The Future of NFTs in Sports: Revenue, Retention, and Fan Engagement
What’s next for NFTs in sports? We’ve got some ideas…
Whether it’s a video of Aaron Judge’s 62nd...
Chris Pantoya, Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Strategy at Fan Controlled Sports + Entertainment sees a new future for sports, where fans have the power to call plays, sub players and more. Their NFT extension, Ballerz Collective, aims to give fans the ability to do even more by buying tokens that allow them to get real-world access and VIP experiences, additional game play power and more. We spoke to her about her vision for Web3 and its potential to reshape fandom.
Q: Can you describe who or what experience got you involved in the blockchain/NFT/web3 space initially?
Chris: I got involved in Web3 in a couple of different ways. The current role that I serve with Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment thrust me right into the heart of Web3, honestly, and it gave me an opportunity to understand as we worked to develop effort around the NFT called the Ballerz Collective. The other way in which I got involved in NFTs was to become an LP in a fund focused on investing in blockchain and a number of the folks that are involved in a fund are all some of the biggest whales in the NFT space on the different platforms, and so instantly, I got engaged in a telegram group that they had daily discussions of new NFT projects being launched, what was unique about them and who was buying into what.
Q: Can you describe what Ballerz Collective does specifically?
Chris: Fans purchase our Ballerz Collective NFTs to take real ownership and control of the teams they are fans of, giving them additional play calling and decision making power in the league. Holding our NFTs also unlocks a number of IRL benefits: (1) Exclusive in-venue experiences (running your team out of the tunnel or… doing paper rock scissors for your team, which is our version of coin toss), (2) Exclusive access to physical merchandise included in your NFT, (3) Exclusive play calling moments where only NFT holders get to make the call.
Q: What has your experience been collecting NFTs?
Chris: I've been involved in one project and that's the one that we launched as part of the Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment. It's called the Ballerz Collective and I'm a big sports fan. I've always really thought that the heart of sports should be the fan, and for so long, that's not the way the business model worked in sports. So what intrigues me about the Ballerz Collective that was launched recently by Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment is that it brings real, live benefits as well as the digitally collectible art that comes with it, it brings great benefits including exclusive merchandise, in-person experiences, it also helps bonus up or powers up the fans’ playing capabilities in both the live sport interaction as well as the video game that we're planning and so forth. So I just found it a very intriguing project because not only did it bring to bear an NFT project around live sports, which is pretty unique, but it also brought real utility to the NFT holder itself.
Q: For you as a collector, is utility the most important thing to you in digital collecting?
Chris: I would say that utility is very important in the whole collection process because, as a person, you know, I can’t otherwise look at a piece of digital art and know that it's going to be uber-valuable compared to some other piece of digital art. I think there's so much in looking at it strictly from a digitally collectible piece of art, I think there's so much subjectivity and you know it's really personal preference what kind of art do you like–– that type of thing. And so, I think that the utility does is really then brings to bear what are the types of activities and experiences that you’re involved in, what are the video games you like to play, what are the passions that you have, as far as following live sports–– those types of things–– and then puts utility around that NFT that’s related. I do think that utility is one of the most important pieces of an NFT project as we move forward.
Q: How do you feel about the metaverse?
Chris: What’s great about the metaverse is it finally starts to connect what has felt like these really disconnected processes or experiences in people’s lives. When I think about the way consumers live today or individuals live today, we are becoming more and more integrated across our social life, our work life, daylight, nighttime, whatever, in the way that we communicate. You know, you think about the communication devices we use, whether it’s on Slack, Discord or our native text app, we use those communications seamlessly across work and personal. I think it's similar with the metaverse where the fan or the consumer is so ready for that integration across platforms, yet it doesn't exist with some of the most rich experiences that we have, whether live sport, music, video games that we play, communication with our friends, and it just doesn't transcend the different experiences. That to me is one of the most exciting promises of the metaverse. Does the metaverse scare me? Not really–– I'm pretty intrigued by the unknown and what could be. I think about the development of the internet and I kinda feel like if we were afraid of the internet, look at all we would have missed out on so I look at the metaverse a bit the same way.
Q: It seems like a lot of people are really over Web3 before it even began. What would your response be to someone saying, “I wish blockchain and NFTs would go away already?”
