NASHVILLE – Forrester reports the metaverse doesn’t exist outside of a “few precursors.” And it won’t be until the 2030s that the metaverse — the internet’s 3D layer of interoperable and interlinked immersive environments — actualizes and disrupts marketing.

“Forrester defines the metaverse as the 3D experience layer of the internet,” Mike Proulx, Forrester’s research director covering the confluence of marketing, culture and media, told CMSWire in an interview from the Forrester CX North America conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center this week.

“So if you think about the World Wide Web and the 2D experience layer, the metaverse will be the 3D experience layer. And the reason I say 'will be' is we don't believe in Forrester that the metaverse exists yet.”

NFL: Metaverse’s Been Around for Decades

Ian Trombetta and the National Football League (NFL) do. In fact, they say it’s been around for decades. Today, the league is actively engaging fans in metaverse-supported platforms.

“In my view, [the metaverse has] been around for decades," Trombetta, SVP of marketing at the NFL overseeing social and influencer marketing, told CMSWire. “It's just been evolving through the lens and the prism of social media and gaming."

"If you think about those two things together," he added, "we've seen the convergence of social media and gaming, where people are hanging out online in different ways. In many cases, that's through games like Fortnite or Madden. It's another way to connect with fans, and so the 3D layer, I think, is an interesting dynamic and I think another component to look at. But for us, I think it's been around and evolving now for many decades.”

Related Article: NFTs and the Metaverse Are So Meta

The Who and Why of Metaverse Engagement

The NFL is “hyper-focused” on capturing and engaging the 35-and-under fan base. That crowd’s not particularly glued to the television, kicking back and watching football games on a Sunday afternoon — the traditional experience model for the 102-year-old professional sports league.

According to eMarketer, 38% of people ages 55 and older spend more time watching content on cable than on any other platform, compared with 21% of Gen Xers, 16% of millennials and 9% of Gen Z adults.

“We're hyper-focused on that 35-and-under audience to ensure that we're not losing them because they are, in fact, watching less TV,” Trombetta said. “How are we engaging with them throughout? How are we future-proofing the league going forward? I use my 10-year-old godson as an example. You can't get him to watch two or three hours of anything. He's literally on YouTube. He's playing Fortnite with his friends, all while sitting on the couch and mom and dad have the game on.”

How does the NFL engage its fans in metaverse-related experiences? It looks across different verticals such as social media, a “giant bucket” for the professional sports organization. They’ve struck up partnerships with Meta and Snapchat and are finding new experiences to provide to fans.

“We're always looking to push the edges of what's possible to deepen that engagement and also test and learn along with them,” Trombetta said. “We can offer a lot of scale and engagement right out of the gate with our fan base. So the platform partners see that as advantageous and for us, it just enables us to learn along the way and ultimately build fandom.”

With gaming, the NFL’s got multiple gaming partnerships, including Epic, Fortnight, Roblox and EA’s Madden. In the latter, fans can play as themselves in their team’s uniform.

Fans Accessing NFTs as Tickets

NFL teams are also working with partners like Ticketmaster and providing NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) as tickets to share with friends and family. For instance, each fan who attended Super Bowl LVI received a complimentary, customized NFT featuring their unique section, row and seat as a "digital keepsake."

Also, the NFL is constantly working on providing personalized in-stadium experiences (or stadium experiences even if you’re not physically there).

“There will be a way for us to deliver unique experiences both online and offline for knowing who you are, personalizing those experiences just for you, and in a way that really deepens fandom,” Trombetta said.

“In addition," he continued, "we're working with some of our youth-centric platforms like Snapchat, so for the first time this year, we'll have the Snapchat app camera kit embedded with our NFL app, which will enable us to geographically target fans who are in stadium and provide them customized experiences. Whether I'm at SoFi stadium or Heinz Field, it'll provide experiences that are customized for that stadium environment for that club.”

Related Article: Design Thinking in 2022: Centering the Customer Journey, Embracing the Metaverse

Engagement-First Metaverse Experiences

The NFL, according to Trombetta, is looking at this next-generation internet experience through an engagement lens of the consumer first “versus we're gonna make a ton of money off of this.”

“Right now, I think it's really incumbent upon the brands to understand what are those experiences that are really meaningful that people are going to choose to come to, which is a big part of the metaverse,” Trombetta said. “So you have the option, and that optionality really is determinant on the experiences you're providing. So that I think is super, super critical. And I think a lot of brands now are going into the metaverse and frankly, spending a lot of money that's going into places that it probably shouldn't, based on what they're actually driving toward that experience.”

It’s a test-and-learn environment constantly, said Trombetta. The NFL sees scale with big partners like Meta and others and some other opportunities with emerging VR companies like StatusPRO.

What's a CX Pro's/Marketer's Metaverse To-Do List?

How do brands even get started in the metaverse? You’ve got major brands like the NFL, which is aiming for $25 billion in yearly revenue by 2027, fully immersed in providing metaverse experiences. And you’ve got analyst firms like Forrester saying it doesn’t exist yet.

Where can customer experience and marketing professionals even begin?

“I think it's having a really clear understanding of their IP and their product,” Trombetta said. “And I've seen, I think we all have, brands that don't have the strength of their own IP entering in these spaces and thinking that it's actually going to make a dent or an impact in some of these really complex worlds. So I think that that's first and foremost. Do you have the IP to actually do it?”

The next step is to understand which platforms make the most sense, according to Trombetta. You're not going to tackle all of them at once.

“How do you really dominate or drive the most efficiency through one and then continue to stack that going forward?” he asked. “So that's where I would start — just looking at your brand and the strengths of your brand and the IP, and then understanding, where does that fit within this vast universe of potential partners.”

Temper your expectations and investments and recognize this is a “testing and learning” environment right now, Forrester's Proulx said, adding that people should start by asking why.

“And it sounds so simple, but brands in the sort of FOMO to kind of capture the metaverse bandwagon, they're skipping that step,” he added. “We're seeing that time and time again. So defining a clear business objective for what are you even trying to achieve will then help you to...set a long-term strategy.”

Metaverse Opportunities Right Now

Forrester’s metaverse precursors include standalone immersive platforms such as Second Life, a virtual world that has been around since the early 2000s. Brands should begin to understand how their consumers are engaging and how to innovate for future use cases, Proulx said.

“So we see lots of brands experimenting with extended reality because that is the thing that exists right now," he explained. "And the NFL is in a rather unique position as a brand because they have such an engaged fandom already. Lots of their fans are inherent gamers, and Forrester sees that as the early on-ramp to the metaverse.

"But they also have strong IP, which is coveted by a lot of these immersive platforms that are doing great deals with the folks at Epic Games, and they're able to make some money off of it too in the process. But that's unique to them.”