What fan wouldn’t want to buy an unforgettable sports moment? Nonfungible tokens (NFTs), unique digital identifiers that use blockchain to record ownership of media, are now letting them do just that. Deloitte Global predicts that NFTs for sports media will generate more than US$2 billion in transactions in 2022, about double the figure for 2021.1 By the end of 2022, we expect that 4–5 million sports fans globally will have purchased or been gifted an NFT sports collectible. Interest in sports NFTs is likely to be spurred by activity in the wider NFT market, including that for digital art, the top five most valuable sales of which had generated over US$100 million by August 2021.

NFTs will likely create significant new revenue streams

NFTs allow ownership and use rights to be demonstrated for any piece of digital content by assigning the content a specific, nonduplicable identifier that is recorded on a distributed database, or blockchain. Ownership of an NFT may include ownership of the underlying digital asset, though most sports NFTs sold to date have no ownership or use rights in the underlying media. Each NFT includes a smart contract whose terms are applicable indefinitely and that executes immediately and irrevocably with each trade.

Each NFT is unique in the same way that each limited run of a physical print is individually numbered, yet otherwise identical. In this way, NFTs bring predefined scarcity to digital content. They’re the digital equivalent of printed sports trading cards—which were selling for up to millions of dollars each in 20213 and which have long been a major revenue source for teams and leagues, especially in the US market. NFTs effectively address the same needs as cards, but swap still images with digital stills or video, cardboard with pixels, binders with digital displays (mostly smartphones), collectors’ fairs with online trading platforms, and third-party authentication agencies with blockchain.

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