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NFTs and The Sports Industry: The Perfect Pair

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Yuri Musienko
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One of the current innovations in digital assets working on blockchain that are in the spotlight of mass media and the tech world is NFTs, also known as non-fungible tokens. This technology offers you a solution to prove that you possess virtual or material assets such as images, photos, videos, texts, code parts, documents, cars, buildings, or concert tickets. 

The quantity and the price of NFT assets are rapidly growing, and the technology is ready to conquer new markets. One of these sectors is the sports industry. NBA Top Shot is an example of these platforms. It helps to sell collectible NFTs with epic NBA moments. In just a few months, the sales on NBA Top Shot grew from 0 to 230 million dollars. From the launch of the platform, the completed value of the deals is about 580 million dollars. 

An this is just one example of a successful NFT integration into the sport. Next, we will show more models. Also, we will tell where can the NFT technology be employed in sport and what benefits and opportunities it brings to the fans, sportspeople, teams, and owners.

What is NFT? How does it work?

NFT, Non-Fungible Token is a unique digital certificate issued on blockchain that proves the right of possession over any token asset, whether it is (intellectual, virtual, or physical property). Due to its uniqueness, NFT can be employed in a picture or a GIF with cats to guarantee authenticity further. It will help to see what is the original photo and what a copy is. Original assets will lack, hence the price will grow, while the copies will not cost a penny. Mona Liza is unique, and this is why the price is high.

The technical aspect of non-fungible tokens shows us that the technology works on blockchain and smart contracts. Everything is just the same as with cryptocurrencies. If you sell or transfer NFTs, whether it is a JPG, GIF, MP3, MP4, or STL, file the information about the transaction, and the counterparties (the previous and the current owner of the NFT) is added to a decentralized register. Of course, this does not mean that these files cannot be copied, but it does mean that you can clearly distinguish between the original and the copies by the data recorded in the blockchain.

This is the NFT coinage algorithm: 

  1. Digitalizing data. The users log-ins to an NFT platform and use the ‘create an NFT’ option. There, one enters the name, description, and specification. Also, an image, video, animation, 3D model, etc., are attached. Next, the system transforms this data to appropriate formatting.
  2. Storing the data. The next step is when the data (file) is transferred to an external database; usually, this is an IPFS. Some NFT platforms offer storage on a blockchain. However, usually, you need to pay a commission for it, so not many people use this option.
  3. Signing the data. The NFT owner signs the transaction, including cache. Then the transaction goes to a smart contract.
  4. Coinage and sales. After the smart contract launch, the coinage(creation) of the NFT starts. Next, the NFT can be put for sale.
  5. Approving the NFT. 

What do NFTs offer to Sports fans?

Many sports organizations, sportspeople, teams, and owners think about becoming a part of those sport NFTs and earning money this way. We will show you which leagues, clubs, and athletes use or plan to use NFT in sport. 

Games and collectible cards

Suppose you are a league representative, an owner of a team, or just an entrepreneurial enthusiast. In that case, you can develop your trading platform for coining and selling unique card collections in NFT. Furthermore, you can create a video game, where the players, clubs, competitions, leagues, skins — all will be based on NFTs, and the holders will use it to play with each other or even team up and play virtual tournaments. 

An example of a virtual game is Sorare. This game was released by Adrien Monfort and Nicolas Julia in 2018. It is a fantasy football game with collectible cards. It is based on Ethereum. Now, Sorare has a partnership with about 200 teams to create NFTs of team players. You can see the FC Bayern München, Liverpool FC, AC Milan, Real Madrid CF, Valencia CF, and many other renowned football teams. 

Sorare is a typical fantasy sports game, where you can create teams from NFT cards of the sportsmen. By participating in the fantasy football league, you will earn various awards. Some of them are licensed digital collectible assets that are limited, rare, super-rare, or unique. 

Types of NFTs on Sorare and their quantity

Types of NFTs on Sorare and their quantity

Videos and GIFs of the best moments 

When we think of a favorite player, we rarely recall their achievements but their moments of fame or special pregame rituals. For instance, James LeBron threw the chalk in the air. These exciting and precious moments can be recorded and transferred into NFTs, and further sold or gifted to the most dedicated fans or tournament winners. 

This is the ground idea of NBA Top Shot. The platform sells NFTs of the best NBA moments. Dapper Labs (CryptoKitties creators) launched the marketplace in 2019 in close partnership with NBA. Typically, the NBA creates videos of exciting moments during the games, while Dapper Labs decide which to put for sale. The price depends on the quality of the video, the player’s fame, and the card’s rarity. 

