Fintech

A safe bet in NFTs: The growing market for sports tokens

It’s not just collectibles. Fantasy sports and fan service are fueling growth in NFTs.

Sorare founders Nicolas Julia and Adrien Montfort

Sorare, which started with a fantasy NFT soccer game and added Major League Baseball this summer, announced an expansion into NFT gaming with the NBA Wednesday.

Photo: Sorare

The crypto market has been rocky in recent months and some NFTs have seen their prices crater, but digital tokens for sports are still scoring points with fans and investors.

Several companies are working to bring mainstream sports into the world of NFTs, with the support of major blockchain protocols that are eager to show broader utility. Sports NFTs are now mostly used for collecting or playing fantasy sports, but many expect NFTs to also serve as ways for fans to connect with their favorite teams or players. The NFT sports collectible market alone could be worth $92 billion in a decade’s time, by one analysis.

Sales of Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot NFTs, which feature collectible video “moments” that can be bought, sold and traded, have continued to grow and the company has expanded to UFC and NFL collectibles. Most recently Ticketmaster announced a deal to use the Flow blockchain, which Dapper Labs created, to attach NFTs to tickets.

Meanwhile, Sorare, which started with a fantasy NFT soccer game and added Major League Baseball this summer, announced an expansion into NFT gaming with the NBA Wednesday. The basketball game, which is expected to launch early in the NBA season this year, will feature tournaments using NFT-based player cards like its other games, but with features specific to the NBA. It will also have a marketplace, like its other games, where people can buy and sell cards.

Since Sorare announced its MLB product in May it has seen 250,000 new signups and $5 million in MLB trading volume so far.

Sorare’s basketball fantasy NFT game enters a market that already has a popular NFT collectibles product in NBA Top Shot as well as traditional fantasy basketball games on sites like ESPN and Yahoo. There’s also betting through sites like FanDuel.

Michael Meltzer, Sorare’s head of business development, sees an evolving landscape where NFTs can be used for a variety of purposes from ticketing to games and doesn’t see direct competition from other NFT sports providers.

Over time, he said, the industry will view Sorare’s games as “completely a different category than what some other companies are doing,” Meltzer said.

Fans benefit when there are many different ways to interact with teams and leagues, said Jorge Urrutia del Pozo, vice president of football at Dapper Labs. (That’s football as in soccer.)

Dapper is preparing to roll out a bilingual NFT collectibles product with the Spanish soccer league LaLiga, which has large fan bases in Spain, South America, Indonesia and the Middle East. The product will have access to 15 years of archives for its products, including stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But for sports leagues, having more touch points with fans, from TV to game tickets to merchandise to fantasy games to NFTs, makes things more complicated. Above all, they’re trying to understand their fans.

Sorare's NBA product. Sorare has a multiyear deal to be the official NFT fantasy sports provider for the NBA.Image: Sorare

“Managing that and getting what they call the single view of the fan — Tomio likes going to Warriors games and bought a jersey for Steph Curry so I'm going to infer that this is his favorite player … managing that is a tremendous challenge,” said Urrutia del Pozo.

Partners need to feed data to them and they need technology to make sense of it all to figure out what to market to fans and what to sell to them. This is important if NFTs can be used as proof of attendance or to provide rewards, he added.

Meanwhile, the protocol Algorand is working with FIFA, which is creating its FIFA+ Collect NFT marketplace. It will have digital moments from FIFA World Cup games and other art and images.

Sean Ford, interim CEO at Algorand, sees sports as well as games and music as key drivers of growth for blockchains like Algorand. It’s also a way for leagues to engage and connect more with fans, he said.

“The reason I say sports, music and gaming as well is that underlying all three are very passionate and deeply connected user bases. If you look at that emotional connection of the fans, and consumers of that type of creative content, it is definitely at a level that is well beyond, say, what you'd see for your favorite video conferencing service,” Ford said.

But the opportunities for NFTs in sports go far beyond just collectibles or fantasy games, said Ford.

Sports teams or leagues can use NFTs to sell fractional shares of teams, to sell seat licenses, to grant fans access to special areas in the stadium or special merchandise or to allow them to get unique digital moments of a game they attended. It’s a way to increase engagement, which is, after all, the goal.

Climate

This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Climate

The fight to define the carbon offset market's future

The world’s largest carbon offset issuer is fighting a voluntary effort to standardize the industry. And the fate of the climate could hang in the balance.

It has become increasingly clear that scaling the credit market will first require clear standards and transparency.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There’s a major fight brewing over what kind of standards will govern the carbon offset market.

A group of independent experts looking to clean up the market’s checkered record and the biggest carbon credit issuer on the voluntary market is trying to influence efforts to define what counts as a quality credit. The outcome could make or break an industry increasingly central to tech companies meeting their net zero goals.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Policy

White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins