Updated: July 7, 2021 7:24:49 am
The craze for sporting memorabilia has gone digital.
Athletes and organisations worldwide are cashing in on their significant victories and spectacular highlights by launching NFTs — blockchain-based unique digital collectibles with a simple mantra: scarcity equals value. And the rarer the win, the better. Ask Andy Murray, whose ‘moment’ of ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion in 2013 fetched a Rs 1.32cr on Monday.
That amount got the buyer the video clip of Murray’s match-winning point. Other sports collectibles NFT on sale include pins, posters and highlights. Mind you, unlike tangible collectibles such as jerseys, trading cards, balls and bats to be displayed in a showcase, these limited-edition NFT images, videos and artwork are only available as a digital asset. Those buying can claim the ‘ownership’ even if there are multiple copies of the same clip or image available online.
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What are NFTs?
Essentially a digital collectible, NFT stands for non-fungible token, which means non-replaceable. Unlike cash or bitcoin — which are fungible assets and can be interchanged with something of equal value, like other currencies — an NFT has unique properties and cannot be traded with something else. Think of it as a one-of-a-kind trading card which you can only trade for money or a different card. Or Mona Lisa. Once you sell it, it’s gone. You can take photos or duplicate prints of the painting, but it wouldn’t be the original.
They are digital assets which can be bought and sold but have no physical form. While digital media files (‘jpeg’ photos or animated ‘gifs’) can be saved and duplicated endlessly, buying an NFT means you have a certificate of ownership for the original artwork.
Though they have been around since 2014, NFTs took off last year along with the crypto craze with their market value tripling and crossing $250 million. In the first quarter of 2021, the NFT sales exceeded $2 billion.
In February, an animated meme ‘Nyan Cat’ sold for approximately $590,000. In March, Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey sold his first tweet as an NFT for $2,915,835.47. Artists, musicians, film studios and even academics have tapped into the world of NFT. Earlier this month, the original source code for the world wide web was sold as an NFT for $5.4m.
Who are the athletes launching NFTs?
Two former Wimbledon champions announced their forays into NFTs during this year’s tournament.
On Monday, the “moment” of Andy Murray’s 2013 Wimbledon win was auctioned for $177,777, with Reuters reporting that an NFT enthusiast known as ‘Pranksy’ claimed to be the buyer. Though they will not own the copyright of the video clip they bought, the buyer will receive as bonuses a small digital screen to play the video, two tickets to Centre Court for the 2022 men’s Wimbledon finals, a chance to play tennis with Murray and signed souvenirs.
In addition to the main “moment”, WENEW also sold more than 600 limited-edition NFT collectibles — capturing other short clips like his trophy lift, interview, 2012 runner-up speech, and shot highlights — priced between $49 and $4,999.
“I’m still learning about NFTs but it feels like an exciting area and one I’m sure more athletes and content creators will be getting involved in,” the former world No. 1 told Reuters.
Last week, tennis legend Bjorn Borg put on auction an NFT titled ‘No Time to Think’ — a 3D digital sculpture (signed by Borg) interpreting the Swede’s emotions upon winning the 1980 Wimbledon final against John McEnroe.
“For me to be involved with those emotions again with technology and art together, I think that’s very interesting,” Borg, 65, told Bloomberg. “It’s a new area for me. But I think this is definitely going to be part of the future.”
I am so excited to enter in the world of crypto & blockchain, I am launching my NFT in collaboration with @TenupNation . Lets move to the future world with #ShoaibAkhtarNFT . pic.twitter.com/Ji2EvC0g5C
— Shoaib Akhtar (@shoaib100mph) June 19, 2021
In June, former Pakistan cricketers Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar also announced the launch of limited-edition collectibles.
Are only individual athletes launching NFTs?
Teams, leagues and organisations around the world are putting up NFTs for sale.
The NBA kickstarted the revolution with reported earnings of $500 million in the first quarter of 2021. Through the ‘Top Shot’ NFT marketplace, basketball fans can purchase video highlights and trade with others. In April, a LeBron James dunk highlight was secured for $387,600 through an auction. The Golden State Warriors later began issuing their own collection of digital championship rings and ticket stubs.
Football collectibles are also on sale, with a platform called Sorare enlisting world’s top clubs. Through Sorare, a user called camembert bought unique Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo NFTs; the latter for $289,920.
WOW! 🚀 Congratulations to FC Camembert who has just smashed our #Sorare Market record.
The Unique 2020-21 Cristiano Ronaldo card was bought for $289920 on the Transfer Market. #OwnYourGame ⚽️
Price: $289920 pic.twitter.com/unLS9aXaN1
— Sorare (@SorareHQ) March 14, 2021
“I would personally never buy a Picasso but I was very happy to invest $300,000 in my idol,” the buyer posted in the feedback section.
Last month, the International Olympic Committee made available digital versions of past Olympic pins, featuring the posters, emblems, pictograms, and mascots from previous editions. Those interested can buy ‘packs’ of pins priced between $9-$499 depending on the rarity.
Of course, IOC is also banking on the subset of hardcore fans — ‘pin-traders’ who travel from host city to host city, looking to trade pins with other collectors.
Any downside to this upward trend?
There are the usual fears associated with a market of rapidly-rising prices. With buyers splurging big on virtual items, there’s the risk of big losses of the speculative bubble bursts. The NBA Top Shot prices and sales have plunged, with the February-April sales decline at 60 per cent.
The biggest criticism however is the NFTs impact on the environment. The blockchain technology which ensures ownership of a collectible — and functions similarly in the cryptocurrency network — has been under fire for its massive energy consumption and carbon footprint. In February, researchers at Cambridge said that the crypto network consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year — an electricity consumption more than Argentina (121 TWh), the Netherlands (108.8 TWh) and the United Arab Emirates (113.20 TWh).
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