Ted Leonsis-owned Monumental Sports & Entertainment commissioned a pair of local artists to design non-fungible token (NFT) collections for the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards. As the company prepares to launch both collections on the OpenSea online marketplace next week, it hopes to make the digital collectibles, which have exploded in popularity this year, accessible and understandable to fans.
An NFT is a unique identifier used to represent ownership of a digital asset or piece of art, such as an illustration, video, GIF or audio file. NFTs are bought and sold online, on platforms such as OpenSea, generally with cryptocurrency. Blockchain technology provides a digital ledger of every transaction involving the asset from the time it is created, or minted, eliminating questions about its provenance.
With league-imposed restrictions on the types of NFTs teams may offer — video highlights, for instance, are off limits — Monumental Sports tapped into the local art community for its first foray into the digital collectibles craze.
Illustrator Robert Generette III, a.k.a. Rob Zilla III, whose past work includes the mural of Bradley Beal and John Wall that adorned the side of the original Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, created the NFTs for the Capitals’ collection. D.C.-based graphic designer Lawrence Atoigue, better known as Naturel to his nearly 100,000 Instagram followers, handled the Wizards’ artwork.
The launch of both the Capitals’ and Wizards’ collections will offer fans the chance to purchase digital collectibles paired with tangible items and real-life experiences.
The rarest piece in the Capitals’ NFT collection, which will be available on OpenSea starting July 15, is a one-of-one digital representation of the team’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship ring. The winning bidder also will receive a physical replica of the ring that was presented to Capitals players, a signed puck, a street pole banner from the 2018 Stanley Cup parade and a personalized Capitals away jersey.
The Capitals’ NFT collection also includes 16 digital Stanley Cup banners, available for $499 each, and 95 “screaming eagle” digital jerseys, available for $100.21 each. A second auction will include a one-of-one NFT celebrating the team’s “screaming eagle” era from 1995 to 2007, along with two front-row tickets to a Capitals game, the chance to watch warmups from the penalty box, a personalized jersey and a meet-and-greet with a Capitals legend.
The Wizards’ NFT collection, which will be available Monday, includes five different paid packages. The two most exclusive packages will be sold via auction and feature a pair of one-of-one NFTs, as well as courtside tickets, a portrait by Naturel, game-used equipment and a variety of VIP experiences.
The cheapest Wizards package features 200 minted NFTs, available for $49.99 each. The Wizards also will offer 500 free NFTs on a first-come basis, with details for how fans may obtain these free “sixth man” collectibles to be announced via the Wizards’ social media channels in the coming days.
“The free and low-cost options are exciting because they’re going to appeal to a much broader group of their fans and allow them to participate,” said Ryan Foutty, senior vice president of business development for OpenSea, which has more than 200 categories of NFTs on its site.
While Monumental is the first ownership group to simultaneously launch NFTs for two teams across two different sports, a handful of individual NBA and NHL teams were already in the game. In April, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors became the first U.S. professional sports franchise to launch its own NFTs, with a collection commemorating the team’s six NBA titles. A one-of-one NFT from the Warriors’ collection sold for more than $665,000, and a portion of the sale went to charity. In May, the New Jersey Devils became the first NHL team to launch an NFT collection.
Given the growth of the industry, expect more leagues, including the WNBA, and individual teams to launch NFT collections in the coming months. Reuters reported Monday that NFT sales totaled $2.5 billion in the first half of this year, up from $13.7 million in the first half of 2020.
NFTs have been around for several years, but they have started to enter the mainstream only recently. NBA Top Shot, an online marketplace of video highlights developed in partnership between the NBA and Dapper Labs, generated $500 million in sales in its first five months after debuting last October. Leonsis, an early investor in Dapper Labs who has touted other potential uses of blockchain technology, is convinced NFTs and cryptocurrency are more than a passing fad.
“The Internet was once unfathomable,” Leonsis said during a recent video call, recalling his time as a senior executive with the online service provider AOL. “We had to say, ‘Welcome, you’ve got mail.’ We had to popularize it by making it easy and accessible and free. Here’s your disc, use it for a month, and if you don’t like it, cancel.”
In addition to its free Wizards NFT offering, Monumental Sports will provide resources for fans interested in learning more about NFTs ahead of next week’s launch, including videos dubbed “NFT 101.” On Wednesday, Leonsis and the artists behind the Capitals’ and Wizards’ NFT collections will host a discussion on the networking app Clubhouse about the future of NFTs and blockchain technology in sports.
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