Liverpool FC is taking another step into the metaverse.
Earlier this year, the Merseyside club ventured into the space with a set of digital collectibles in the marketplace run by Sotheby’s auction house. Now, it is announcing a collection of digital clothing available in the Meta Avatars Store.
Fans will be able to purchase the Liverpool team gear to customize their digital avatars on Meta platforms including Facebook and Instagram. The initial offering has versions of Liverpool’s home and away shirts, as well as LFC-branded hoodie and sweatpants outfits, available to users in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Italy, and Thailand. A debut of the merchandise for Meta Quest headsets that bring users into virtual reality worlds is scheduled for later this year.
Why is Liverpool dealing in digital clothing featuring the club’s crest and colors? Is this a play for novelty or utility?
Digital avatars are intended to make internet, gaming, and social media experiences more immersive. They have appeared on those platforms for decades. The recent excitement over the metaverse and Web3 has accelerated and added broader attention to how they could be used. Corporate marketing departments and advertising firms have increasingly been seeking best-fit entry points to engage with audiences that use digital avatars. Professional sports leagues and teams have increasingly gotten in on the game, coming through with partnerships and offerings that boast league logos and team trademarks.
Liverpool is the first sports brand to introduce merchandise in the Meta Avatar Store. The store was recently launched with high-end fashion houses Balenciaga, Prada, and Thom Browne offering special, for-purchase items alongside a selection of more run-of-the-mill, free options. It doesn’t take a look through VR goggles to see that Liverpool could be making more than a fashion statement here.
The club has more than 80 million followers on its Facebook and Instagram channels alone. Team apparel for digital avatars allows any number of them to put on display their sense of personal identity and association with the team. That can lead to stronger relationships with both existing fans and untapped customers, which can pay social and economic dividends now and in the longer-run. In short, it is about Liverpool using the digital clothing to open pathways for connecting to its supporter communities.
Team jersey sales in the physical world have long served that purpose. And they are big business. Liverpool sold nearly 2.5 million shirts in Europe last year, the third most of all clubs on the continent. Its current deal with Nike as kit supplier, which includes rights fees and a 20% cut of all sales, has been reported to potentially bring the club about $100 million per year. Time will tell whether that level of success can be met—or surpassed—in the metaverse.
The metaverse is in its infancy and struggling to attract users. So, there is a ways to go for sales of the digital version reaching that level. But Liverpool’s digital clothing deal meets the criteria for an effective, innovative opportunity.
To begin with, marketing branded clothing to the public is a simple (though not easy) and familiar practice given Liverpool’s knowledge and know-how. Producing and selling the digital versions requires relatively little contribution of financial and human resources. Aiming at market leadership, grounded in a habit of testing and adjusting processes in response to results, is embedded in the organization’s DNA.
Those characteristics, and the culture they infuse, are driven by a flywheel based on knowledge development and knowledge sharing. The same appears across all of the properties owned by Fenway Sports Group—in addition to Liverpool, the Boston-based holding company has controlling interests in MLB’s Boston Red Sox, NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, NASCAR’s Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, NESN regional sports network, Fenway Sports Management marketing firm, and Fenway Sports Group Real Estate, as well as a minority stake in The SpringHill Company enterprise created by NBA superstar LeBron James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter. It paves the way for exploring new directions, testing them, and then heading toward a goal.
The Liverpool-branded clothing made for the metaverse is a new concept, but not much different from what the club has been doing for a long time. As its fans know, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” wherever you are and in whatever world you—or your avatar—are in.