Athletes and NFTs
Athletes Are Using NFTs to Provide Tangible Value to Fans and Supporters

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Sports are an important aspect of global culture, and with the innovations seen in the blockchain space, specifically with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), professional athletes and their supporters can connect like never before. NFTs allow for verifiable digital ownership rights, offering tech-savvy athletes and their management teams the option to provide new methods of rewarding fan loyalty. From digital collectibles, charity fundraising, advertising deals, rights to future earnings, and more, NFTs are changing the game for professional athletes, literally and figuratively.

 

Starting With the Basics: Digital Collectibles

The most straightforward introduction to NFTs is through verifiably scarce digital collectibles, which many athletes have begun to produce. These NFTs can be highly sought-after if made by an athlete with a substantial following or likable personality. We have already seen this demonstrated multiple times with athletes across almost every sport. With the success NFTs have already experienced and no signs of the NFT market slowing down any time soon, digital collectibles are a unique way for athletes to personally create something that their fans can own as a representation of their admiration.

With all the hoopla around NBA Top Shot, which has generated over $500 million in revenue through the sale of their NBA licensed digital collectibles, American Football players are following suit and have so far been some of the most susceptible athletes to get involved. We’ve seen professional football players from all levels of popularity create their own NFTs and even NFT-focused companies. From Tom Brady, the debatably greatest football player of all time, to Taylor Rapp, an up-and-coming defender, and everyone in between, NFTs are hot for NFL players. These collectibles allow anyone to own a piece directly from their favorite athletes, bringing the concept of collectible memorabilia to the digital stage.

 

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Rapp pays homage to his Chinese heritage through his NFTs.

 

Bringing Body Billboards to the Digital Age

We’ve all driven past a car or house with a company logo plastered on the side of it for marketing exposure, but NFTs allows athletes and influencers to do this with their body parts, with the NFT serving as the verifiable receipt of ownership. Athletes have begun selling NFTs representing marketing, body art, and even tattooing rights for portions of their bodies. This can also be adopted within the entertainment industry or by celebrities, but an athlete is the first to experiment with it.

The first athlete to auction off a body part’s rights as an NFT was Oleksandra Oliynykova, a Croatian tennis player. She sold the rights to her right arm between her elbow and shoulder, the dominant arm she uses to smash balls across the court during tournament play. This allows the owner tattoo or body art rights between a 15x8 cm section on her upper arm, a seriously interesting offer. The user also has the option to burn the token or keep her arm untainted, but they will always know they own the right to do whatever they want with it. The NFT originally sold for 3 ETH; the owner is yet to sell it, even for an offer they received for 5 ETH.

The 20-year-old tennis star will be playing at Wimbledon, where any NFT-related tattoo would for sure get a lot of attention. Oliynykova is very aware of the opportunities NFTs present, writing in her NFT sales description, “I will bring your art object or message to every tennis court I play. As I am 20 years old only and my sports career is on the rise, I believe it’s gonna be the biggest tennis locations in the world. It is an extremely rare opportunity — as this is the only place on my body I plan to offer as an NFT”. If Oliynykova becomes the next big star, the tattoo rights to her arm could skyrocket in value, offering new investment opportunities for speculators.

 

Giving Back to the Community

Whether it be through an auction, partnership, or a set price sale, some athletes have started using NFTs to empower their favorite charities. NFTs are fully programmable by their creator, so they have total control over how the money for an NFT sale is distributed. Famous quarterbacks and brothers Peyton and Eli Manning will be releasing their own NFT collection this week, with a portion of the proceeds going to support Tackle Kids Cancer and the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

Super Bowl winner and potential next-in-line top football player Patrick Mahomes has also used NFTs for good. The customized digital trading cards he sold carried a minimum price tag of $2,500, with a portion of the proceeds going towards Mahomes’ foundation, 15 and the Mahomies, as well as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Missouri, a children’s charity within the state in which he plays football.

 

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Examples of Mahome’s NFT trading cards (cnbc.com)

 

Meet and Greets, Real World Items, and More

NFTs are digital assets, but that doesn’t mean they exclude the possibilities of the physical world. Many athletes have tied real-world items and giveaways to their NFTs, providing value beyond the digital asset’s collectibility. Rob ‘Gronk’ Gronkowski, one of the NFL’s greatest players, has released a set of NFTs where the one-of-one version contains special surprises for the owner. Not only does the user get the one-of-a-kind NFT, but they get a meet and greet with the football star and VIP tickets to one of his games next season. We will most likely see many more athletes include physical items packaged with their NFTs, as it’s another way for them to reward their biggest supporters.

 

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NFTs can provide many features beyond collectibility (gronknft.com)

 

Rights to Future Earnings — The Ultimate Upfront Deal

For investors, this concept can provide similar returns to the creation of athlete body part NFTs; if you invest in an athlete early, or ‘buy low’, and they become a major success, you can then realize a substantial return on your investment through the athlete’s future income generation. In the same way as a traditional contract, nothing is stopping an athlete from fielding an investment in return for a portion of their future earnings.

Imagine being able to invest in Lebron James’ contractual earnings before he joined the NBA or Lionel Messi’s before going pro. The opportunities for all involved parties would be plentiful, to say the least. Athletes will be able to monetize themselves earlier than currently available and get rewarded for their hard work. At the same time, speculators can create a whole new market of ‘fantasy sports’ based on future prospects. No professional athletes have tried out this concept, but we will surely see it soon.

As non-fungible tokens become more pervasive , many more use cases for NFTs will pop up as innovators test new ways to push the digital boundaries. The fact that athletes and celebrities of all sizes are getting involved in the NFT market speaks volumes of its future potential as a new asset class, one that is likely only just getting started.



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