Cryptocurrencies and sport have continued to collide in 2021 with synergies between the two proving to be fruitful on a number of fronts. The relationship between sports and various applications of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology has been steadily growing over the last few years. Humble beginnings of simple sponsorships building early brand awareness for exchanges and payment platforms have snowballed into worldwide recognition and collaboration between the sectors, with 2021 seeing a variety of different use cases come to the fore.
From the European soccer fields to the NBA basketball courts, crypto continues to gain exposure to new markets and users. In this New Years Special, Cointelegraph highlights the ever-growing relationship between crypto and sport through 2021.
Here comes the NFTs
Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) have become a household word over the past 12 months. This expansion has been led by the entertainment industry, which includes musicians, celebrities and brands as well as content creators. NFTs have become a household word over the past months.
Sports has been a staple of the entertainment industry. They provide unscripted and unique moments that make an indelible impression on fans all over the globe.
In the past, collectors and memorabilia were a way for lucky fans to boast about their uniqueness and give them an edge over their family and friends. This has been transformed by the emergence of NFTs to a digital domain, where fans can trade, acquire and flaunt valuable NFTs through blockchain-powered platforms and marketplaces. The NBA has set the standard for this by turning highlights from NBA season games into NFT collectibles. These NFT collectibles have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars through the NBA Top Shot platform. The most expensive NBA Top Shot NFT, a legendary card featuring a dunk from Lebron James, sold for a mind-boggling $230,000 back in October 2020. These numbers should not be taken lightly. And it only got better in 2021.
The world of American Football has also entered this space, both at the player and team levels. As a result of his achievements on the field, Tom Brady is a legend in the NFL’s history books.
He was the talk of April when he launched his own NFT marketplace , called Autograph. It has attracted some of the most prominent names in American sports as well as stars from Hollywood, such as actors, musicians, and other entertainment figures, to mint and sale unique digital collectibles. We’re referring to the likes golf legend Tiger Woods, sprint sensation Usain Bolt and Tony Hawk, as well as the United States gymnast Simone Biles, who all offer their unique NFTs for collectors around the globe.
Coming next week on @Autograph: I’ve retired five signature tricks, offering them in a collection that will last forever. Here is one that I recently did for the last time: varial 540. This trick has caused me many whiplashes over 30 years but I had to see it through. @DraftKings pic.twitter.com/iK6T2vtTex
— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) December 8, 2021
Brady’s long-time NFL partner in crime Rob Gronkowski set the bar high with his own Championship Series NFT digital trading card auction before the launch of Autograph. The series consisted of four unique “GRONK Career Highlight Refractor Card,” each of which had 87 digital editions on sale, while a fifth stand-alone Career Highlight card was the prize card of the lot.
The auction lasted two days and saw a total of 349 trading cards sold at auction, as well as the one-off Career Highlight card to 95 different owners. The total trading value of the auction was 1,014 Ether (ETH) valued at $1.8 million at the time of the sale. Gronk joined Autograph to start other NFTs. After another defeat to Deontay Wilder,
English boxer Tyson Fury was crowned the best heavyweight of recent times. Following that success, the burly British boxer launched his own NFT which was auctioned off for $987,000. Sorare is a prominent player in Europe’s football NFT and fantasy sport space. The Ethereum-powered marketplace allows the trading and minting of NFTs, which has been immensely popular with football fans. You can trade and buy digital player cards that accurately reflect the performances of your real-life players. Collectors can create a five-man team from their digital player cards and compete in fantasy leagues.
Socios is the other major player in the world of European football NFTs, digital trading cards and collectibles. It allows clubs to issue fan tokens using its proprietary blockchain. This allows fans to vote for club decisions, such as kit changes and access other community activities. In 2021, Socios has sold $250 million worth of fan tokens since its inception while the market capitalization of the sports fan token space has increased by 60% in the last six months of the year. The rise of the Metaverse and
Sports brands have pushed two of world’s most prominent sports brands into this space.
Adidas entered the NFT space by minting an NFT that will serve as a digital token that will give Metaverse users access to digital Adidas wearables. The NFT was made up of 30,000 copies, essentially tokens, that were auctioned. Its opening weekend netted more than 11,300 ETH in sales, worth $43 million at the time, as Metaverse users flocked to secure their Adidas swag.
