Blockchain technology has been a controversial topic in the tech world for nearly a decade. But while proponents and critics argue about its merits, the blockchain is quietly gaining traction in many sectors, and sport plays an important role.

One company promoting blockchain solutions in sports is Infront, a leading provider of business services to sports organizations, which is doing so through its new innovation lab in Israel. The Switzerland-based company, which was acquired by Wanda in 2015 and traded on the Nasdaq as Wanda Sport (WSG), provides business and technology services to broadcasters, global sports brands, leagues and more.

“I think when we talk about blockchain, we immediately focus entirely on Bitcoin, but Bitcoin is just one application of the blockchain,” Itamar Melamed, head of innovation development at Infront Lab, told CTech. “Blockchain is the back end of the entire cryptocurrency ecosystem, but blockchain has several unique features that the sports market can take advantage of. First and foremost, it can almost completely eliminate so-called double spending. This is a very big problem in sports if it comes to fakes. ”

Itamar Melamed, Head of Innovation Development at Infront Lab. Photo: Eyal Merilos

Melamed explained that this is especially common when it comes to ticketing and memorabilia. “Scalpers make billions. Estimates put it at over $ 40 billion a year. This is a huge market and there are many problems with it. First, when you buy a ticket from a scalper, you have no guarantee that it is real So there are many cases when people buy the ticket, they look the same but when they get to the gate at the venue they are told that it is not an official ticket and they cannot enter, “Melamed said. “You can spend thousands of dollars on a piece of paper that is worthless. How can blockchain solve this problem? Well, blockchain makes the entire supply chain transparent. So you can see who is issuing the ticket. Once you have a ticket You can basically make sure that this ticket was actually issued by FIFA or Maccabi Tel Aviv. Second, the prices of tickets fluctuate. They can be sold for hundreds of times their face value. So this is becoming a black market. You can For example, cap the price at $ 500 and include a smart contract that dictates that rightsholders also receive a cut from the increase in the price. ”

Infront employs more than 1,000 people in 16 countries and works with FIFA, UEFA, FIBA ​​and others. The company provides media, production, sponsorship, and other services, and has sales of nearly $ 900 million annually.

In recent years, the company has also invested resources in developing technologies and startups in the sports tech field, leading to the creation of Infront Lab, which has chosen to base in Israel.

“The company provides all of the commercial handling for sports organizations,” said Melamed. “So basically anything but the professional aspect of the team. This revolves around four main areas. The first is production. We produce the events ourselves, the entire operation. Second, we produce the broadcast, the feed. The video comes from us , from our subsidiary. Third, we deal with media rights. So we buy and sell media rights. That can be TV rights or goods. Last but not least, we offer many digital services. That could be We work with more than 200 world-wide known Organizations together, from world governing bodies like FIFA or FIBA ​​to local associations and actual clubs. ”

Infront Lab focuses on various technologies including AI and machine learning to bring the most advanced solutions to its customers. “Infront is very content-focused. We have partnerships with multiple content creation tools that enable companies to create higher quality content and better personalization,” said Melamed.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created the urgency to introduce new technologies that previously did not exist in much of the sports world. Associations, leagues and clubs have understood that if they did not move with the times, they would be left behind. “The sports world as a whole is pretty traditional. It usually evolves at a steady but fairly slow pace. I think Covid-19 did to the sports business what it did for many startup companies. It forced evolution on steroids rethinking sports organizations around the world, their strategy and their innovation and digital departments, “explained Melamed. “Suddenly one of their main sources of income, the local fans, was gone. Suddenly we were bombarded by organizations asking us, ‘Hey, how can we innovate? How can we get the fans excited while doing this?” How can we get the sponsors to the fans who are watching TV? ‘This has led to a significant paradigm shift. Even ignoring the pandemic, if you think about it, a lot of attention is paid to the venue itself, but let’s take FC Barcelona as an example, they could have 100,000 fans in the stadium, but a hundred times more and maybe even a thousand times more all over the world. How can you generate revenue streams with these fans? This is something companies now understand. They realize they can get more revenue from fans outside of the venue. that they can interact with them, that they can provide them with better experiences that can be had with the implementation of technologies. “

Michael Jordan. Photo: AP

One company that has used the properties of blockchain to its advantage and has caused a sensation in recent months is Dapper Labs. The company behind NBA Top Shot last week announced a $ 305 million round of funding valued at $ 2.6 billion that was attended by several high profile investors, including Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant. Dapper Labs constructed the flow blockchain for the non-fungible top shot tokens (NFTs) and has so far achieved sales of over 230 million US dollars.

“NBA Top Shot is one of the best demonstrations we’ve seen of how quickly new technology can change the landscape for media and sports fans,” said Durant, who holds an interest through his company Thirty Five Ventures, in a press release.

“I think this is a great example as the user doesn’t see the blockchain,” Melamed said. “You don’t deal with all of the blockchain problems, such as a cold wallet, a hot wallet, a public key, a private key, etc. If you use NBA Top Shot, you are blind to it. You are basically ambivalent about it.

“They have changed the world of trading cards from a two-dimensional world to a fully digital world with three and even four dimensions,” added Melamed. “It allows the fans to immerse themselves in that moment a lot more. Ultimately, sport is all about those moments. We all love the sport because of the one shot in a million that no one saw. That’s what it is.” Sports events seven of the ten most watched moments in history. “