NBA Top Shot, a collection of NBA NFTs featuring highlights, GIFs, and other classic NBA moments, recently surpassed $1 billion in sales. There have been ups and downs during the company’s lifespan, and it surely hasn’t reached the same heights it teased in early 2021, but Top Shot has remained a viable enterprise even through one of the worst crashes in crypto market history.
The NBA has taken notice and so have many American crypto gurus. Not long ago, crypto influencer and CEO of VaynerMedia Gary Vaynerchuk (known online as Gary Vee) claimed that the NBA is heading toward turning ticket stubs into non-fungible tokens, even with the volatility of the market rearing its ugly head the past few weeks.
Vaynerchuk isn’t alone in this belief though. Several crypto experts share this sentiment. “This was inevitable,” said Dr. Dustin York, associate professor of communication at Maryville University. “The crash was going to come just like how e-commerce was huge, and then e-commerce crashed, right? Everyone said ‘Yeah. Told you so,’ but then Amazon doubled down at that point and now 82 percent of households have Amazon Prime. This is the same exact thing. There are going to be lots of defectors, but everyone in this space pretty openly said that this was going to happen, so for big brands like the NBA, this is the time to go for it.”
Over the past several years, collecting memorable ticket stubs has become somewhat of a hobby for many collectors. A stub from Kobe Bryant’s first career game? That sounds like a pretty awesome piece of memorabilia. What about from his 81-point game? That’s arguably even cooler. I mean, you can go on eBay right now and find some stubs matching that criteria. This stub from Kobe’s first career game against the Phoenix Suns and fellow rookie Steve Nash is listed at $4,000, and Nash and Bryant only combined for 5:10 played in that game. Even sports personalities like Darren Rovell have gotten in on the trend.
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As the market for these stubs increases, it only makes sense for the NBA to partake as well.
“The team sells the ticket for face value many many years ago, but when that stub is being sold now for much more many times over, the team gets none of that money,” York explained. “But with an NFT stub that changes. Let’s say a new rookie enters the NBA next season and he turns out to be the next LeBron James. That ticket stub from his first game, as an NFT, the team can put a commission on it — 20 percent or however much, the NBA decides that. In 10 years when it’s worth a lot of money, I or whoever owns that NFT, can sell it for say $100,000. The NBA can still collect 20 percent of that sale, because it’s all on a smart contract.”
The ability to track these digital NFT stubs is likely a big draw for the NBA or individual teams looking to cash in on the ticket stub trend, since it’s impossible to have any backdoor deals that would go under the NBA’s nose.
It’s not like these digital stubs would become more valuable than their physical counterparts. Those already hold intrinsic value and will likely become more valuable as stubs become more digital in the future. However, the NBA’s ability to make money several years down the line through NFT stubs will create enough reason for the NBA to mint those NFTs, even if their value doesn’t reach that of the physical stubs.
Furthermore, the fact that each NFT stub can be traced online is a great way for teams to collect data on their consumers.
“Let’s use the St. Louis Cardinals for example, because this can be bigger than basketball,” York said. “The St. Louis Cardinals have no way to know which fan attended the most games this year. Even if you look at season ticket holders, they don’t know who used those tickets. That data is available through NFTs though. If you have NFT stubs, you have verifiable proof that certain people went to certain games, and that data can be used for promotions or targeted advertising or things along that line to help better the overall fan experience.”
This utilization of NFT data creates numerous opportunities for teams to give back to their fans. York hypothesized a scenario where a team can incentivize people to attend games and through NFT tracing, can identify which 100 people went to the most games and offer them perks or VIP access for their loyalty during that season. Depending on what those perks are, that could be enough incentive on its own for certain fans to attend more games.
There’s also a sense of fan superiority that comes with NFT stubs.
As York put it, “Fans don’t want to be grouped in with bandwagoners. With NFT stubs, even if a fan sold their stub several years down the line, it can still be traced back to them, and that gives them proof that they were there when things weren’t so good.
“Take the Warriors for example. I can claim all I want that I was a fan when Andris Biedrinš was the center, but I can’t prove it. I can buy an Antawn Jamison jersey or an old school cap with the guy holding the lightning bolt, you know? But I could’ve bought that at any time. These NFTs, if they were around during those times, would prove that I was there at those games, that I was cheering on my team before they became the dynasty they are now.”
These digital stubs provide irrefutable proof of fandom that can give several fans that sense of superiority they’ve been claiming. Is it a toxic sense of superiority? Absolutely, but there’s money to be made in it, so there’s no doubt the NBA and individual teams wouldn’t lean into it.
Physical ticket stubs will still retain value, but those are an asset that people have to care for in the first place. Most of them get thrown out, or tossed in a pants pocket to be forgotten about then found in the dryer eight months later. You have to really think about your stubs for years if you want them to hold any value, but with NFTs, that’s not the case.
It lives with you forever, and several years down the line, if you remember going to a game that turned out to be an all-time classic, you can search it up, find your stub, and hopefully make a quick buck. While it’s unlikely the value of digital stubs will ever reach the value of a physical stub, given the finite amount of physical stubs printed every game, and the fact that physical stubs can accrue autographs and other value enhancers over time as well, the peace of mind an investor has from not having to worry about the quality of the stub and remembering where it is at all times, almost makes up for that loss in monetary value.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I am going to get involved in NFT ticket stubs as soon as they start getting popularized. I’m much more invested in the physical stub game. I’ve even developed a small collection of my own, composed primarily of famous San Francisco Giants’ games, ranging from Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012 to each of Madison Bumgarner’s appearances in the 2014 World Series (yes, I’m flexing a little bit).
However, I still welcome these NFT stubs with open arms because as more people turn to these NFTs, the more valuable and rare the physical stubs become. It’s a win-win for everybody involved, and it can’t come soon enough.