Sports NFTs gaining popularity as star names like Messi get on board

NBA Top Shot saw a LeBron James highlight sold for over US$230,000. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Some of the sporting world's biggest names and franchises are expanding beyond stadiums and arenas into the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) space.

Since its public launch in October last year, NBA Top Shot, the NFT marketplace where fans can buy, sell and trade digital moments, saw a LeBron James highlight sold for over US$230,000 (S$313,150).

In August, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi launched Messiverse, his own collection of NFTs.

In Asia, mixed martial arts promotion One Championship has partnered blockchain platform Theta Network to launch its NFT marketplace with collectibles of its athletes and their memorable moments.

As the virtual world creeps into sport, insiders and observers believe that NFTs have only scratched the surface.

Juzar Motiwalla, co-founder of public blockchain platform Zilliqa, said: "The marketplaces are really learning that NFTs have exploded in a very short time.

"This also means that there are going to be very interesting movements in the space because we're only on the precipice, we're just exploring the beginning of this massive landscape."

Motiwalla was speaking at a session on NFTs in sport during the All That Matters 2021 conference at the Suntec Convention Centre on Monday (Nov 22).

Zilliqa and Polaris Sports, an athlete commercial rights representation firm, released a Football Stars NFT collection containing NFTs of 10 footballers, including Colombia's James Rodriguez and Portugal's Ruben Dias in June.

NFTs are unique digital assets that represent items such as music, works of art and videos and represent certificates of ownership for these assets.

They are recorded on a blockchain, ensuring that they are one of a kind.

As more sports teams and leagues begin incorporating NFTs in their brands, Christel Quek, co-founder and chief technology officer of BOLT Global, a blockchain-based media and fintech ecosystem, believes they can play a major role in enhancing the fan experience.

Just like how fans own merchandise or subscribe to dedicated sports team channels that offer access to exclusive content, NFTs are unique digital collectibles for fans to express their support for their teams.

Some leagues such as the National Football League have also begun exploring how to use NFTs to increase the value of digital tickets.

She said: "Because people are starting to live so much of their lives online, they're going 'How do I really represent myself as a fan with something that is truly rare and unique?'

"Someone can now say I have this special art that's linked to my football club which is truly special and rare and if I get tired of it, I can trade it seamlessly.

"People now see that NFTs are that exclusive collectible that gives you access to something."

But many sports entities are still figuring out how best to utilise NFTs, she added.

Hugo Martins, Polaris Sports' head of strategic business development Asia, said: "NFTs are an excellent instrument to increase the reach that can help athletes, who mainly rely on social media, to interact with fans."

Nex10 Labs managing director Terence Ting believes that NFTs will also thrive in the e-sports industry as "e-sports has the biggest potential in terms of integration into blockchain because all of our professional gamers are digital athletes and these communities are inherently digital natives".

The All That Matters conference on Monday also covered the return of sport amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

With Singapore set to host a handful of major sports events in upcoming weeks, Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin is optimistic about the future, although he acknowledged that the road ahead may still be riddled with uncertainties.

He said: "This sort of uncertainty remains, but as long as we are determined, we will be able to see sport return."

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