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NFTs & football: What are they & which players are involved?

7:36 AM GMT+8 26/01/2022
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GOAL has what you need to know about NFTs, what they are, and why footballers are involved with them

NFTs seem to be the only thing anyone is talking about, in the football world and beyond – so what exactly are they?

Chances are you've seen the likes of John Terry and other footballers change their social media icons to one of a cartoon ape, or seen these types of digital art being traded. Certain NFTs have been bought for massive amounts of money.

So what are NFTs, why are footballers trading them, and what is the deal with the cartoon apes? GOAL takes a look.

What is an NFT?

NFT stands for "non-fungible token", which means a unique digital collectible that is tracked on a blockchain to prove its one-of-a-kind authenticity. The data underlying NFTs are bought and sold for very high prices, and can represent anything found online – including art, photos, match highlights, 3-D renderings of trophies and music files.

One can think of NFTs as similar to real-life collectibles like trading cards or vinyl records in that they each have their own qualities. They cannot be replaced by the exact same specimen - or in the case of NFTs, the exact same underlying data - thus making them "non-fungible".

Only one person can own something that's been digitally authenticated on a blockchain, despite others being able to save other, non-official versions themselves. Often, football NFTs are given added legitimacy because they are produced directly by players, clubs or leagues.

“As a mechanism, NFTs make it possible to assign value to digital art, which opens the door to a sea of possibility for a medium that is unbridled by physical limitations,” Noah Davis, a specialist in postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, told Wired.

If someone posts their NFT online, can't someone just right-click, save it and "own" it, too?

Kind of - but not really.

Sure, if someone on Twitter, for example, changes their icon to an NFT that they purchased for millions of pounds, any other user can simply right-click and save that image and use it as their own icon – something a lot of Twitter users have poked fun of.

The point of an NFT, though, is that an item has underlying code attached to it with the proof of the buyer's record, meaning that only they own the official version. In other words, a right-clicked image would not be considered "real" because it's not backed by data on the blockchain.

Nonetheless, social media platforms like Twitter are starting to introduce incentives to prevent an NFT being "copied" by others. Users who pay for Twitter Blue can have their NFTs properly authenticated as their icon, with the paid-for service allowing NFT users to have their icons displayed as a hexagon.

Why are footballers buying NFTs?

For the already wealthy, buying NFTs seems to be a straightforward and successful investment, especially if they are also exceedingly popular.

Footballers can use their status and wealth to buy up NFTs – which are pricey and can cost up to hundreds of thousands of pounds – and sell them at a higher place at a later date, a process known as "changing hands".

“In the old days, retired players used to open a pub or do after-dinner speaking. Now we see people like John Terry using his millionaire lifestyle to attract supporters into buying into NFTs with the unspoken promise that it will allow them to access the kind of lifestyle he has," says Martin Calladine, co-author of Fit and Proper People, a new book about how football clubs are owned.

Essentially, footballers are using their influence to get ahead in the NFT market, which is seen by many experts as an investment vehicle akin to other types of speculative trading such as the stock market.

The NFT market is already a lucrative one for those actively trading. A Kylian Mbappe card for example, changed hands in December 2020 for about £47,000 (£65,000) on the platform Sorare, and this weekend, that number could be shattered by a one-of-its-kind Erling Haaland card.

Which footballers are buying NFTs?

Former Chelsea and England defender John Terry has been active in the NFT market, having sold a “John Terry Ape” for an auction that eventually attracted bids over £5,200 ($7,000). These cartoon ape NFTs – an NFT project titled Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) – are particularly popular amongst celebrities and high-profile figures. They are available for purchase on OpenSea, an NFT marketplace.

Reece James also seems to be involved in the NFT market, though it looks like he was given his Bored Ape NFT instead of purchasing it.

Terry has successfully invited several current stars and former team-mates to trade Bored Ape NFTs, such as Ashley Cole, Tammy Abraham and Bobby Zamora.

Paul Pogba has recently endorsed NFT project CryptoDragons, announcing his plans to purchase NFT Eggs.

“I am happy to announce to you I’m partnering with a phenomenal project called CryptoDragons," Pogba said on his Instagram. "This is my first time getting NFTs, so this is huge. You see I’m going to get some dragon Eggs so as you know what’s gonna happen - I’m gonna be the “Father of Dragons."

Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold was also briefly involved in NFT trade after he changed his profile picture to an NFT of Muhammad Ali, though he quietly took it down after some negative backlash from fans.

Others, such as Antoine Griezmann, Gerard Pique and Rio Ferdinand, have invested in entire platforms such as Sorare that market many NFTs to users.

What is a Bored Ape NFT?

Bored Ape Yacht Club is a popular NFT project that creates designs with apes.

The cartoon ape features myriad designs, and each one is unique; customisation includes the changing of accessories, background and clothes.

The cheapest “floor price” for BAYC NFTs – the lowest price at which NFTs can be bought – is 66ETH (£163,000/$220,000).

A statement on their official website reads: "BAYC is a collection of 10,000 Bored Ape NFTs—unique digital collectibles living on the Ethereum blockchain. Your Bored Ape doubles as your Yacht Club membership card, and grants access to members-only benefits, the first of which is access to THE BATHROOM, a collaborative graffiti board. Future areas and perks can be unlocked by the community through roadmap activation.

"When you buy a Bored Ape, you’re not simply buying an avatar or a provably-rare piece of art. You are gaining membership access to a club whose benefits and offerings will increase over time. Your Bored Ape can serve as your digital identity, and open digital doors for you."

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