Five most expensive sports NFTs on NBA Top Shot

Five most expensive sports NFTs on NBA Top Shot

Another example of a developed NFT platform for trading iconic moments in sports is SporsIcon. This start-up received a round of financing in April 2021 under the guidance of NBA ex-champion Andrew Bogut and Roham Gharegozlou, Dapper Labs CEO. Chad Hurley, the creator of YouTube and its ex-CEO, was one of the investors. The platform plans to cooperate with various athletes to release the NFTs of the best moments in their careers. 

Furthermore, SportsIcon plans to release tokens of unique NFT content created by digital artists and sportsmen. 

Photos and other private files

A sportsman, a team, or a league can choose the photos, videos, or other materials from their private archives and turn them into non-fungible tokens. It is better if those items were not on the Internet before. Those can be photos from childhood, first match, training, awarding ceremonies, old team pictures, event coordinators, first ball hits, etc. The image must have a collectible value. 

Not only the sportsmen or their representatives can create those NFTs, but, for example, the photographers, relatives, friends, or even schools and universities where those people studied also can. In general, anyone who has the copyright can create those NFTs. 

These NFTs can be sold on websites like OpenSea. One of the biggest NFT marketplaces is where users can post rare digital or crypto-collectible items that cost thousands or even millions of dollars. For instance, an NFT «Statue of LeBron» was sold for 10 000 ETH on this platform (about 35 million dollars). Kimani Okear took the shot in February 2020, and then it was coined into an NFT.

NFT lot «Statue of LeBron» on OpenSea

NFT lot «Statue of LeBron» on OpenSea

Precious memorabilia of athletes and teams

The inventory, apparel, shoes, accessories, awards, and other memorabilia of famous athletes can also be turned into NFT tokens. You can develop your platform or join an existing one to put any things for sale and share them with the fans. Moreover, you can make NFT tokens for major sports events and sell their digital copies as NFT. 

Golden State Warriors, an NBA team from San Francisco, did it. They released a limited run of champion rings and ticket stubs in NFTs. The NFT collection contains the Warriors Championship Ring and ticket stubs of commemorating tickets created by the artist Black Madre. «You saw the games. You celebrated the win. Now you can also possess a part of history», — says the official Twitter account of Golden Stare Warriors.

Besides selling NFTs, Golden State Warriors also decided to award the fans with a unique experience. The sales participants, who bought the first issue of each ring, received a material ring. Those, who purchased all six NFT rings and have the entire set, received a unique banner.

What concerns the NFT ticket stubs, the one who offered the highest bid has the right to take part in the Warrior-for-a-Day. At this event, the winner signed a one-day contract with the team and got two tickets to a home game of the Warriors. Those who collected all ten ticket stubs received an NFT image of the Warriors Historic Moment Showcase. Every single slot was rapidly sold.

Sports NFTs of 3D models of champion rings of Golden State Warriors

Sports NFTs of 3D models of champion rings of Golden State Warriors

Online events and private meetings

Visiting the M&G o any other online or offline event where the favorite sportsmen will play is the dream of a life of any true fan. It is an excellent opportunity for the team to communicate with the fans and thank them for their support and loyalty. If you want to make a meeting for a narrow circle of people, you can use non-fungible tokens as tickets and start an online auction

Moreover, unlike the regular e-tickets or paper tickets, NFTs can be programmed so that none can copy, trade, or sell them. It will help to avoid scalping and other nasty things that boost the prices of the tickets sky-high. NFT integration help to make these tickets more affordable for fans who want to meet their idols to take a selfie (which can be later coined as an NFT). 

The same will work with regular games and events. The teams and the coordinators can make NFT tickets to make the process cheap, fast, transparent, reliable, and secure. What is more, guest passes and the participation of the sportsmen in the events can be turned into a token and sold on an auction. 

An example of an NFT used in sport can be the collection of Rob Gronkowski, also known as GRONK. He posted it in March on the OpenSea marketplace. The player of Tampa Bay Buccaneers from NFL coined five digital NFT cards dedicated to 4 Super Bowls and peaks of his career. Each card is a unique item that has a digital signature of GRONK. The treasure of the collections is the NFT (1-of-1) GRONK Career Highlight Card. The owner of this card has a right to a private meeting with GRONK and tickets for a game in the next season. This card was sold for 232 ETH (which is equal to 435 thousand dollars). 

The token (1-of-1) GRONK Career Highlight Card. Price — 435 000 dollars

The token (1-of-1) GRONK Career Highlight Card. Price — 435 000 dollars.

Sports NFTs for charity

One more great way to employ NFTs in sport is fundraising for charity. Teams and team members can create various NFTs and give the money to charity. This brings benefits to all parties. The athletes do good things and become more popular, the fans can buy their desired NFTs, and vulnerable members of society get help. 

