A professional basketball team in Taiwan has issued what could be Asia’s first non-fungible token (NFT)-based basketball trading cards, with the value of a limited edition for a player’s card more than doubling in just a few days. However, some experts are raising concerns over these NFT cards’ investment value considering the size of the team’s fan base and the cards’ liquidity.

The Hsinchu JKO Lioneers, a professional basketball team based in Northern Taiwan, has partnered with ACE Exchange, a Taiwan-based fiat to cryptocurrency exchange, to issue two versions of trading cards — essentially short video clips — featuring its five star players, on NFT marketplace OpenSea. The Lioneers rolled out 30 limited-edition cards for each player, with a starting price of 0.09 ETH, or about US$166 per card at today’s Ether prices, and 200 regular cards for each player at 0.008 ETH, or about US$15.42 per card.

The limited-edition cards of star player Oscar Kao, who plays point guard on the team, were sold out within half an hour after the sales commenced this past Saturday, Jason Hsu, team lead of the Lioneers and a former legislator in Taiwan told Forkast.News.  However, the limited-edition cards for the other four players were not as popular and were sold for about 15 to 22 cards as far as Wednesday.

A number of owners are now trying to resell Kao’s cards on OpenSea with the latest sold at 0.2 ETH — or US$385.

The Lioneers’ move to issue NFT cards came as the blockchain-powered collectibles are growing in popularity and becoming a huge business. NBA Top Shot, a platform that allows investors or fans to trade NBA NFT digital collectibles, came under the spotlight in February when a single NFT of LeBron James was sold for US$208,000. According to the National Basketball Association and DappRadar, since NBA Top Shot became available to the public, more than 12 million Top Shot NFTs have sold for a total of US$500 million. 

Established just last year, the Lioneers is a professional basketball team based in Hsinchu County, home of Taiwan’s Hsinchu Science Park where high-tech firms such as TSMC are based. The Lioneers is among the four teams participating in P. League+ (PLG), a professional basketball league founded in September 2020.

Hsu, the head of the Lioneers said that there is a lot of interest in Taiwan about NBA Top Shot, and the Lioneers was the first to issue NFTs in Taiwan’s professional sports. 

“We hope the rest of the teams in PLG in Taiwan will follow us to issue NFTs,” Hsu said, adding that the Lioneers has over 300,000 followers, the largest fan base among the four teams in PLG.

Those involved in issuing the Lioneers’ NFT are hoping Taiwan’s NFT interest would expand beyond sports.

See related article: NFT mania: Are blockchain art and NBA crypto collectibles a fad or the future?

“The NFT market in Taiwan is not big yet, but the market for traditional antiques or artworks is large, and we hope they (investors) could get to learn more about digital assets,” said David Pan, director and advisor of ACE Exchange. 

Pan said that the NFT craze is just about to get bigger. “It’s just like Bitcoin. Nobody knew what it was at first but it became a big thing later on,” he said.

For basketball fans though, the Lioneers’ NFT offers more than just another form of memorabilia, especially when the Lioneers offers NFT card buyers some perks such as discounts or priorities for future ticketing. 

Hsu said that the intention behind the NFT issuance has always been to serve fans rather than investors, and the team plans to issue more NFT cards in the future.

Calvin Chieng, who serves as the Lioneers’ point guard and holds an engineering degree from Taiwan’s prestigious National Chiao Tung University, said at a press briefing via a video call this week that he would think about how to engage more of his fans online and offline, and consider organizing fan events for those who buy his NFT cards.

Ryan Rodenbaugh, head of strategy and business development at TrustToken, maker of stablecoin TUSD,  told Forkast.News that basketball teams or artists who consider issuing NFTs should “make sure there is real benefit for the people buying it.”

“If creators just create garbage and then try to sell it to make as much money as they can, that will leave a bad impression with their fans,” Rodenbaugh said. 

However, such digital trading cards might not be appealing to some basketball fans — even fans of traditional physical trading cards. 

Shen Yuchang, a 23-year-old fan of Oscar Kao, told Forkast.News at a Saturday game that he would not consider buying NFT cards as they don’t come with the same feelings as traditional trading cards — especially when NFT cards are essentially video clips that everyone on the internet could already view at any time for free.

As for the NFT market’s potential in the rest of Asia, expert opinions are mixed. 

The issuance of the Lioneers NFT cards “feel very natural” for East Asian markets, especially those in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, as they are all well ahead of the West in terms of digital memorabilia and online content, said Rodenbaugh, of TrustToken.

Ryan Cheng, portfolio manager at The Attic Management, a Taiwan-based multi-family office, added that Asia-based venture capitals, such as AppWorks, were early participants in the NFT blockchain Flow, the blockchain built by the team behind NBA Top Shot. “Asian investors have been quite active in the current NFT wave,” Cheng added.

Nancy Shi, senior analyst at blockchain consultancy Panony, said that the NBA Top Shot wave was bolstered by NBA’s strong branding and the effects of fan economy. 

“The size of the Lioneers’ fan base has yet to reach such a large scale like NBA’s, and given its relatively weak [branding] position, it would be hard to tell a good NFT story,” Shi said.

“The NFT market tends to be speculative at the moment,” Shi said. “Even if the Lioneers manages to draw attention from investors or fans to participate for now, the effect is unlikely to continue, especially when the liquidity of such NFT cards is generally lower than other collectibles.”