The global sports industry is not shy when it comes to embracing new tech solutions. For example, whereas sports betting used to be the sole province of brick-and-mortar bookmakers, nowadays the vast majority of wagers are placed online. With this sector set to grow to $37 billion by 2025, it comes as no surprise that many smartphone users are turning to comparison platforms such as oddschecker to make use of free bet offers to back their favourite sides. Elsewhere, sporting bodies are making moves into new spaces, such as competitive esports, exploring means by which they can keep pace and integrate their franchises with emergent markets.
Understanding the NFT Craze
One such concern that has drawn a great deal of speculation over the past couple of years are Non-Fungible Tokens, known more commonly by their abbreviation, NFT. Simply put, NFTs are a form of digital receipt stored on the blockchain. What this means in practice is that any digital artefact, item or file can be attached to a unique identifying document in the form of an NFT, creating scarcity and uniqueness in a space where previously there was none. Owning an NFT effectively works like holding the bill of sale, or trademark, for the thing it’s linked with. This has led to a flurry of innovation as diverse sectors have begun to explore the ways in which this technology can be used to create value, and generate revenue.
Digital art is one area that has been proven to be a natural fit for this technology. Back in 2021, popular digital artist Beeple minted an NFT titled Everydays — The First 5000 Days, which was effectively a single file containing his entire collection of daily-produced digital artworks up to that point. It sold at auction for $69 million, instantly catapulting Beeple to the top of most-valued artist lists. Elsewhere, rock band Kings of Leon made history by launching their 8th studio album, When You See Yourself, as an NFT. Those who purchased it were given access to a range of perks, such as front row seats at Kings of Leon concerts and a limited edition vinyl.
Sports and NFTs, a Match Made in Heaven?
Yet perhaps the greatest NFT success story we’ve seen to date is with the sports industry. When the NBA launched a collaboration with blockchain specialists Dapper Labs in 2020, few could have predicted just how successful their new service would become. Named NBA Top Shot, it became the world’s first major NFT sports store. On this platform, fans are given the opportunity to purchase collections of NFTs in packs, much like physical trading-card sets. There are several tiers to these packs, which range in price from around $10 up to $200+. The highest value of these give the user the chance to acquire a priceless piece of NBA history in NFT form.
This ability to turn broadcast moments from some of the NBA’s greatest games into sale-able merchandise is being looked on as a win-win for both supplier and customer. The global sports memorabilia industry is already well established and incredibly lucrative, and officially licensed NFTs can almost been seen as a means of printing money for the American sporting body.
Unsurprisingly then, soon other organisations were eager to follow in their footsteps. The first to do so was the NFL, who teamed up again with Dapper Labs to launch NFT All Day, a service very comparable to Top Shot in its essential design.
Football Testing the Waters
Thus far, there has been some decent speculation from the world of football around the prospect of minting NFTs, with Serie A launching a limited collection of NFTs to commemorate Juventus’ victory against Atalanta in the TIMVision Cup. But no major platform has emerged to rival the NBA’s or NFL’s, until now.
Being the largest and most lucrative club football league in the world, the English Premier League exerts significant influence on global football. As such, news that the tournament’s top brass have signed a 4 year deal with ConsenSys to mint official NFTs in a deal rumoured to be worth over £434 million, is being met with a mixture of excitement and curiosity by football franchises around the world. A trademark filing with the US patent office on June 1 signals the EPL’s intention to move forward with the process of minting NFTs. It detailed the league’s intention to offer virtual goods such as digital footwear and clothing, digital collectibles and trading cards in the near future.