— adidas Originals (@adidasoriginals) December 20, 2021
Determined to keep pace with its competitors, Nike followed suit by acquiring RTFKT, one of the biggest NFT collections on Opensea, in order to mint its own Nike wearables and items in the ever-growing Metaverse.
Seen by millions
Marketing and advertising are big business and the world of sport has long been a prime means to reach large audiences to market products, services and offerings. It has been a successful strategy for big brands for decades. Now, cryptocurrency service providers and firms are taking full advantage.
Crypto.com’s branding can be seen on the soccer pitches of Europe’s biggest leagues, inside the massively popular UFC’s octagon and on the circuits of the gripping Formula 1 roadshow. To reach a wide audience, the company has signed sponsorship agreements with teams, leagues and other organizations.
Cryptocurrency trader and entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried and his cryptocurrency derivatives trading platform FTX have also enjoyed a good relationship with American sports this year. FTX acquired the naming rights to the Miami Heat Stadium early in 2021 in a $135 million deal that will last until 2040.
From our fam to yours pic.twitter.com/oHMg9VPIWF
— FTX Arena (@FTXArena) December 25, 2021
The exchange also secured prime time commercial airtime for the 2022 NFL Super Bowl, one of the biggest sporting events in America, as it looks to attract new users.
Coinbase, America’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, scored a big slam dunk with the NBA after securing a multi-year deal to be the exclusive cryptocurrency platform partner of the league and its various subsidiaries, associated leagues and brands.
Rugby, a popular sport in South Africa, has a large support base thanks to the World Champions. When the British and Irish Lions toured South Africa, cryptocurrency exchange Luno ran a commercial that featured the Springboks’ director of rugby Rassie Erasmus coached viewers on “how easy it is to tackle Bitcoin,” as the exchange looked to target a large viewer base to begin trading cryptocurrencies on its platform. This is an excellent example of global and local advertising introducing cryptocurrencies to wider audiences. The exchange hoped to increase the number of people who use its platform to trade cryptocurrencies in the future. 2021 has seen some major groundwork on this front.
Turn that $ into BTC A number of sports stars have started paving the way for people to accept or allocate a portion of their salary to buying or receiving cryptocurrencies.
Tom Brady pops up again here after he acquired an equity stake in Bankman-Fried’s FTX that will see him receive payments in cryptocurrency in addition to being a brand ambassador for the firm.
Down under in Australia, baseball club Perth Heat signed a deal with Bitcoin payment processor OpenNode to pay some of its players and staff in BTC. Adoption is happening in decentralized areas of the globe.
Weird and wonderful
There have been individual instances where cryptocurrency and the sports world have collided. Tom Brady is again mentioned, and this time for a good reason. In October, Brady became the first NFL quarterback in history to throw 600 touchdown passes. He passed the ball to his teammate Mike Evans, who scored the touchdown. The Buccaneers wide receiver threw the ball into the crowd after he’d scored, handing over a priceless piece of memorabilia to a lucky fan.
During the game, an official managed to chat to the fan and Brady went on to offer the lucky onlooker 1 Bitcoin (BTC) to give him back the historic ball. That 1 BTC was worth $62,000 while estimates of the value of the actual ball that completed the milestone were worth anything between $500,000 and a million dollars.
It hasn’t been all good news with a few mishaps taking place through 2021. Manchester City and Barcelona, renowned in their respective leagues, had to cancel deals with smaller cryptocurrency firms for different reasons, which served as a reminder that the space is still nascent and some projects and firms may not deliver on the products and services they are looking to offer.
Spanish football legend Andres Iniesta was cautioned online by a Spanish regulator for promoting Binance on his Twitter and Instagram profiles. The National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) warned of “significant risks due to being unregulated products” in a Tweet in response hours later. It’s quite innocuous, but it does indicate that the integration and use of cryptocurrencies and their offshoots into sport may sometimes be bordering on the unknowable. While some things are successful and gain momentum, others do not. However, the adoption train continues to go.