The Major League Baseball (MLB) has become the first sports rights holder to invest in a blockchain product with the aim of boosting the sport’s popularity and strengthening engagement with fans.
The US-based league is teaming up with blockchain gaming start-up Lucid Sight to develop a digital collectibles trading game, similar in concept to the popular CryptoKitties.
The leading blockchain game has seen almost £20 million spent on the digital kittens, with the rarest examples reaching values of 253.33 Ethereum, equivalent in value to £85 million.
MLB’s plans are based on a pioneering “MLB Crypto Baseball” dApp on which digital memorabilia can be traded using Ethereum.
The assets will serve a similar purpose to the baseball trading cards of the past, celebrating players, teams and their various on-field achievements.
Despite its potential to deliver new revenues, MLB claims the initiative is more about offering young fans a new way to engage with the sport and its players.
It comes at a time of declining attendances in the MLB, which are expected to dip below 30,000 - a 15-year low - this season.
The rightsholder hopes its new concept will resonate with an audience familiar with games such as Fortnite, whose features include the trading of digital “skins.”
MLB executive vice president of gaming and new business ventures, Kenny Gersh, confirmed that connecting to new audiences was “100% one of the strategic goals of this initiative."
He added: “Collecting items related to your team, engaging with your team in a new way. For me, say the Red Sox win the division in a couple months, I want to buy something that symbolises that. These will be event-based things — those moments in sports that happen that you want to remember and cherish, and have a sense that you were there, even if only digitally.”
MLB’s move follows other examples of right holders experimenting with blockchain products. In January, Arsenal became the first major sports property to do a deal with a cryptocurrency firm when it signed an agreement with betting platform Cashbet, providing the firm with access to its global fan database.
NBA team Sacramento Kings has also been an early leader in the space, accepting Bitcoin payments for tickets and merchandise since 2013. Last month the team also launched a new project to mine Ethereum for its charitable causes.