OP-ED: How NFTs are transforming fan engagement

10 Nov 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Gary Bracey, CEO and co-founder of Terra Virtua, is a BAFTA-nominated games industry veteran of 35+ years, having been active in all aspects of the business from Head of Development at Ocean Software in the 80’s/90’s to founding the tech company Digimask from 2000. He’s been involved in every transition of the videogames cycle, from home computer to console to mobile to VR. Gary now is leveraging his extensive business network and experiences to bring NFTs to the mainstream with Terra Virtua.

When it comes to sport, it’s never just a game is it? The emotion has long been there, no matter the sport, from crossing the finish line to the ball hitting the back of the net or being knocked beyond the boundary rope. It’s become big business, with big companies and even bigger revenues. The reason is that sports fans become so entrenched in their teams, interacting with them in every way possible. From attending games, reading the latest news, through to buying kits and memorabilia - fans love to engage with their teams however they can, which fuels club revenue streams.

The way fans engage with their favourite sports clubs is undergoing its biggest change since the advent of social media. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are transforming the traditional trading card culture into the future by allowing fans a chance to exclusively purchase and own their favourite memorable moments, unique digital memorabilia, and interactive merchandise, which can all be bought online and traded with other fans. Some of the biggest sports organisations in the world are already getting involved, the most recent example being the topflight in Indian football, the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), teaming up with Terra Virtua to create an exclusive NFT series ahead of the 2021/22 season. This is a global phenomenon, with the NBA also achieving great success in the digital trading card space, as well as major football clubs in Europe, such as Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and FC Barcelona.

With the NFT market growing tenfold between 2018 and 2020, we will see more and more sports organisations venturing into the world of digital collectables and a fundamental shift in fan engagement. So, what are NFTs and why should those in the sports industry pay attention?

A whole different form of entertainment

To start off with, an NFT is a unique token. It’s underpinned by the blockchain which holds all the data about the purchased item, providing proof of ownership. It’s effectively a digital receipt that can’t be tampered with. With the pandemic driving everyone online, the way people interact with each other, and with companies and organisations, has changed. Whereas before, the internet was used to enrich the physical experience, like the purchasing of physical goods, it has now been transformed into a virtual world. Streaming has taken the world by storm, and we’ve seen a number of sports teams take advantage through documentaries, but another form of entertainment is coming up on the outside rails and capturing consumers’ attention. This is in the form of digital collectibles.

These NFTs aren’t just a picture on a screen– they come in 2D, 3D, static and animated formats, with some featuring sound too. Like any collection, pieces range from popular to rare, giving fans the chance to own something truly unique. The blockchain plays a key role here in showcasing the value of NFTs. While some may think there’s no value in something that can be easily copy and pasted to create knock offs, that doesn’t ultimately change who has the original item. With NFTs, buyers instantly get the proof of ownership that can be easily authenticated through blockchain – if it’s a rare piece, having a certificate of authenticity, which can’t be taken away, is hugely valuable. Unlike digital assets in games or episodes on a streaming platform, NFTs will always exist too, so it means the buyer can keep it as long as they want, passing it down to future generations if they choose to.

The sports business case

For the sports industry, NFTs represent another avenue to directly engage with fans and boost their revenue. Through digital collectibles they can create anything and reach a whole new audience, particularly the digitally fuelled younger generations. The authentication that blockchain provides isn’t just a boost for consumers either. Like any business, sports brands or teams need to be confident in knowing their products and intellectual property are protected and used in the right way. Blockchain is effectively tamperproof meaning what sits upon it can’t be changed without permission, nor can it be stolen or duplicated.

Be in no doubt - NFTs are the new form of entertainment for sports consumers. With increasing adoption, high engagement and rising revenues, there’s many benefits to helping fuel the NFT surge that’s hitting consumers. While some sports brands are cottoning on to it, many risk falling behind if they don’t jump on the trend soon. These aren’t simply assets to be collected and/or traded; they can provide a rich experience for the fans to emotionally engage even closer to their favourite team or player as creativity and innovation drives the use-case and interaction creating a whole new way to entertain and excite. This is just the beginning - digital trading cards are merely scratching the surface of what will become a key driver for fan engagement.