Between its TopShot non-fungible token collection and high-profile crypto partnerships, the National Basketball Association has consistently integrated blockchain and crypto into its business model and fan base ahead of many other sporting leagues. This week it’s been stepped up a notch, however, with the announcement of a series of new projects and partnerships.
Six-time NBA champion and arguably the game’s greatest ever player, Michael Jordan — along with his son Jeffery — announced a new Web 3.0 fan engagement project to be built on the Solana blockchain. The platform, HEIR, will allow fans to build greater relationships with athletes with membership-based access to digital assets and first-person drops through the use of the native token on the platform — also called HEIR.
The platform will launch an exclusive HEIR token built on Solana, an energy-efficient Layer-1 blockchain network, and supporters will have the opportunity to purchase one-time digital assets or to join their “huddle,” powered by blockchain technology, for exclusive drops, digital goods, immersive experiences, and more. Slated for launch in 2022, the project also recently closed a US$10 million seed funding round led by Thrive Capital, with additional investments from Solana Ventures — the venture capital arm of the Solana ecosystem.
“Fan loyalty is increasingly moving toward love for individual players rather than teams,” said Gaurav Ahuja, partner at Thrive Capital, in a statement shared with Forkast.News. “There’s an opportunity now to develop an ecosystem that enables fans to feel like insiders with the athletes they love. HEIR’s ‘huddle’ provides a first-of-its-kind experience to be closer to athletes, becoming active co-owners and co-creators in the platform. HEIR represents the future of consumer entertainment experiences, built with Web3 at its core.”
As of Dec. 25, the iconic Staples Center in Los Angeles, home to the LA Lakers basketball team, will be renamed the Crypto.com Arena as part of a deal worth an eye-watering US$700 million — making it one of the largest in sporting history. Now fellow California team the Golden State Warriors (GSW) have announced a partnership with Bahama-based FTX’s U.S. subsidiary to become the team’s official cryptocurrency platform and NFT marketplace.
An early adopter of blockchain, the GSW dropped an NFT collection that included various editions of the team’s six NBA Championship rings and 10 commemorative ticket stubs with the team’s 1-of-1 6x World Championship Ring selling for 285.111ETH, worth nearly US$900,000 at the time. The team is now looking to do a new round of NFT drops on FTX beginning in early 2022.
FTX also intends to donate a total of three Bitcoin to three Bay Area organizations that address education inequality to commemorate the occasion.
Not to be outdone, crypto exchange Coinbase Global Inc. has partnered with Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets to become an official face of the brand. As part of the deal, Coinbase will also work with Durant’s sports site Boardroom to provide digital ads and sponsored content about crypto as well as to contribute funds to Durant’s youth foundation.
Durant is former teammates with early adopter Spencer Dinwiddie who tokenized a past contract with the NBA on the Ethereum network in the hopes it would create better terms for players while giving fans a chance to invest in players’ success. Dinwiddie also recently put a pair of game-worn shoes up for auction as an NFT with all proceeds going towards the Dinwiddie Family Foundation, an organization that aims to help disadvantaged young people through education and fitness programs.
In January 2020, the basketball world was shaken to learn of a tragic helicopter crash that claimed the life of star player Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna and seven others. Nearly two years on, a group of fans will be releasing a series of NFTs dedicated to the late player, with all proceeds to be donated to the Mamba & Mambacita sports foundation — the non-profit founded in memory of Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
All of these developments fit the pattern of the NBA, its players and community adopting and embracing blockchain technology. But could it also be that pro basketball is just a better fit for crypto than other sports?.
“Individual NBA stars tend to have more cultural clout, influence, and international appeal than, say, the NFL,” said Ben Armstrong, crypto influencer, YouTuber and founder of BitBoy Crypto in an email to Forkast.News. “A team with 5 starters, as in the NBA, is more attainable than a team with 22 starters, as is the case with football when considering offense and defense.”
“Additionally, the NBA is a better cultural fit. You see everyday people walking around in their Nike KD (Kevin Durant) sneakers, but you don’t see anyone walking around in Tom Brady cleats,” Armstrong added.
The NBA has not only been an early adopter of blockchain technology but has even managed to shape the course of its development through the incredible success of its TopShot NFT series — collectible NFTs of GIFs of great plays of “moments,” one industry watcher told Forkast.News.
“NBA TopShot led the way by showcasing an innovative way to represent what an NFT was,” said Yohann Calpu, chief blockchain officer at CryptoSlam.io, in a written statement to Forkast.News. “The now famous ‘Moment’ combined typical digital collectible properties (mint, editions, rarity) but added a well-crafted, high-quality video clip with sound, which added to the marketing appeal of new NFT entrants. This product-market fit was key to their success as the 2020 NBA season kicked off.”
After launching in mid-2020, TopShot exploded in popularity in February 2021 with over US$200 million in sales volume being recorded in a single month, according to CryptoSlam. While that transaction volume is down significantly from that high period in February, CryptoSlam still rates the series in the top 10 in terms of sales volume of all time.
There is one area of crypto that the NBA has been beaten to, however; international soccer clubs have been issuing fan tokens since mid-last year. FC Barcelona began issuing a fan token, $BAR, which sold out in less than two minutes, generating US$1.3 million in sales. $BAR facilitates fan voting and exclusive rewards through the app Socios.com. While the NBA is not a first-mover on fan tokens, another industry watcher told Forkast.News that “wouldn’t surprise me one bit” to see the league begin to offer fan tokens in the future.
“[Fan tokens are] one of the most exciting ways to engage directly with a community, and really the sky is the limit with what a creative marketing team can do with tokens,” said Yehudah Petscher, NFT relations strategist at CryptoSlam.io. “I think we’ll be seeing that in the future.”
In June, the Philadelphia 76ers became the first NBA team to partner with Socios. While initially a marketing partnership, the partnership does hint at a possible release of a fan token in the future.