Leagues Go Large on NFTs

Pro sports leagues from around the world, along with their players associations, have been among the most active property types to date in the world of NFTs. And many tend to think big, signing long-term deals for marketplaces rather than focusing on individual collections of NFTs, although they do that too.

This year, and especially this month, there has been a flurry of NFT agreements involving sports leagues and associations across sports and regions. Following are some of the initiatives announced so far in 2022, with the first six occurring in June:

  • The NHL, along with the NHL Players Association and NHL Alumni Association, partnered with Sweet to develop a branded NFT marketplace that will also feature exclusive NFT collections. The NHL NFTs will be collectible but also utilitarian, offering gaming features and fan perks. Some will change over time, tied to a player’s performance. The plan is for the marketplace to go live in October, timed to the start of the 2022-2023 season.
  • Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide, a global league focusing on Mexican pro wrestling, announced a deal with Orange Comet for an NFT program. The first drop will be in October, to coincide with the final Triplemanía XXX match of 2022, the league’s 30th anniversary year. The deal marks the inaugural step into the metaverse for the league.
  • Major League Rugby partnered with NuArca Labs, in a deal that was identified as the biggest partnership in the U.S.-based league’s six-year history. The initiative is part of the league’s efforts to build its American fan base in the years leading up to the the U.S. debut of the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033, respectively. (The Rugby World Cup has its own marketplace, through a deal with NuArca announced last year.)
  • The English Premier League filed for crypto and NFT trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, reinforcing its ownership of its logo and trophy in the digital space. The June filings follow the league’s reported selection of ConsenSys and Dapper Labs as its NFT partners, a move that was covered by a number of sports publications in March.
  • Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the mixed martial arts promoter, expanded its relationship with the sports betting and fantasy sports organization DraftKings to create a new UFC version of DraftKings’ gamified NFT platform, Reignmakers. Fans will be able to collect NFTs tied to their favorite fighters and use the tokens in their collections to compete in games tied to actual athlete performances in the Octagon. UFC has had a deal with Dapper Labs for a marketplace since 2020.
  • In May, the NFL announced the development of its first official blockchain game, called NFL Rivals. In the game, which is developed by Mythical Games and incorporates NFTs, players assume the role of a team general manager. The league’s other NFT ventures include the NFL All Day marketplace with Dapper Labs, which launched in September 2020. One example of its NFT collections on the marketplace occurred in April, when it dropped a playing card-themed collection tied to the player draft. Separately, the NFL also paired with Ticketmaster last year for a collection of ticket stub NFTs.
  • Major League Baseball paired with Sorare, in a deal announced in May, for an NFT-based fantasy baseball game. Previously, MLB launched an NFT marketplace in January with Candy Digital and generated $2.7 million in sales during its first weekend in operation, according to Candy, which is majority-owned by Fanatics. Candy and MLB first partnered in 2021. Collectibility was the focus initially, but more utility is being added over time, including the ability for MLB tokens purchased on other marketplaces to be traded on the Candy Digital platform. Meanwhile, the league has also released NFT trading cards with Topps.
  • The Australian Football League announced in April that it was launching an NFT marketplace through a five-year agreement with Animoca Brands. The NFTs depict current and past moments of both the men’s and women’s teams, and over time will include more value-added components such as access to exclusive merchandise, hospitality at games, location-based experiences, ticket upgrades, and the like. With the deal, the AFL became the first Australian sports league to establish an NFT marketplace.
  • Major League Soccer teamed with Sorare in a deal announced in March, for an NFT-based fantasy game similar to the MLB example mentioned above, integrating all of MLS’ players and clubs. The platform is different from other fantasy games in soccer/football, in that play involves multiple leagues, rather than being league-specific. The platform includes 230 clubs and leagues globally (MLS being the first U.S. entity), including Spain’s LaLiga and Germany’s Budesliga. MLS launched its very first NFTs in 2021, consisting of “virtual match-up posters” for four teams that were playing in two games at the time; a different street artist created each club’s image and the NFTs were sold on Bitski.
  • Also in March, the United States Football League, an American football-style league whose inaugural season began in April of this year, announced a partnership with Blockchain Creative Labs, owned by Fox Entertainment, to create an NFT marketplace. In addition to offering team-related tokens, the marketplace works with players and coaches to create their own collections as a way to generate revenue and build their own brands.
  • J.League, the Japanese soccer league, partnered with e-commerce company Rakuten in February to release NFTs on the latter’s dedicated NFT marketplace. The first collection, consisting of original graphic images of players and highlight clips from matches, debuted in April; Rakuten’s NFT marketplace launched in February.
  • In January, the NFL Players Association partnered with Upland for collections of 3D NFTs of branded digital merchandise known as Upland Legits, in a deal brokered by One Team Partners. Fans can play and compete for the minting and ownership of NFTs before actual games, with the player’s on-field performance impacting the value of those NFTs. New drops will be released throughout the season, allowing the competition to continue. Among other NFLPA NFT ventures: It works with the NFL on initiatives involving players likenesses, including NFTs offered through NFL All Day, and with DraftKings on a version of its Reignmakers NFT platform.

The NBA was the first major league to enter the NFT space with a marketplace, namely NBA Top Shots, launched with Dapper Labs in 2020, and other leagues in addition to those mentioned above have followed them on that path.

Other sports entities, such as individual teams and especially individual athletes, have also been very active in the NFT arena, dropping collections regularly. But the leagues and their players associations have been ahead of the curve when it comes to creating platforms to foster community and provide added value through access, gaming, and other components, as well as offering something for the collectors.

Sports in general is a good fit for the NFT and metaverse space. A survey of 1,500 adults in the U.S., released this month by Seton Hall University, offers evidence of the strong potential for sports-related NFTs, finding that 57% of households containing an avid sports fan have owned digital assets, compared to 24% of households without an avid sports fan. It is likely that the pro leagues and players associations around the world will remain at the forefront of this growing and evolving sector.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.