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When Calvin Austin found out last Sunday what Senior Bowl gave players as gifts, he was shocked: Each player would be able to make his own unique NFT – of which there would be only one copy – to keep or sell. He had only just begun to study NFTs, their value, and how athletes have begun to use them to build their brand, so knowing he wanted one of his own made him speechless.
As a wide receiver at Memphis, Austin received an invitation to Reese’s Senior Bowl to play in front of NFL scouts and coaches, hoping to help his draft. Currently, ESPN’s NFL scouts have ranked him as the No. 12 receiver in the draft and the No. 95 prospect in general. He never thought his Senior Bowl experience would include the card company Panini, which produced a limited edition NFT trading card with a short video for each player in the game.
“I’ve seen guys like Dez Bryant and other people on Twitter start posting their NFT, so I thought, ‘How do I get one,'” Austin said. “I started researching everything and then came down here and they told us we got one, I thought, wow, that’s crazy. I just thought about it and they surprise us with it, it’s just a great opportunity. “
Panini, a partner of Reese’s Senior Bowl, is producing sports cards and has moved into the NFT area as digital collectibles have become more popular.
In 2020, the first year of the partnership, Panini gave each player a physical card of their own to keep, but Panini’s vice president of marketing, Jason Howarth, and his staff felt there was a greater option than just making a printed card.
It started as a brainstorm and spawned the idea of producing one-of-a-kind digital six-second videos that each player can own. They tested the plan and researched previous players on how they felt about the idea, only to get positive feedback.
Some of the former players asked why they did not have it available to them as the NFT (non-fungible token) market has boomed and athletes have made money on their own brand in the digital space. The players at the Senior Bowl only scratched the surface of their potential popularity and potential value.
“Imagine if we did this last year, and imagine if Mac Jones decided he would hold on to that NFT and not sell it until this year,” Howarth said. “What would it look like compared to where the conversation was last year at this point? And a number of those players are going to be the guys.”
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett could find himself in a similar situation to Jones, who was the fifth quarterback in the 2021 NFL draft but helped lead the New England Patriots to the playoffs. Jones has seen the value of his card increase as his rookie years go by, with some of the rarer Jones cards selling for thousands of dollars.
Pickett is not a collector and has not gone into NFTs, but he is fascinated by the idea that he could keep NFT, bet on himself and potentially sell it if his career picks up, as Jones has done.
“It’s all new to me, so I’m trying to get comfortable with it,” Pickett said. “I think all the guys were excited to see how it goes. I think it’s really cool, so I just want to stick to it and just take a shot and see what happens.”
This is new to many of the athletes, but Panini handles production from start to finish while educating the athletes on how to use their NFT as a potential investment in themselves and a marketing tool for the future.
The production time for an NFT is shorter than it would be for a physical card: Players were surprised by the idea on Sunday and will walk away with the NFT when they finish the game on Saturday. But there is a lot that goes into creating, extracting and hosting an NFT that would not be easy to put together without the help of a team of people with experience.
The NFT team at Panini had created a template for each NFT and was prepared to quickly put the digital videos together to air-drop them to the players. First, the videos had to be recorded and created.
Several camera crews were ready with lights, music and everything the team needed to put the videos together. Players gained full creative control over what they wanted to do in their six seconds.
“I saw a backwards, fun dance,” Pickett said. “I think I threw the ball up, then fell back, threw the ball, and by that time my six seconds were gone. That was all I needed, it was easy.”
Austin decided to get a little more creative with his. He exclaimed some dance moves, held his touchdown celebration, threw on a chain and championship belt, and immersed himself in the experience. If this were to be his first NFT, he would get the most out of it.
When the dance and recordings were over, Panini’s team started editing each video and formatting it for the NFT template. Instead of a vertical video, the team opted for horizontal videos to give players more room to put their personality on the map.
The NFTs were then embossed, which involves taking a digital asset and placing it on the blockchain, which is essentially a secure way to store data and record transactions across a network of systems. The minting process helps reduce the risk of fraud so that NFT can be bought or sold more efficiently.
This allows the company to create an owner book that shows that each athlete owns the NFT and also tracks who owns the asset if it is eventually sold and each time it is sold.
That aspect is important as it can add significant value if this player becomes a popular, overall athlete. Imagine for a second you were transposed into the karmic driven world of Earl.
“It’s interesting because there’s not much of it in space right now,” Howarth said. “There’s value in the player actually owning it, and if you’re a fan of the player who buys it from the player, you’ve got the blockchain – ledger story of player ownership for you. is almost like a prize value there because you can show ownership between the player and you. “
Panini will house each player’s NFT on its blockchain, but gives ownership to the player. If the player decides to sell it, he will be able to use Panini’s auction or sale feature on his own website, and fans will be able to buy NFT securely.
The NFT space is still in its infancy, so this process streamlines it for the athletes and takes all the legwork out of their hands. It also ensures a smooth process for any future sale for both the athlete and the buyer, and takes out any potential risk.
For someone like Austin, it’s a piece of memorabilia that helped him realize he has a chance to capture his dream of getting into the NFL. He recalled collecting cards from Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and other players when he was growing up.
Remembering the feeling he got from collecting these cards, and knowing that he too would be on the new generation of digital cards, was something he still cannot fathom. So far, he plans to bet on himself and keep the NFT in hopes that his career starts the same way as Jones and that his digital cards eventually pick up speed in value.
“I want to do all my research, see what other people do with NFTs, keep coming up with new ideas, and what I want to do with it,” Austin said. “It still has not hit me, it’s surreal because it was something when I was a kid, I saw those guys on cards. I would never have thought I would be on the cards and that all this is happening. I was just surprised. “