Ethernity Chains is probably the best example of a charity organization working on blockchain. This platform is based on Ethereum, and its primary goal is to help the celebrities create authorized NFTs (A-NFT) or collectible cards for fundraising purposes. For instance, Ethernity Chain issues an official collection of A-NFT of Pelé, the money earned will go to the Pelé Foundation. This is a charity organization that provides poor children with education around the globe.

At the end of sales, Pele's sports NFTs raised $750,000, 90% of which went to charity. The remaining 10% were transaction fees (5%) and the Ethernity Chain platform (5%).

Other options for NFTs and Sports

As more and more sportspeople enter the non-fungible token world, we can see an increased variety of ways to use the technology in sports and other markets and processes. Here are some examples.
  • Digital photography. As we mentioned above, the photographs can create NFT tokens for their photos. However, this is not the only way to use it. The sportsmen can also create personalized autographs as NFT for their fans, mass media, or other organizations. One might consider these autographs an investment, while the other would like to keep them in their collection.
  • Avatars, stickers, emojis. Sports leagues and teams can consult graphic designers to create emojis or stickers. Then it can be tokenized and put for sale, where the fans can participate. Even web platforms like Twitch and YouTube might find it interesting to employ at their services.
  • Pictures, drawings, animations. One more option for the sportsmen or the artists of original paintings, drawings, or animated images, related to sport. Handicrafts and authentic products are more precious on the market.
  • Quotes and social network messages. Even the words of athletes can become a non-fungible token if they are famous or vivid enough. Such quotations can be accompanied by a photo, video, and GIF from the athlete's or team's archive. Social media posts can also be submitted by NFT (a link to the post will be attached).
  • Tickets and passes. This is the pass to a wide variety of events — from regular sports games to the right to come to an athlete's wedding and say a toast. What are the advantages of using NFT compared to the traditional ticketing systems we have mentioned above?
  • Combined. Also, one can combine items in an NFT. This can be a collectible card + a private meeting, an autograph + a selfie with the athlete, memorabilia + an online appointment or even a date, etc. 
The opportunities to use NFT in the world of sports do not end there, as athletes, teams, leagues, and fans alike are constantly creating more ideas for NFTs. All we have to do is see what else they might come up with.

Top 10 most expensive NFTs in Sports

  1. Mookie Betts Legendary — $2.05 million. Sports fans and collectors highly prize the star player’s tokens. Another NFT showing him in a Boston Red Sox uniform is valued at more than $2 million.
  2. Action Jacksons' Sports Cards — $2.08 million. The NFT card of famous baseball player Reggie Jackson is now worth $2.08 million. Baseball fans can now take this card home and enjoy the iconic symbol of baseball legend JacksonsOfAllTrades.
  3. Aaron Judge Legendary — $2.129 million. The price of the New York Yankees World Series champion token has been rising for the past three years.
  4. Alex Morgan Legendary — $2.129 million. Alex Morgan is an American soccer player and the only athlete on our list.
  5. Nifty Doge Low Tayl0r.WFT — $2.1 million. This is a pixelated image of a Nike athletic shoe created by Tayl0r.WFT. This digital artist has another expensive NFT worth $9.2 million.
  6. Rare Diego Maradona 2020-21 — $4.3 million. This NFT shows Diego Maradona when he was the coach of Gimnasia de la Plata.
  7. Michael Jordan SportPunk — $5.06 million. Larva Labs created this NFT with an 8-bit image of the famous basketball player.
  8. Jermall Charlo Lions Only GOLD ULTIMATE — $19.1 million. This digital card is a signed photo of Houston-based WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo. The photo was taken after Charlo's win over Dennis Hogan on December 7, 2019.
  9. MLB Champions Brett Gardner — $21.28 million. This NFT gives exclusive rights to a virtual figurine of New York Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner. The better he plays, the more valuable the NFT.
  10. LeBron James Statue — $35 million. We already wrote about this digital token above in the text. This NFT grants exclusive non-commercial rights to one available copy and unprocessed file of Kimani Okwara's photo.

NFTs and The Sports Industry: The Perfect Pair key takeaways:
  1. What is NFT? How does it work?
  2. What do NFTs offer to Sports fans?
  3. Games and collectible cards
  4. Videos and GIFs of the best moments 
  5. Photos and other private files
  6. Precious memorabilia of athletes and teams
  7. Online events and private meetings
  8. Sports NFTs for charity
  9. Other options for NFTs and Sports
  10. Top 10 most expensive NFTs in Sports
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