Blockchain’s Next Big Application? Sport NFTs

Author: Ryo Weng, Graphics: Nina Tagliabue

The BRB Bottomline

Comparable to traditional sports cards, sport NFTs meet at the intersection of sports and blockchain to offer a relatively new investing experience. In this article, I take a closer look at three sport NFT companies and compare their unique attributes to each other. Buying and selling sport NFTs have increased in popularity as companies like NBA Top Shot, DraftKings Marketplace, and Sorare have looked to gamify investing and sports betting. As blockchain technology continues to become more relevant, an increasing number of applications are also emerging.


What are NFTs

The concept of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) can best be understood by being broken down into two parts. First is the fungible component. “Fungibility” is a property that establishes that each unit has interchangeable value and can not be distinguished from another, therefore making them replaceable. The second part, “token,” refers to a proof of ownership aspect as an asset that can be bought, sold, and traded. When the two components are combined, NFTs can be best understood as “a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos.” A common analogy is to compare NFTs to the modern day collector’s item.

NFTs are typically stored on the Ethereum network, a decentralized technology that can house cryptocurrencies and other applications. As a result of their blockchain capabilities, “the NFT ownership can be easily verified and traced, while the person or entity that owns the token can remain pseudonymous.” This allows for a wide variety of NFTs, such as digital toilet paper, flowers, perfume, and the first Twitter tweet to be traded securely.

As an industry, the sales volume of NFTs dramatically increased from $94.9 million to $2.5 billion from 2020 to the end of the second quarter of 2021. CNBC reported that in the third quarter of 2021, NFT trading volume reached $10.67 billion, representing a 704% increase from the previous quarter. DappRadar, a data acquisition and analytics company monitoring decentralized applications, attributes these high volumes to an evolving trust in this emerging technology as well as social capital. Furthermore, “the healthy distribution of NFT minters and rising number of unique buyers points to genuine organic growth,” indicating a positive future for the token industry. Another reason for its growth has been the attention and hype that the industry has garnered. Not only have celebrities such as Jay-Z and Stephen Curry designed, curated, and sold their own NFT collections, many other celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Fallon are active buyers in the NFT marketplace. 

Sport NFTs

A niche subset within the broader market of NFTs are sport NFTs.  A new means of fan engagement, sport NFTs have quickly gained popularity as organizations, such as the NBA and NFL have released collections of digital collectibles. Sport NFTs can be digital versions of basketball cards, GIFs, or highlights that people can buy and sell like stocks. Due to the blockchain component, customers can view previous owners of the digital asset, previous price points, and create predictions on the outlook of the asset.

As a result of major funding rounds in recent years, this industry appears to be on the incline. In 2021, Dapper Labs, the company operating NBA Top Shot, raised over $620 million from three rounds of funding. Another soccer NFT developer Sorare has reached $730 million in funding after a $680 million Series B round. Some pundits have argued that the sport NFT market is rapidly declining due to decreasing sales volume and floor price, but these numbers say otherwise. As found by a McKinsey analyst, sales of $138 million were generated in just a week in the US, indicating the market’s relative nascency.

Furthermore the President of Zilliqa Amrit Kumar, whose company produces software that uses distributed networks to run blockchain platforms, claims that COVID has shifted consumer sentiments. Previously, people had the ability to attend auction houses live and buy items there, whereas now many things are moving into the digital market-place. 

Company Overview

In order to better determine the future of the NFT market, I will analyze three popular sport NFT companies to highlight their potential to generate profits, as well as their contributions to the growth of the overall industry. 

NBA Top Shot

NBA Top Shot is a NFT marketplace based on blockchain where customers can buy, sell, and trade virtual trading cards. Since the middle of 2019, the National Basketball Association partnered with Dapper Labs to create this marketplace, quickly amassing an audience base of over 1 million customers. According to SportsPro, as of May 4th, 2021, NBA Top Shot has generated $500 million in sales, with the most expensive transaction being a highlight clip of NBA superstar Lebron James dunking for $387,600. 

