In his monthly crypto tech column, Israeli serial entrepreneur Ariel Shapira covers emerging technologies within the crypto, decentralized finance (DeFi) and blockchain space, as well as their roles in shaping the economy of the 21st century.
Die-hard sports fans first got a taste of how digital assets could become the next sports memorabilia phenomenon back in June 2020, with the launch of Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot Moments nonfungible token (NFT) collection.
Since then, the pro sports industry has actively capitalized on the NFT craze. That’s not at all a bad thing, considering NFTs solve the digital ownership question once and for all. There’s no reason sports shouldn’t enjoy the democratization this technology brings. There is also the potential, however, for sports giants — franchises, leagues, organizations — to take advantage of fans the way crypto companies have profited from naive investors in the past. That kind of opportunism should be stopped before it becomes the norm.
More likely than not, fans simply won’t tolerate it.
Exploiting fan loyalty
Major sports franchises and leagues are valued at billions of dollars, and the industry as a whole is worth $620 billion. The foundation of this massive amount of wealth is built on the backs of die-hard sports fans, who have deep emotional connections with players, teams and the sports themselves. From $15 beers to $1,000 tickets and expensive cable-sports packages, fans are long used to having their loyalty monetized. Monetization is a normal and healthy part of business, but it must be within the bounds of honorable business, not the kind of profiteering we’ve seen in other crypto trends until now.
The New Jersey Devils became the first National Hockey League team to try and milk the NFT hype last year by launching their own NFTs commemorating their past championships. The Devils, as one of the NHL’s 32 franchises, were able to benefit from that credibility and recognition. Selling branded merchandise such as a sweater jersey commemorating past championships is more than acceptable and has long been the norm. But when billion-dollar pro sports organizations create NFTs that play on fans’ emotional connections by tapping into their past glory without providing any utility, it has the potential for coming across as hype-beasting in poor taste.
As NFTs seep into more and more industries, their use cases within the vast world of sports will inevitably grow. And it is essential that professional sports institutions don’t shoot themselves in the foot by overstepping their fans’ limits for what they will tolerate.
Die-hard sports fans will never fully abandon their team loyalty because their favorite team or league is exploiting a trend to make a little extra revenue that tries to capture a nostalgic feeling from a team’s past. However, if an NFT project is done in bad faith, the fan base’s voice will be heard, and the team or league’s pockets will be impacted.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Ariel Shapira is a father, entrepreneur, speaker and cyclist and serves as founder and CEO of Social-Wisdom, a consulting agency working with Israeli startups and helping them establish connections with international markets.