Sports represent an increasingly sizable chunk of the thriving NFT market, from Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot to Tom Brady’s Autograph platform to Fanatics’ Candy Digital.
But college football’s Senior Bowl took a different approach to athlete NFTs this year: Each player got his own one-of-a-kind custom collectible.
In partnership with Panini, the trading card and sticker giant that has expanded into NFTs, organizers of the Reese’s Senior Bowl this past weekend created a single-edition NFT for each player at the game. The Senior Bowl is an invite-only showcase for college football players hoping to get drafted into the NFL.
In the run-up to the game, each player recorded video footage that Panini then transformed into a single-edition NFT. The NFTs were minted on Panini’s own blockchain platform, and ownership for each was then transferred to the respective player. Each player can then choose whether to hold or sell it.
“It’s all new to me, so I’m trying to get familiar with it,” Pittsburgh quarterback and 2021 Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett told ESPN. “I think all the guys were excited to see how it turns out. I think it’s really cool, so I’m just going to hold on to it and just take a shot and see what happens.”
Panini, which previously created personalized physical trading cards for Senior Bowl players, decided to make NFT collectibles for the 2022 game after, according to ESPN, the company surveyed previous Senior Bowl players, who reacted positively to the idea.
An NFT is a cryptographic token that serves as proof of ownership to a unique digital item, and can represent things like video-based collectibles, digital illustrations and audio recordings. The market expanded dramatically in 2021, generating some $25 billion in trading volume, per DappRadar—up from about $100 million the previous year.
Ethereum is the leading blockchain platform for NFT collectibles, with platforms like Solana, Flow, and Tezos also hosting high-profile projects. Rather than build upon a public blockchain platform, Panini’s NFT marketplace runs on its own private blockchain.
The NFL announced its own partnership with Panini America in November to launch NFT trading cards based on the league’s players. Panini also sells NFT trading card packs based on the NBA and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
All three sports leagues also have deals with Dapper Labs for licensed NFT marketplaces that sell collectibles based around existing video highlights. The aforementioned NBA Top Shot helped introduce NFTs to the mainstream in early 2021, and has generated more than $900 million in secondary market trading volume to date, per CryptoSlam.
Meanwhile, Dapper just launched UFC Strike last month, with the NFL All Day marketplace—currently in closed beta testing—expected to open up to the public before the current NFL season ends on Sunday with Super Bowl LVI.
In June 2021, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that it would allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness rights.
College football stars like McKenzie Milton and D’Eriq King entered the space soon after—both spoke with Decrypt about their NFTs last August—while others such as Jaylen Clark and Kayvon Thibodeaux have launched their own crypto social tokens.
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