In terms of how NBA Top Shot works, the NBA curates these highlights, known as “Moments,” and sends them to Dapper Labs where they are transformed into NFTs. People can then purchase packs that are randomly assigned NFTs and sold for varying prices based on the rarity. Once bought, these highlights, which are securely encrypted in a digital wallet, can be showcased and resold. With Dapper Labs looking to add WNBA NFTs to its platform, a new market stream will emerge and lead to more traffic. Based on trends reported earlier this year, it appears that integrating WNBA moments into NBA Top Shot’s platform can facilitate further growth, as was the case when other NFT projects, such as Art Blocks and CryptoPunks, were integrated and reported an 8% bump. According to the Head of Partnerships at Dapper Labs, Caty Tedman said, ““We’re going to try a couple new onboarding flows and see if they’re stickier, and if we’re providing value to people and explaining value upfront.” Dapper Labs continues to use new fundraising efforts to expand into more sports and industries. 

DraftKings Marketplace

What started as a fantasy sports platform, DraftKings now offers a wide variety of services integrating the immersive sports entertainment experience. Available across 8 different countries and featuring 15 different sports, and recently starting to trade on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange as a result of an acquisition, DraftKings has achieved major success and growth in the sports industry. In August of 2021, DraftKings launched DraftKings Marketplace, a digital marketplace for sport NFT buying and selling to expand its pre-existing services. DraftKings Marketplace facilitates the buying and selling of newly created NFTs. Customers can reserve a spot in line ahead of a NFT drop. During the drop, they will be randomly slotted in a virtual queue. If fortunate, they will then be offered the opportunity to purchase the NFT. Similar to NBA Topshot, DraftKings Marketplace has a portfolio page where users can view their purchases or put their NFTs up for sale. An increase in the legalization of sports betting complements the upward trajectory of DraftKings. Recently, DraftKings acquired Scarcity Labs and is working on an acquisition of Golden Nugget Online Gaming to further advance their position in the marketplace. This stock is positioned to generate long term returns given their reputability in successful partnerships with professional sports leagues such as the NFL, UFC, and NBA. 

Sorare

Started by Nicolas Julia and Adrien Montfort in 2018, Sorare is an online platform where users can manage a virtual soccer team using blockchain technology on the Ethereum network. The blockchain component ensures that players can authenticate their digital cards, individual player profile NFTs. Slightly different from the two aforementioned NFT sites, Sorare allows players to not only collect cards but also use them to compile fantasy teams to compete in tournaments and win prize money. Supported by major gaming brands such as Ubisoft, Sorare has garnered over 600,000 registered users as of September 2021. With sales having grown over 50 times in the period between second quarter of 2020 and second quarter of 2021, there is no doubt that Sorare will continue to climb in popularity. 

Uncertainty

Despite the media attention and hype around NFTs, there is still no guarantee that NFTs will hold their value for a prolonged period of time. Advancements in technology, regulations and unforeseen circumstances could lead to the potential crash of this market. For example, if an NFT is not stored properly or the URL breaks, this digital asset could disappear forever. Furthermore, according to Nansen, a blockchain analytics platform, “The industry ‘remains spotted by certain profit-seeking practices.”

More specifically, people who create tokens could be buying up the floor which would result in wash trading, a phenomenon in which a single group of individuals can buy and sell the same token over and over again to generate artificial demand for an asset. If wash trading and other duplicitous activities continue to take place in the sport NFTs marketplace, the bubble forming around the industry could potentially burst. 

Conclusion

In what is still a relatively new industry, the NFT market has shown indications of becoming an established domain in the realm of blockchain technology. Niche sub-industries forming within the broader NFT marketplace have given rise to sport NFTs. Companies such as NBA Top Shot, DraftKings Marketplace, and Sorare are advancing the interactive sports industry by offering digital assets that are comparable to traditional sports collectibles. As with many investments, concerns still surround the future of sport NFTs. However, in looking at the fundamental capabilities of the blockchain technology, its applications will inevitably be ubiquitous in the years to come. Whether it be used for verification of ticket entry in the entertainment industry or verification of education status for a student’s degree, there is no doubt that this technology can be utilized to benefit our society. 

Take-Home Points

  • NFTs are digital assets that contain a unit of data that can either increase or decrease in value over time.
  • Blockchain technology is being implemented into the sports industry in the form of sport NFTs.
  • Sport NFTs have posed high valuations and sales, but these numbers do not indicate sustainable growth.
  • NBA Top Shot, DraftKings Marketplace, and Sorare are some of the most popular platforms to interact with sport NFTs.
  • Regardless of the success of sport NFTs, this overarching concept can be expanded into many other real world applications, such as ticket entry verification in the entertainment industry.

2 Comments

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