Sports NFTs: How to Get in the Game

Non-fungible tokens have become a hot new revenue stream for sports leagues and their millions of fans.
Updated Feb 9, 2022 at 9:27 p.m. UTC
Crypto Explainer+
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Robert Stevens is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and Decrypt.

If you’re an avid sports fan, cryptocurrency is rarely out of reach. Look around you: After deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars were signed, the Staples Center was renamed the Crypto.com Arena and Miami’s premier sports venue is now called the FTX Arena.

You can now see a small FTX logo on all Major League Baseball umpire uniforms. Sports stars, including Serena Williams, LeBron James and Tom Brady, are often plugging blockchain technology.

However, there’s one piece of technology that’s becoming increasingly central to sports’ crypto play: non-fungible tokens (NFT). They’re everywhere – Deloitte predicts the sports market will generate more than $2 billion in NFT sales this year. Here’s the lineup when it comes to NFTs and sports.

Trading card and collectible NFTs

NBA Top Shot

NBA Top Shot is one of the largest crypto trading card games. The National Basketball Association developed it with Dapper Labs, the creators of the ERC-721 standard and the viral CryptoKitties game. While CryptoKitties runs on the Ethereum blockchain, NBA Top Shot runs on Dapper Labs’ proprietary blockchain, Flow.

The concept is simple: It’s a database game that revolves around the ownership of “moments” – tiny video clips of famous NBA plays. You can buy packs of them, virtual renditions of the trading card packs of yore, plus trade your moments on Top Shot’s secondary market.

Top Shot is the fifth-largest NFT project of all time, having generated $886 million in sales, according to CryptoSlam. However, the game’s popularity has long since peaked, as most of the sales took place in February and March 2021.

NFL All Day

Dapper Labs has also inked a deal with the National Football League. The NFL’s NFT game is called NFL All Day and it plays similarly to NBA Top Shot.

Like NBA Top Shot, the game concerns the trading of “iconic highlight collectibles,” and you can build up your collection or sell your NFTs on an in-game marketplace. The project is in closed beta right now, meaning you can’t play it without an invitation from the NFL. The game is set to be open to the public by the end of the football season. To kick-start its launch, attendees atSuper Bowl LVI, which takes place on Feb. 13 at SoFi Arena in Los Angeles, will all be offered NFTs from NFL All Day.

UFC

Alongside the LaLiga soccer league, the NFL and the NBA, Dapper Labs has continued its expansion through a partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. UFC NFTs launched on Jan. 23 on UFC Strike, replete with audio clips of the screams and cracked bones of its brawlers.

Again, the economy revolves around “packs” of virtual NFT clips, which you can sell on a proprietary marketplace. The first set of packs, which each cost $50, propeled 100,000 NFTs into the economy.

Sorare

Sorare accomplished for soccer what NBA Top Shot achieved for basketball. It’s a trading card game that also functions as a fantasy European football league. Like NBA Top Shot, Sorare’s trump card is its licensing; Sorare claims to be officially licensed with 215 clubs, including titans Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

According to CryptoSlam, Sorare is the 16th most popular game, with $202 million in all-time sales.

NFT memorabilia and tickets

Athlete NFTs

Trading NFTs through licensed trading card games isn’t the only way to get your hands on sports-based NFTs. Some athletes have gone directly to market, selling NFTs on platforms such as Nifty Gateway and OpenSea.

German professional footballer Mesut Özil sold avatars on Nifty Gateway and recently retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady sold his own NFT collection on Autograph – an NFT marketplace Brady co-founded. Brady’s collection, which went live in December, grossed $1.3 million in under 10 minutes. Tony Hawk, Simone Biles and Wayne Gretzky are among the star athletes who have NFTs on Autograph.

Sports tickets

NFTs aren’t just for collecting, they’re also useful as digital sports tickets where the premise of a unique digital asset is especially important. NFTs could cut out scalpers selling fakes – or, conversely, tap into crypto’s 24/7 economy to spark a market that’s more efficient at pricing tickets according to demand.

And NFT tickets could one day become collectible items, much like how tickets to historic sports games can hold their value or rise over time. AlphaWallet, for instance, tokenized 20,000 FIFA tickets.

Attendees of Super Bowl LVI are not only getting to see the big game in person, but each one will receive a unique NFT based on their ticket, although it remains to be seen if they will function as more than keepsakes or evolve beyond souvenir status.

What’s next?

Esports

Athletes may no longer be required to exert physical effort to generate huge NFT sales.

Although Steam has banned the technology, esport gaming teams like the New York Subliners are lining up to launch NFTs. In tandem with Moonwalk, esports company Andbox will also enter the NFT market on the Flow blockchain.

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This article was originally published on Feb 3, 2022 at 11:09 a.m. UTC

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Robert Stevens is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and Decrypt.

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Robert Stevens is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and Decrypt.

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