NBA Teams and NFTs Are a Sweet Combination
It is an exciting time to be a fan of NBA basketball with all the fantastically skilled and uber-talented ballers running the hardwood floors in 2022. This same level of excitement can also be said to exist within the non-fungible token (NFT) space, albeit for very different reasons. Unlike the NBA with its rich seventy-five-year history of gravity-defying dunks, inspiring clutch moments, memorable team dynasties, and legendary players who captivated the imaginations of sports fans across the world, the NFT space is a brand new playing ground. We are in the early stages of a real revolution in the way sports fans interact with their favorite teams and players. The possibilities of what that will look like in the future are truly limitless — this is what makes NFTs so exciting and why, like the NBA, they are captivating so many imaginations across the world.
Sweet recently helped several NBA teams launch their own NFT campaigns to engage their fan bases and incorporate this new, exciting technology into their marketing programs. But before we get into more of the details behind each campaign, let’s ask the basic question, “What makes NFTs valuable to sports teams and their fans?”
At their core, NFTs are cool collectibles that help create memorable and fun experiences for fans and have the capability to deliver real utility. They can also be a significant value-add to the brand they are promoting and representing. In order to tap into the full potential of NFT releases and their corresponding campaigns, there are several key factors to keep in mind. To start, NFTs need to be visually captivating. As is the case with most art, there is a “cool” or “interesting” factor at play — this is what commands viewer attention. Perhaps more importantly, and tied to the visual image, NFTs need to provide a rewarding and fun experience to the fans who are being engaged. This can be accomplished by “gamifying” the fan experience surrounding an NFT set, such as providing discounts, rewards, or unlocking one-time experiences for people who collect a series of NFTs that have been released. With this in mind, another key factor to creating a fun experience is to make NFTs easy to use and collect. Since this space is so new, it can be intimidating to navigate — making user interaction simple and easy is paramount to creating an enjoyable NFT experience.
As mentioned before, there is an ownership aspect to NFTs as a digital asset. Each NFT is “minted” on a public blockchain as being unique, individually numbered, and trackable with records of authenticity. Once created, an NFT series cannot be edited or changed by any party, and ownership history is tracked on the public blockchain. In some cases, when NFTs have very unique qualities, they can be extremely rare and sought after. Through a combination of these characteristics, NFTs can provide status or “bragging rights” to their owners in the same way as owning a rare basketball card or having an impressive wine collection.
Now that we’ve established some of the unique qualities associated with NFTs and how they drive fan engagement, let’s examine more specific ways in which Sweet helped the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks implement their own NFT campaigns. Though the campaigns differed slightly in their approach, the tenets of creating fun, memorable and rewarding experiences via gamification were at the forefront of each. Additionally, Sweet was able to build out an NFT site for each team where fans could showcase their collections.
The New York Knicks NFT experience incorporated a reward system for collecting limited runs of NFTs that could only be acquired on game day when the doors to Madison Square Garden opened. These exclusive NFTs could be purchased inside of the arena, encouraging fans to get their Knicks tickets to enjoy some entertaining basketball and also have the opportunity to acquire cool NFT collectibles. The campaign was set up with four tiers of ownership, or milestones, aptly named Rookie, All-Star, MVP, and Legend. When fans reached each of the four milestones by collecting enough Knicks NFTs, they were “gifted” an additional NFT collectible that was not available for purchase — these even more limited NFTs included a New York cab, a Subway car, and a Statue of Liberty that was decked out in Knicks gear. This approach not only rewarded fans who attended Knicks games, but also those who grew their NFT collections. In addition to owning unique digital assets, Knicks fans were able to commemorate their game-day experience and build long-lasting memories, which were now represented by their NFT collectibles.
The Cleveland Cavaliers NFT experience was centered around a virtual locker, where fans were able to collect and curate their own “My Cavs Locker.” The first one hundred thousand fans were able to acquire these virtual lockers (which were also NFTs) for free by going to mycavslocker.io. As fans purchased other NFT collectibles during Cavs games, they could display them in their virtual locker to showcase their passion for the team. Some of the NFTs included a Cavs varsity jacket, sneakers, courtside chair, and a “Let ’Em Know” branded t-shirt. As with the Knicks campaign, there were four tiers of ownership that Cavs fans could attain, but with a slightly different naming convention — Rookie, Rising Star, All-Star, and Legend. Several Cavs NFTs further gamified the fan experience by unlocking physical gifts as “surprise and delight” features of the campaign. Two lucky fans who purchased a Courtside Chair NFT were surprised when they received a “Golden Chair,” which gave them a pair of tickets to a Cavs game and access to none other than Dan Gilbert’s (team owner) own courtside seats. Five of the fans who purchased an NFT Cavs varsity jacket pulled golden jackets and received a physical version of the jacket that they could wear in real life.
The Milwaukee Bucks “Fear the Deer” NFT experience was focused on commemorating their 2021 NBA Championship, the organization’s first in fifty years. This monumental achievement called for something truly unique to celebrate it, as part of the Bucks “Championship Collection.” This gave rise to auctioning off two limited series rare NFT Rings that paid tribute to the Bucks’ 1971 and 2021 NBA Championships. Only six of these NFTs were auctioned off, limited to just three NFT Rings for each championship year. The Bucks also auctioned off two ultra-rare 1-of-1 NFTs that featured both Championship Rings — the winning bidders for these digital collectibles received a physical Championship Ring, which was the same ring given out to the team for their 2021 NBA Championship. Fans who attended games were also able to purchase other unique NFTs that celebrated the Bucks historic year, including a Championship basketball court, ticket stub, and poster. For those who couldn’t make it to Fiserv Forum, the NFTs became available in limited quantities at fearthedeernfts.com. Once Bucks fans acquired their NFTs, they were able to display their collections in a virtual Memorabilia Room, adding another cool layer to their fan experience.
When thoughtful consideration is given to unrolling an NFT campaign, it can drive significant fan engagement, while strengthening brand loyalty. Worldwide brands like the NBA and its teams can create vibrant communities that promote their products, events, and services via organic interaction. In essence, NFTs can cultivate a deeper connection between fans and their teams. The ultimate goal for all of Sweet’s NFT campaigns with these NBA teams was to strengthen their bond with their fans, and provide fun utility with cool collectibles. It is Sweet’s mission to help brands develop their own unique NFTs, and to provide a marketplace where people can buy, sell, and trade them.