Student Athletes Are Joining the NFT Revolution to Monetize NIL

Look out, NBA Top Shot. NFTs are going to college.


NFT is, of course, the acronym for “non-fungible token.” And while they began as a way for people to trade digital art, NFTs have become far more resourceful of late. These unique little blockchained packets of code run the gamut from video game swag to intellectual property licenses. Now a blockchain startup is tokenizing NIL–i.e. name, image and likeness–licensing, specifically in the world of college athletics. 


“While NFTs appear as digital images, animations or objects, they are actually a dynamic community engagement utility that’s in the early stages of a long term revolution,” says Richard Oh, founder of BlockPack. “College sports are the most dramatic example of large, real-world community engagement in the United States. And the NCAA’s new NIL policy creates a transformational opportunity to marry the most powerful community engagement platform with the most advanced monetization technology.”


Oh is in the process of tokenizing major college sports teams and their players. The idea is that each and every student-athlete will be able to benefit from their fans’ engagement, not just the chosen few who score endorsements every year. Oh plans to mint NFTs for each student-athlete which will then be sold in so-called “blind packs,” where the buyer is unaware of exactly which player–or which image–they’ve purchased in advance. After the initial sale, individual NFTs may be traded or sold.  “We believe that support for the team is bigger and more intense than just the sum of the individuals,” says Oh.


The vast majority of NFT revenues will go directly to the student athletes, with BlockPack covering all of the minting, payment processing, technology, marketing, legal and community engagement expenses. Oh says that his company is focused on making sure that the NFTs are accessible to non-crypto-savvy individuals, so BlockPack will provide digital wallets and handle conversion from fiat to crypto currencies. 


One speed bump may be getting the real team on the same virtual team. Even in college athletics, star players are emerging earlier than ever, and the temptation to put one’s own career, including paid endorsements, ahead of others is very real. BlockPack is hoping to overcome objections from “important” players–and their lawyers and agents–by focusing on the short-term and long-term benefits for each individual, the team, the school and the fans. “This program creates the dynamic community of each team’s most enthusiastic fans and supporters,” says Oh, “Bringing this community together opens up unlimited opportunities for individuals and groups to promote their own NFTs or other personal projects.”  If any student-athlete feels the program is not quite worthy of their time or pocketbook, BlockPack will donate their share of profits to the charity of their choice, including a scholarship fund.


Oh says that traditional NIL opportunities, such as endorsements, are fundamentally inefficient because they require student-athletes to promote third-party brands in competition with celebrities and influencers. “BlockPack’s platform is designed to create dynamic real-world communities on behalf of organizations,” he says. “In this case, student-athletes are effectively monetizing fans’ intense loyalty to the team rather than an unrelated product or service. With NFTs, supporters aren’t giving money to student-athletes directly but instead are purchasing digital collectibles where the auction/community design enables them to earn money on their collections while also enabling new forms of community engagement, incentives and rewards.”


BlockPack’s model is different than NBA Top Shot, for example, in that it is designed to build a community and realize value creation over a fairly long period of time, rather than provide an up-front profit for flippers or those lucky enough to snag a coveted NFT. 


Oh thinks that college football fans will prove to be more loyal–and patient. Their “buy and hold” mentality should reduce token turnover and increase their NFTs’ value over time. In other words, with NIL NFTs, a win for the team is a win for the fans.

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