- The NBA's Top Shot product is a blockchain-based trading card system that has generated over $230 in gross sales, according to its creator Dapper Labs.
- Dapper Labs is using blockchain technology to create scarcity for digital assets.
- The system works like trading cards, only with NBA highlights and digital artwork.
A LeBron James highlight sold for $200,000. A Zion Williamson edition went for a little less than that. The National Basketball Association has officially aligned itself for the future of the trading card marketplace, and currently, this game is sold out.
The NBA partnered with Canadian-based Dapper Labs, makers of the CryptoKitties game, to make its version of a collectible digital asset. NBA Top Shot is a crypto-collectible consumers can purchase as a non-fungible token (NFT). Each collectible is tied to a blockchain -- a digital ledger similar to the blockchains used for digital currencies like bitcoin. This effectively gives each NFT a unique and non-hackable certificate of authenticity. So even if somebody makes a perfect copy of the highlight video, it will instantly be recognizable as a fake.
Current "packs" to get in the game go for as low as $9.00 -- and they're constantly sold out.
Caty Tedman, head of marketing and team partnerships at Dapper Labs, says that Top Shots has generated more than $230 million in sales so far, although most of this has come from traders exchanging the collectibles after their initial sale. Dapper earns revenue via fees captured from peer-to-peer transactions and unleashing new packs of NFTs.
"I think it's fascinating," said Tom Richardson, a digital media professor at Columbia University's sports management program.
"It's a nice evolution and good to see that people are still doing collectibles, even during this time," added Lars Rensing, CEO of blockchain service provider Protokol. "It's a new step to the future."
The game has also become a new source of revenue for the NBA. And again, its sold out.
Inside the new trading card model
Top Shots emerged from a licensing agreement the NBA and its players' union made with Dapper Labs in 2019. The NBA did not make an official avaiable to comment for this story, but Richardson, who was once head of publishing at the National Football League, says the league can solicit 10% to 15% of sales from a company leveraging their intellectual property.
The NBA licenses the reels to Dapper Laps, which digitizes the footage, making a limited amount to create scarcity. Some NFTs feature highlights in different angles and digital artwork. One is currently listed for over $240,000.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has compared Top Shot to the old-school model of trading cards, where consumers can have fun trading and collecting scarce items – only with no risk of damage or theft. "And the value is still set by the same laws of supply and demand," he wrote in January.
"Leave it to Mark Cuban to frame it in a good, sensible, easy-to-understand way," said Richardson, also SVP of strategy at Mercury Intermedia. "So if enough people wanted that same Zion Williamson highlight, that NFT, and bidding on it they got up to $100,000, that's supply and demand. Someone thought it was worth $100,000."
The bet for traders is that in 2051, a LeBron James NFT could be worth what a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is worth today -- one of those rare cards recently sold for $5.2 million. And just imagine what a rare Michael Jordan rookie highlight NFT would sell for in 30 years.
"We think it could be a 100-year product," said Tedman from Dapper Labs. "If you think about what the rookie cards today will be worth in the future, especially the ones from this point of the product. Everyone who is participating now is really getting in on the ground floor."
By using the blockchain, Richardson says, Dapper overcomes a big challenge with digital assets, which is the ease of copying them infinite times with almost no friction.
"One of the things that have defined the digital era is we've moved from a world of scarcity to a world of abundance with all kinds of media assets and products," he added. "But the thing that defines the trading card business is a physical scarcity of the cards. So (Dapper) created these NFTs with the idea of scarcity combined with authenticity because of the way the blockchain works."
With this asset, Dapper is positioning itself to capitalize on a digital-driven generation who value digital assets as much as physical ones.
"The new generation is more digital-native," Rensing said. "I think it will stick around because it's a solution that also brings in new fans and digital natives."
Mobile game coming this year
Earlier this month, Dapper raised $250 million and now values itself at $2 billion thanks in part to the sudden popularity of Top Shot, according to digital asset research and news outlet The Block.
With the funds, Dapper will continue expanding its blockchain, Flow. Tedman, one of the creators of Top Shot, said it now has roughly 350,000 registered users and claimed that Flow can better handle capacity of a high-value marketplace, something that caused problems with its CryptoKitties product.
"It lets us hit a scale that other blockchain projects haven't yet," Tedman said. She said that of the $230 million generated in sales so far, 95% of that has been captured by consumers on its marketplace who buy, sell and trade.
She said the firm released 5,000 new packs of highlights this week as a stress test for Flow, and 90,000 people got in line to buy. The packs quickly sold out.
"They're coming in, collecting, putting together what they think are good collections, buying and selling," Tedman said. "It's almost like if you stash together trading cards with the stock market. That in of itself is a game, before we release the mobile game."
That mobile game, slated to roll out this year, will allow consumers to build NBA-like rosters by acquiring NFT moments, then compete in online tournaments -- and possibly win more scarce NFTs that can increase in value.
"It can be the opportunity to have some fun with your interest and love of a sport – in this case, basketball – combined with your interest in new technology experiences and financial experiences such as cryptocurrency and NFTs," said Richardson.
Saum Noursalehi is the CEO of tech firm tZERO, a firm that tokenizes private or public companies' assets and builds the platform that allows the assets to trade. He sees a bright future with sports leagues using NFT licensing agreements, and suggests it's a model for how blockchain technology could be used to track and trade other types of assets.
Blockchain technology "is going to change the way we trade value today, how we trade assets," Noursalehi said.
Added Tedman, "We're just at the very beginning of this. We have lots of big plans that we can't wait to put in front of people."
Let the new games begin, as the digital age continues to take shape. But entry into Dapper's NBA Top Shot contest is currently sold out.