With so much money being flitted around the sports industry, it is no surprise that professional athletes have been at the forefront of the latest technological advancements and investments. This isn’t just a matter of having the exposable income necessary to experiment; it’s about having the means to capitalize on budding trends that solidify not only their financial future, but generational wealth.
We have seen many athletes, for instance, convert their salaries to different forms of cryptocurrency—particularly before the crypto market started to crater in early 2022. We are now starting to see the same with Non-Fungible Tokens, known most commonly as NFTs, which are “tokens that allow for the exchange, trade and ownership of unique digital assets.”
These tokens (or block chains) appeal specifically to professional athletes because it’s another form of ownership. Even if you’re a skeptic who thinks NFTs are just fancy JPEGs or MP4s, pro athletes are acquiring the rights to something visual—material, even. And these investments can also involve their sport or their personal brand directly. There are NFTs made in the image of shoes, logos and even highlights. A professional athlete, then, can feasibly own the rights to an NFT configured after their own shoe, clothing or logo line or a specific highlight or moment from their career.
Still, this only answers part of the question: Why are NFTs becoming so popular so quickly among the most handsomely compensated in the sports industry? Nostalgia and vanity can only be part of it. Let’s see if we can explain the rest of it—while also determining whether investments in NFTs among professional athletes are here to stay.
NFTs Are a Way for Athletes to Interact with Fans
Most are quick to lean on the financial incentives tied to athletes investing extensively in NFTs. But experts also argue pro-sports players use NFTs to expand awareness of their own brand and their reach and relationship with fans.
“NFT non-fungible token golden coin on circuit board” by Jernej Furman is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“The ever-evolving world of NFTs and the technology behind [professional athletes] means that athletes can utilize them in a way to interact with fans,” Philip Gunwhy, a partner and brand strategist at the athlete-focused NFT ecosystem called Blockasset, told Cointelegraph. “While it is a relatively new technology, there are clear examples of how fans can benefit from holding official athlete NFTs, such as meet and greets and even fully interactive metaverse interaction with 360 cameras.”
This line of thinking has led many athletes to create their own NFT communities. We’re not talking solely about the big names, either. Sure, plenty of megastars like the NHL’s Alex Ovechkin have entered the NFT community. But this has also become a popular method of investment and interaction for lesser-known names, such as Michael Carter-Williams of the NBA.
Another element to this model that has gained popularity: providing additional forms of contact.
Some athletes aren’t just allowing those who buy into their NFT communities to show up at intermittent meet-and-greets. They are creating chat rooms via platforms such as Slack and Discord so their members can speak with them regularly. Others have gone as far as giving members their personal cell phone number, so that they can exchange text messages and experience what it feels like to be a “friend” of a pro athlete.
Will Pro Athletes Continue Pushing and Investing in NFTs?
In all likelihood, the pro-athlete interest in pushing and investing in NFT communities isn’t going anywhere—at least not any time soon. The idea and execution behind this remains novel and, therefore, boasts exponential long-term growth.
However, just as we’ve seen with the crypto market, there will be a limit to what pro athletes—and other investors—gain from tethering so much of their financial portfolio to NFTs.
“Alex Ovechkin” by All Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Right now, the influx of athlete-driven NFTs is fueled by the promise of unprecedented access, including not only meet-and-greets, but chat rooms, text exchanges, specialized and autographed memorabilia given away if you buy into the community for a certain amount, etc.
The novelty of it all will start to die down if and when this becomes more common. After all, pro athletes can no longer tout unprecedented access to fellow investors if said access actually becomes the industry standard.
For the time being, though, expect to see and hear even more about pro athletes and their ties to NFTs. In fact, over the years to come, just get ready to see and hear more about NFTs in general, period.