. Whether it’s betting websites, media channels or the huge array of digital fan sites, there’s money to be made as a technology provider working in the sports industry.
That’s part of the reason Amir Raveh, a serial entrepreneur based in Tel Aviv, founded HYPE Sports Innovation. Composed of more than 40,000 members, HYPE acts as a hub for investors, technology providers, and start-ups operating in the sports industry.
And in March, Raveh’s company launched what is thought to have been the first startup accelerator for companies focused on developing blockchain-based sports technology.
Two months after that program was announced, we caught up with Raveh to learn a little bit more about HYPE, sports technology and how blockchain could be a game-changer for sports teams.
Can you talk a little bit about what HYPE is? How did it come about, and what do you do?
HYPE was established almost five years ago as an organization that promotes innovation and supports entrepreneurs from various sectors. After a short period of time, we realized that HYPE should focus on a topic which is both a great passion of ours as well as a huge business opportunity – Sports Innovation.
Since then, we have been working relentlessly to establish the world’s largest ecosystem for Sports innovation with more than 40K members including Clubs, Brands, Investors, and of course – 10k Startups. In order to leverage our ecosystem to actually promote sports innovation, we have established 12 Accelerators worldwide and lead dozens of Global competitions and events as well as providing innovation services to leading brands.
Why did HYPE decide to launch a blockchain-specific accelerator?
Blockchain, together with AI, is becoming a general purpose technology. It is the core enabler for Web 3.0, the infrastructure of the next generation of online connectedness. As such, blockchain is driving major disruption that creates huge opportunities around sports—a field that is undergoing an innovation “perfect storm.”
What do you see as the strongest possible uses of blockchain and sports-related businesses? It seems like a strange mix!
Blockchain technology is proving to be a critical innovation platform in sports. Its applications range from revolutionizing the secondary ticketing market to rewarding fans for their social media activity, to crowdfunding aspiring athletes.
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Due to its security and anti-fraud features, it can be easily adopted by any value chain that relies on intermediaries and therefore improves the sense of trust and operational efficiency of all parties involved.
Thirty companies have been invited to your ‘blockchain bootcamp.’ Can you talk about what that bootcamp will look like?
The two-day bootcamp, which will take place at the NYU School of Professional Studies on June 10 and 11, will include blockchain for sports startups that are selected through an application process.
It will feature sports technology and blockchain experts who will share their insights and will coach and mentor the startup teams selected to participate. The four to six startups that successfully emerge from the bootcamp will be invited to participate in a 14-week blockchain accelerator program.
What is the makeup of the companies like – what sports are they hoping to work in and what are their products like?
The makeup of the startups that have applied so far cover sectors such as e-Sports, fan engagement, betting, smart stadiums, sponsorships, ticket, and VR. Most of the startups offer solutions for a variety of types of sports and sports clubs.
Do you envision there being a level of fluidity between sports companies using blockchain-based tokens and the broader cryptocurrency markets or do you think, for example, you will only be able to use a ‘Juventus Coin’ with Juventus?
This is a very interesting question. On the whole, the premise of cryptocurrencies and blockchain is to allow for seamless and simple cross-borders and cross-industries transactions. So for that, the answer is yes. I can see individuals earning or acquiring a Juventus token and then exchanging it for an FC Koln token to ‘purchase’ memorabilia.
On the flipside, there may be reasons for sports clubs to keep their tokens in a private environment ensuring fans can redeem them only for goods produced by the club.
Overall I think the first scenario is more likely as it also gives room for an increase in the value of a club’s token and thereby increasing profitability of this business model.
How much interest is there amongst fans for tokens or some form of blockchain tech?
I believe that because of the benefits of using a digital token that can increase in value and increase participation, the level of interest will only increase in the next 5-10 years. This coincides with an overall increase in positive perception of blockchain in various markets.
What do you think tokens could do for clubs business models?
To me, tokens and the related activities, such as validation and authentication, would form a solid business model for many clubs. Monetization could be achieved by increasing the value of tokens by trading them in various exchanges and acting as a node or set of nodes in one or more blockchains. There is also plenty of room to leverage blockchain solutions to drastically improve operational efficiency and thus, make each business unit more profitable.
Do you think tokens could shift the supporter-club dynamic?
Absolutely. There are already solutions out there that provide the ability for individuals to sponsor or funds clubs, individual athletes, and even trainers. The skies are the limit. This, in turn, will change the way aspiring athletes plan their athletic career and will present many opportunities that have never been available before. For the pro athletes, this will unlock new ways of engaging with their future clubs and fans. It will revolutionize the industry no less.