NFTs & Sports: A Slam Dunk Pairing

It seems like we can't go a week without reading about new NFT developments. At the time of this writing, the world's first text message –– sent on UK cell network Vodafone in 1992 –– has been minted as an NFT and auctioned off in Paris. The "Merry Christmas" text sold for 107,000 euros (approximately $121,000) –– nowhere near what Jack Dorsey got when he similarly sold off the first-ever tweet, but still an incredible sum.

It's things like this that keep NFTs in the headlines. But beneath these headlines, there are a lot of other developments happening in the world of NFTs as well. In this post, for instance, we're going to explore how these tokens are increasingly becoming part of the sports industry.

Early Adoption

The NBA was the first of the U.S. leagues to go big on NFTs, launching in June 2020. To date, over $230 million has been spent on digital basketball files highlighting great players and moments. Dapper Labs, the developer who creates the tokens, sees them as having similar longevity to playing cards, and possibly more, given that digital images and videos can't physically degrade.

NBA NFTs are already being traded like cards, with the highest-priced thus far, a LeBron James dunk, very similar (and in tribute to) a Kobe Bryant dunk, selling for $387,000 in April 2021. With only 59 of that particular King James NFT being minted on the blockchain, there are some folks who bought a $9 pack at the launch who should be very happy indeed.

Evolution of Concept

Again, basketball has led the way when it comes to utilizing NFTs as more than just collectibles. When USC star Evan Mobley declared for the draft in April 2021, he issued a 1-of-1 NFT that entitled the owner to a pair of tickets for a future game, a meet and greet, and two signed jerseys. Now that he's a Cleveland Cavalier and leading the conversation for Rookie of the Year, that NFT is looking like a smart investment.

Mobley is not alone in basketball, or sports more broadly, in using digital assets to offer perks. It is, in fact, a similar concept to that of the crypto fan tokens that high-profile sports teams around the world have already embraced. Tokens can be purchased by fans in exchange for a cryptocurrency called Chiliz, and then used essentially as keys to participation in various promotional events. Now, this is more of a cryptocurrency example than strictly an NFT one. But it nonetheless speaks to how sports organizations, in addition to individual players, are using unique digital assets as more than just money-making collectibles. Such assets can also increase fan engagement.

The Future

Beyond the world of sports, we've already seen NFTs spread into various industries, including retail, real estate, and more. Given this early progress, as well as society's generally growing familiarity with digital assets, it seems as if the future possibilities for NFTs are just about endless.

Deloitte predicts that almost $2 billion will be spent on sporting NFTs in 2022. Beyond the NBA, we've seen La Liga in Spain sign on to launch a range of NFTs, and the English Premier League is said to be very interested as well. More individual athletes, too, are likely to get in on the trend in order to independently commoditize their own images and likenesses. Tiger Woods, Simone Biles, Tony Hawk, and even a handful of prominent college athletes have their own NFTs. Even among the ranks of the retired, Wayne Gretzky and Derek Jeter do as well.

And all of this is to say nothing of other potential purposes for NFTs –– say, revolutionizing ticket sales and ending counterfeiting, or changing the nature of commemorative products when teams win championships or players set major milestones.

We don't know exactly how this will all evolve. But it's clear that NFTs have spread into the world of sports, and will continue to do so moving forward.

by Jade Rose


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