iSportConnect had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Magsisi on the role of technology within Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), and specifically taking a look at the disruption blockchain & virtual worlds can have on the way sports organisations operate, engage with their fans, commercialise their assets, and much more.
Jay Stuart: We’ll be hosting the Web3 Summit in London this June to help guide sports, media and entertainment organisations on their blockchain and metaverse strategies - how does MLSE see these technologies/innovations impacting your businesses and franchises, and what timelines do you see before there is this transition?
On the heritage and traditions within sports, and how it can impede innovation:
It wouldn't be a technology conversation in sport if we didn't talk about Web3 and blockchain and NFT's. I don't pretend to be able to predict the future. But what I will say is that I hope it does lead to a change because when you think about the sports experience, both inside the venue and outside of the venue, it largely hasn't changed, maybe even in decades
So for an organisation that's been operating for over 100 years like the Toronto Maple Leafs (part of MLSE), I think we have a duty within sports to create the best experience possible as people remember their first sporting experience forever. Those are memories that people hold very dear to them. Perhaps because of the success of sports, we've rested too much on our laurels or inertia has really hit us. So I would say that I hope there’s more of an open-mindedness to embracing innovation when it comes to the matchday experience and beyond to continue attracting and retaining our fans.
On creating the a robust strategy that meets the needs of the business and your fans:
Decentralisation is the core concept to remember. Two things I'll mention is when NFT's really started to take off, we felt like blockchain for us was really going to start in the ticketing world (and this is still a fantastic use case), but ultimately, with NBA and Top Shot, they really took the world for this ride into digital collectibles that we're on right now. So we had to be able to very quickly pivot our strategy and look at it from a business perspective. If we were going to get into the NFT business, what would we need to consider before we make our decisions?
The pace of innovation in Web3 is truly staggering, and offers significant opportunities in a commercial, marketing and operational sense to reinvent historic business models, but the key is for this to be grounded in a business-wide strategy to really make the most of it.
We wanted to do things differently. So we really enjoyed this whole loot box concept that that Top Shot really popularised. We did however want some control over the marketplace we would use, to partner with a blockchain partner that aligned with our values on sustainability, as well as giving us the right to design smart contracts in the way that we can claim royalties on the NFT sales in perpetuity (which of course is not possible on the second hand market currently). So we opted to not be on a specific marketplace. Instead we own and operate as MLSE Digital labs and it's been one of the best decisions that we've been able to make because we have ultimate flexibility in that space. There’s undoubtedly still a lot for us to learn. We don't claim to be the foremost expert on NFT's and blockchain but having the ability to build a marketplace as an organisation and control our assets and next moves (like into the metaverse) have been super important for such a large organisation like ourselves to keep up with the pace of change.
On the opportunities in the Metaverse:
We created a digital arena during the pandemic. We quite literally lost our building here in North America and went into a bubble and from a business perspective, our partners and our fans were craving a way to be connected again. Even from a fan perspective, we all understand that sports are better with friends and people. You can watch a game by yourself but if your buddy's there with you or your brother, your sister, sibling or significant other, it's just more fun. And at a time where we couldn't be together, we gave people a vehicle to be able to do that digitally. And we're really happy with the results of that and I think that's one step towards where the whole Metaverse concept of decentralisation is going. Even something as simple as a chat room or participating in a virtual t-shirt toss adds value to the fans' experience but also gives us more rights and assets to share with our sponsors and partners.
We certainly see the metaverse as a long term strategy - we're finding that people are still using our virtual world as a way to connect when they're not in the building every night, right? Even on away games. Fans really wanted to continue to be together, and this presents such a huge opportunity because as we know, only 1% of our fans will ever be at the live in-person game, so there’s so much room for growth.
About Christian & Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE)
Christian Magsisi is the company’s Vice President of Technology & Digital at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) where he leads Product Design, Engineering, Research and Development. He works with MLSE’s professional sports teams (Argos, Leafs, Raptors, TFC) and business operations to create technology solutions for front office, coaches and players, as well as enhance the digital fan experience for those watching at home as well as the fans in MLSE venues such as Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field. Prior to joining MLSE, Christian has worked in technology for 15 years starting with telecom at Rogers, then moving into software consultancy, building digital products globally for: energy, retail and government sectors.