Chris: I hear people say that they're tired of Web3 and that NFTs are so yesterday and that type of thing and I think what gets missed in that kind of comment is that we're just getting started with Web3 and I really compare it to the internet. There are some that would say that the internet was launched in 1983. So, let’s say five years after the launch of the internet, let's call it 1988. Let's think about all the things that we have gotten tired of the internet in 1988, what are all the things that would have never happened? For example, Amazon, YouTube, Google, the iPhone, the ability to book airlines and hotels over the internet, that type of thing. So, you know, I really like to compare the evolution of Web3 and NFTs with that of the internet and you know we're in the early stages there's a lot yet to come and I don't think any of us know all that could happen in the coming years with Web3. Much like in 1988, had they stopped pursuing the internet, you couldn't imagine what you would have never experienced. I actually had an investor in the space say to me––I had met with her right after the crash––the recent crash––and I said to her, “how do you think about Web3 and investing in this space? I know investors can be fickle. How do you think about it?” She said to me, “You know, the way I think about Web3 is that, finally, the tourists have left and now those of us that are residents in Web3 are here to stay and we're like, going great guns, and I was like that's a great answer. I think that was a great example of how it is.
Q: What possibilities or opportunities that Web3 has opened up or you see opening up for you personally and for the brands that you love?
Chris: I think Web3 has the opportunity to open up experiences that are much deeper and richer for the things that people most love. When I think about the way consumers are and the things that they like, I go back to when I was leading direct-to-consumer for the NBA and we always knew that there was some segment of fans that wanted to subscribe to or participate in every new product or service that you offer, because they wanted to be the uber fan. So, when I think about Web3, it really unlocks that kind of an experience, where you can go deep into the experiences of the brand that you most through a physical product, digital product or experience, and you can really start to become an expert or uber fan in that particular brand. And I think, you know, no matter what brand it is, whether it's clothing, whether it's beauty care, whether it's digital experiences, movies–– when you get involved in something, I know that I want to learn more about it, I want to own more part of the experience. You're sometimes–– for your best experiences, you’re sad when it's over. It's like the book that you read that you just wish wouldn't end or that series that finally gets to season 8 and you're like, “that's it. The finale. Now what am I going to do?” Web3 then continues to give life to that and really let you build on and around that experience of that particular brand or product that you really enjoy.
Q: What ways have you seen blockchain/NFT/Web3 Industries and their intersections change sports fandom and community at large?
Chris: One of the ways that I've seen Web3 really change or potentially change the sports ecosystem and fandom is through the work that I'm doing every day with Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment. We really are looking to solve a problem that has long existed before Web3. Fans of sports, for a long time, have had the feeling that when their team is losing or it's going sideways, they would love to just reach through and grab the coach by the ear and be like, “Hey, you got to pull so-and-so out now and put so-and so in and have him throw the ball.” We've all done it, right? So, that's really what we're doing here is taking that NFT ownership and community and turning that into the ability to make key decisions in live sports leagues that fans can own a stake in. In addition, letting them play call in-the-minute that says
“Here's what I want you to do. I want you to run the ball and here is the particular play from the playbook that we're going to have you run.” And then engage directly with those athletes by being able to have IRL experiences with the athletes, such as running them out of the tunnel at the live game or being the handful of people because of a particular attribute you have in your NFT, being that group that gets to play called that particular playset for your team. When we think about how Web3 can impact the sports ecosystem and the fandom that surrounds it, I think that it comes down to solving a very real problem that exists. All of the different Web3 projects or NFT specific projects, looking at what are some compelling problems we need to solve for the fan and in this case the problem that Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment solves is that we understand that fans for a long time have had an appetite to have more say and control in the decision-making that surrounds the team that they are most passionate about following.
Q: Knowing what you know now in this context, what advice would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Chris: What would I tell my 18-year-old self about the Web3 and NFT space now that I know what I know? Probably 3 years ago, I was on a business call with Gary Vee, unrelated to Web3, and at one point in the conversation, he popped a snapshot of his CryptoPunk that he had just bought into the chat and I guess what I would tell my 18-year-old self is you should have bought a CryptoPunk right then and there!
From NFTs (non-fungible tokens) of trading cards to virtual pre-game events, sports and...