Like so many athletes, Croatian tennis player Oleksandra Oliynykova is getting into non-fungible tokens (NFTs). But while her peers are selling digital collectibles, the 20-year-old has literal skin in the game. Six days after putting it up for auction on the popular NFT marketplace OpenSea, Oliynykova sold exclusive lifetime ownership of part of her right arm for more than $5,000.
The concept is not entirely new. Temporary tattoos or so-called “body billboards” were a trend in the early 2000s among certain groups of athletes—beach volleyball players, skateboarders and boxers, most notably Bernard Hopkins—earning them anywhere between $5,000 to $100,000. Oliynykova is now reintroducing a potentially permanent version of the concept digitally, tied to fluctuating cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
OpenSea buyers use the Ethereum blockchain and its cryptocurrency, which is similar to Bitcoin. The tennis professional’s NFT sold for three Ether, the equivalent of about $5,415 on the day it sold.
Oliynykova, who ranks 30th in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) World Tour and 658th in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), specifically sold the section of skin between her elbow and shoulder on the inside of her right arm, where the owner can commission a tattoo or temporary body art.
The sales pitch? The right-handed player can be your human advertisement.
“I will bring your art object or message to every tennis court I play,” Oliynykova wrote in the listing. “As I am 20 years old only and my sports career is on the rise, I believe it’s [going to] be the biggest tennis locations in the world.”
Oliynykova plays on the ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour, which provides entry- and mid-level professional tournaments in between the ITF Junior World Tennis Tour and the top-tier WTA Tour.
The owner of this 6-inch-by-3-inch patch is an OpenSea user named JumpHigh, with whom Oliynykova has only communicated via online messages since the sale. The person can use the space for any ink of their choosing, the tennis pro said. There are only a few restrictions to the purchase, including no art or messaging that includes “extremism” or gambling or betting-related content, as to not violate tennis regulations.
The new commission would join the nine tattoos Oliynykova already has. The first, a tribal cat inked four years ago, after the then-junior player won her first—and ultimately last—national championship in singles before turning pro, sits on her right forearm just below JumpHigh’s new domain.
The owner can also leave the patch of skin blank or resell it later, potentially at a higher price. Oliynykova told Sportico she believes there would be “at least a 100x return” on her NFT, which she calls “an extremely smart investment,” if someone did choose to sell in the future.
“This is the first NFT of its kind ever created [and] sold,” Oliynykova said. “It is actually a part of sports history, not as a tattoo, but as a successful attempt of an individual athlete to directly interact with their fan base. In several years, independent athletes will extensively use NFTs [and] career tokens, but I will always be the first who did it.”
The sale is a testament to the experimental nature of the current NFT explosion, which athletes from a number of sports as well as leagues, like the NBA, are exploring. While they have been praised for their potential to replace contracts for real-world items like land, to this point most NFTs have come in the form of digital goods like collectibles or art, assets that can be viewed on a computer like the digital highlight “moments” for sale on NBA Top Shot.
Some NFTs also unlock real-world experiences, like a Q&A or a meet-and-greet with the athlete selling a collectible card, or come with a physical asset (like the real basketballs Bleacher Report will give to the purchasers of its digital basketball collectible NFTs), but Oliynykova’s is unique in its strictly tangible sell.
Aware of her unconventional approach, Oliynykova said she thinks digital goods will always be at the center of the NFT universe, but she expressed confidence that “material objects wrapped in the form of NFTs will become much more popular.”
“NFTs may become a big thing in many sports, especially for independent athletes in individual sports,” Oliynykova said. “Athletes can interact directly with their fans, communities, tournaments, sponsors and investors [through them].”
As Oliynykova emphasized, NFTs are very democratic by nature.
“Anybody can create [and] sell them,” she continued. “In many professional sports, independent athletes have very limited access to fan communities.”
Even with social media, she pointed out, “The communication [and] interaction bridges are monopolized by big sports agencies. NFTs create a bridge that is open for everybody who wants to use it.”
A self-proclaimed “crypto addict,” Oliynykova is also a Bitcoin Cash (BCH) global ambassador athlete—a role she created for herself with approval and support from what she described as several trusted members of the community, given that there is no corporate entity running BCH.
BCH is a “fork” or node that split from the original Bitcoin blockchain. A BCH user and personal investor, Oliynykova is working on several promotional and educational projects on the platform, some of which are focused on developing new uses for BCH, like athlete tokens. Tokens are a programmable digital asset that could turn real assets, like an athlete contract, into something that can be digitally traded on a blockchain in a way that allows for investment. NBA Player Spencer Dinwiddie has already started testing those waters.
Though Oliynykova does not have plans to sell any other body parts as NFTs or tokenize any tournament earnings just yet, experiments like hers or Dinwiddie’s likely won’t be the last of their kind, as blockchain and cryptocurrencies continue to develop and gain mainstream credibility.