CINCO CEO Nick Marullo: “Metaverse will be hybrid between live and virtual experiences”

· by World Football Summit

World Football Summit speaks exclusively with Nick Marullo, President & CEO at CINCO, about the metaverse and how engagement is gradually changing for clubs, fans, and brands. This interview featured in the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.

FIF is important to have fruitful and meaningful conversations about the metaverse and, most of all, help teams and brands understand how to use it.”

CINCO describes itself as “a brand experience and sponsorship activation agency”, that has worked hand in hand with sports properties such as the Olympics, NHL and the NBA, as well as international brands such as Ford, Sephora, L’Oréal, and Nespresso.

The company creates virtual experience spaces called xSpace where people from all around the globe can gather together and get a feel for what the future has in store with the metaverse.

Here, company president and CEO, Nick Marullo, tells us what the coming years will look like in terms of digitalisation, sporting sponsorships, the metaverse, and fan engagement.

World Football Summit: What is CINCO’s unique value for the sports and football industry?

Nick MarulloIn the last 20 years the world has accelerated immensely, especially the digital world. If you go back and have a look at how we communicated, especially in terms of the internet, it is very different. Therefore, I think that the rise of the company was parallel to the rise in the new means of communication. If we think of sports as an example, it brings passion and engagement which is number one.

Sports bring people together. When we look at how communication has evolved, first of all with websites, then social media, and now the metaverse, I think we’re getting closer to creating the second-best thing after real life. We have 20 years of experience on the ground creating activation and meaningful engagement live and 15 years of digital experience creation, but now, as the company evolves, we’re getting closer to creating meaningful engagement in the metaverse

Frankly, nobody’s going to go 100% into the metaverse, it will be a hybrid world where we are going to engage live when it is possible and in virtual worlds when we cannot be there. But those two worlds are going to be connected, bringing the life and the digital experience together to create one connected experience. We need to stop thinking it is going to replace anything.

Imagine that you want to go to a Sevilla FC match right now, but you’re in Montreal. What’s the second-best thing? I can go virtually despite not being there. Being present will always be number one, but the second-best thing needs to be more than a 2D television or mobile screen and that’s what we’re aiming to do which is what the metaverse is all about – a 3D immersive world full of discovery and experiences.

WFS: One of the main innovations has been the xSpace product. How does it help to redefine the virtual fan experience?

Marullo: If we look at the evolution of how marketers are able to communicate with fans or consumers in general, going back to the beginning of the 2000s, the website arrived and marketers said: “Wow, that’s a great place to showcase and put out information.” Then social media brought that conversation along with brands realising that they can talk directly to their consumers, with consumers interacting and giving their opinions. Now, the metaverse promises to go one step further by taking the immersion into the action. But the danger with the metaverse as advertised is that it is not going to be ready for another 10-15 years.

xSpace is filling that metaverse gap by providing a highly engaging and high fidelity space to engage online. The idea was born two years before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and was rooted in the behaviour of people wanting to get immersed into 3D worlds and engage in a meaningful way – we see averages of 10 minutes per person, which is amazing in the digital world. xSpace is a 3D environment that you can walk around in before a game, a virtual pub where you meet friends, for example, the locker room where you discover the secrets of your favourite team. And the best thing about xSpace is that in the future, they will be integrated into any metaverse when these worlds become mainstream for consumers. So we like to say: ‘The xSpace is Metaverse-Ready.’

But entering the Metaverse should not be taken lightly by brands and teams, we have to be very careful because there have already been some experiments with the metaverse which have been extremely underwhelming. Most successes so far have been more centred around video games, not really in the decentralised metaverses – Decentraland, The Sandbox, etcetera – xSpace is a good point to start the Road to the Metaverse.

WFS: If the metaverse is not ready, football clubs can’t possibly be either. So, does it make sense for football teams to start thinking so far in advance if we are still 10-15 years away from it becoming a reality? Or, does it make more sense to invest in skills for when the time comes?

Marullo: The thing is that most large video game companies are trying to become THE metaverse, and they just change their pitch by adding the word metaverse and everybody gets excited, but that’s not what the Metaverse will be in the future. It cannot be owned by one company in a centralised way, it has to be decentralised using the blockchain and not owned by one entity, just like the internet today.

So, what should be the action plan today? It’s all about looking at the changes in behaviour rather than the changes in technology. When social media came around, there was a reason for that. At first, the internet was a scary place, we were scared to fill in details with our names, credit cards, etcetera. Facebook came and created those small familiar bubbles in which you felt safe adding personal information, therefore they provided a solution to a problem. So, if we look at what is creating the metaverse, it is a new change in behaviour where people get bored at looking at something in 2D; kids get bored watching a football match for two hours, they will be doing other things, so we have to break with the 2D and immerse into the 3D world. The metaverse will be a huge ecosystem of worlds that are connected together that you and I can enter and go from world to world. 

I believe that football clubs and brands need these environments as they also will become new digital assets for sponsorships. We need to re-think the sponsorship landscape, so through xSpace for now we can give backstage passes to people who cannot be at the game, let’s bring some sponsors so that people can engage in a more meaningful way, let’s start walking towards what the future is going to be by letting people get immersed into things like this through discovery and connection.  

For example, take Real Madrid. There are probably more Real Madrid fans around the world than in the Spanish capital itself. xSpace allows me to appear at a crossroads in Spain before the game and lets me see what everything looks like and have a feel through a live feed of the streets of Madrid. The best thing would be to take a flight and go to Madrid but if you can’t, this is the second-best thing. This type of engagement is an enhancement to the game, but it also means sponsorship dollars.

WFS: Is there a golden rule for broadcasters to face this new wave of disruption?

Marullo: Changing an industry like broadcasting is very complicated. I will give you my opinion on xSpace and broadcasting: I think that it’s all about the Game outside the Game. There are many more things going on in xSpace other than the sport itself, you can see a player’s apartment, locker, there are treasure hunts to find lost items, etcetera. This is what we want to represent, “the Game outside the Game”.

Sponsors and teams need to realise that there is an untapped value in this area behind the scenes or between fans.

WFS: What is the value of an event Football Innovation Forum for CINCO?

Marullo: I think we’re talking about a subject that confuses a lot of people right now which is the metaverse. We want to be the meta partner for teams and brands. Helping them enter “the Road to the Metaverse”. We have been creating engagement in the digital world for the last 15 years and we were one of the first to master new virtual worlds because of the Olympics and we built something that made sense for the future.

Therefore, going to a forum like FIF is important to us because we need future partners and clients to understand that we have been doing this for a long time and when they start thinking about the Metaverse, they should talk to us. We will support them in what is good and what is bad, where they should and should not be, how to do it, what not to do. We have xSpaces that have been running for 300 games in the NHL now and we have a clear understanding on how people behave in these spaces. 

The basic idea is to stop listening to buzzwords and really understand what is available in the metaverse today. Few companies want to invest in something that will only be ready 10 years from now. FIF is important to have fruitful and meaningful conversations about the metaverse and, most of all, help teams and brands understand how to use it today.

This interview features in the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.