Who knew a blockchain game to breed and collect digital cats would shape the future of sports fandom?
Dapper Labs launched its CryptoKitties digital collecting game as a proving ground to make non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on the blockchain accessible to more people at scale. NFTs are one-of-a-kind digital tokens recorded on the blockchain to certify ownership of digital items, like images and video. Shortly after, the company revolutionized sports memorabilia when it helped launch the NBA Top Shot digital platform for buying and trading collectible digital sports highlights it calls “moments.”
For career sports marketer Caty Tedman, Dapper Labs’ head of partnerships, that opened a new world of fan engagement and what she calls “verifiable fandom.” When she thinks What the Future, she imagines what fandom will look like and how technology can add value and create a better fan experience.
Kate MacArthur: What did NBA Top Shot tell you about how digital collectibles engage and shape fandom?
Caty Tedman: What we hear anecdotally is, “I watch more games. I had lapsed, and I’m back. I had never been a fan, and now I’ve picked a team and bought a jersey.” I’m interested to see downstream if surveys show that participating in digital goods drives physical merch sales as well.
MacArthur: Have the ways that people express fandom changed?
Tedman: It is still to a certain extent about a tribe. The concept of favorite team is definitely there, but what’s interesting is, in our product, it’s not necessarily just team. It may be collection. It creates different opportunities to display that fandom, which used to be, “I’m a New York Rangers fan,” and that’s it. And now it’s, “I am a New York Rangers fan, but I also have this great collection of players from the New York area.”
MacArthur: How much did the pandemic help or hinder and what’s the staying power?
Tedman: In less than a year, we have over a million registered users. We have averaged over $1 million in daily marketplace transactions over the last 60 days. People are not at home anymore. That tells me that even though we may have had a captive audience for the very beginning, we don’t have a captive audience anymore. We’ve done over 3.7 million transactions for $10 or under, I believe. Those things tell me that this is something that’s mainstream accessible. It’s something that has sustained power.
MacArthur: Will digital collectibles make fandom bigger, or will it replace some things?
Tedman: Fifteen years of experience in sports has told me nothing replaces anything else. It’s really additive to the fan experience, but it may impact a lot of other places where fan expectations could be different once you truly own the things you’ve bought on the internet.
MacArthur: Will the average person or casual collector be able to make their own NFTs?
Tedman: Yeah. We have at least two or three different platforms on the flow blockchain that allow you to make your own NFTs. There are going to be interesting fights about IP [intellectual property] rights around that.
MacArthur: How will the metaverse play into creating virtual digital goods, but also having digital experiences? Will it be able to capture them and create more digital goods out of them, particularly for sports, like watching a basketball game on Fortnite?
Tedman: There already is a really interesting two-way street of entertainment. When we do a Legendary pack drop [a release of a collectible pack], there are very few people who are eligible within their collector score [a scoring system designed to reward committed collectors with access to more rare and valuable packs] to even participate in that. And we still see tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people show up for a livestream just to see what’s in the pack, who’s announcing it, what are they talking about, what do they have to say.
There’s a real blending of commerce, gaming and entertainment. We’re going to see that continually where you may have the right collection or the right collector score to unlock something that’s experiential, whether that’s digitally experiential or physically experiential. The other side of that is wanting to memorialize being at that thing and being able to collect something from it.
MacArthur: Our data shows that interest in NFTs among younger consumers and parents with kids at home are roughly double the average American.
Tedman: That tells me that we’ve done a good job of exposing sports fans more so than average Americans to this technology. But it also tells me that we have a huge opportunity to tap into things that people love that are not sports.
MacArthur: We also found that sports fans were more interested in NFTs for the fun of collecting or as an expression of their fandom more so than as an investment.
Tedman: We don’t need to educate sports fans because they are natural collectors. NFTs also create opportunities for brands to reach the people who couldn’t make it to the stadium or the arena or the coffee shop where a band is playing and still allow people who are fans to show they’re fans.
I am very excited to see what happens in music. I love the concept of showing up on a Tuesday night to a venue that 15 people showed up to, grabbing an NFT, and once [the band gets] big, sticking it right in my friend’s face being like, “I told you, this band was great. I was there on Day One.” But that’s a behavior, right? We’re not creating new behaviors. We’re tapping into the things that people already love.