Two years ago at the 2021 All-Star Game in Denver, Major League Baseball (MLB) umpires began donning an FTX.US patch on their uniforms as part of a broader partnership with the company.
Now, the sports league is set to introduce a “virtual ballpark” experience for several of this year’s All-Star events, starting with the annual celebrity softball game on Saturday.
As part of the experience, users can participate in a scavenger hunt to find 18 virtual cards from NFT gaming company Sorare. The first 250 people to find them all will win a digital card — an NFT built on top of the Ethereum blockchain.
“We’re excited to be working with the MLB on this new virtual ballpark and create more ways for fans to interact and experience baseball through virtual programming,” a Sorare spokesperson told Blockworks. “Following this scavenger hunt, we’ll be working with MLB on additional activations with regular and postseason games.”
Sorare partnered with the MLB last year to launch a free game allowing players to create player lineups using the NFT cards and join weekly competitions based on real-life player performance.
“The company’s focus on transforming fandom through an innovative combination of sports, technology and gaming to let fans truly own a piece of the game they love is unique and goes beyond borders — allowing us to bring the love of baseball to more fans across the globe,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement at the time.
Metaverse technology firm Improbable helped the MLB develop the virtual ballpark using its Morpheus technology. It features interoperability with other metaverses within Improbable’s MSquared network.
Virtual ballpark attendees will also get a commemorative digital ticket created by Candy Digital — a company launched in June with the backing of Fanatics Executive Chairman Michael Rubin, Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck.
Read more: Digital Artist S. Preston’s Entrance into the NFT Space
Rusty Matveev, chief strategy officer at social marketplace Calaxy, said while MLB notoriously has an older fan base than other sports, the league’s latest efforts are a way to change that.
“This is one effort toward bringing in a younger crowd that’s used to the world of online games such as Roblox and the metaverse,” he told Blockworks. “It brings in a great sense of ownership and engagement and involvement for the fans.”
MLB did not return a request for comment.
The virtual ballpark and its inclusion of NFTs marks the latest leap into the crypto world for the MLB.
The league in June 2021 revealed a “long-term, global partnership” with FTX, as the crypto company — which ultimately collapsed in November 2022 — became MLB’s first-ever umpire uniform patch partner.
MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden called FTX “a global leader in the early stages of their unbelievable growth” in a statement at the time, adding: “Our fans have been early adopters in using new technologies to engage with our game.”
The pro baseball entity joined forces — also in June 2021 — with Candy Digital, which MLB noted was building an NFT ecosystem for the league. The link-up led to the release of an NFT of Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech that he delivered on July 4, 1939, after being diagnosed with ALS.
MLB re-upped its partnership with Candy Digital for the 2023 season, according to a news release in March — offering player-focused digital collectibles called “ICONs,” as well as the continued issuance of NFT commemorative tickets.
Fans redeemed nearly 200,000 collectible tickets last year, according to the company.
Matveev said though the metaverse is currently limited by the adoption of available hardware, products like Apple Vision Pro and Meta’s Oculus are likely to help the space grow over time.
“The effort is more for tomorrow versus today, but now is the time to start,” he added. “I think MLB has had an incredible track record of being a leader in the space of innovation.” blockworks.co