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 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.