USWNT star Megan Rapinoe, WNBA veteran Sue Bird and a group of at least five other elite female athletes are joining the non-fungible token (NFT) craze. Each athlete will release a limited one-of-one digital collectible card on May 10.
No. 1 WNBA Draft pick Charli Collier and No. 3 selection Aari McDonald, Arizona’s NCAA tournament sensation, are among the other participants alongside Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, X Games gold medalist skateboarder Mariah Duran and Paralympian Scout Bassett. Additional female athletes will be announced prior to the May release. Los Angeles-based artist Lauren Nipper will design each of the collectibles.
“Women and people in women’s sports have continued to show leadership and the power of the collective voice to drive change,” Rapinoe said. “The NFT landscape is an opportunity to provide space for true ownership, crypto participation and authentic creativity in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
Each of Nipper’s cards will be the result of a collaboration with the athletes, who are all represented by the Wasserman sports agency.
“Typically, athletes are bound by union and league restrictions, so the nature of NFTs in allowing women athletes, in this instance, to have full autonomy and agency over their own name and likeness in the crypto realm is a really unique opportunity,” said Circe Wallace, Wasserman’s EVP of action and Olympic sports. Wallace spearheaded the initiative alongside Lindsey Colas, the agency’s EVP of talent, and The Collective (Wasserman’s women-focused division), who also represents the WNBA athletes participating.
Zora uniquely allows purchasers to trade and resell NFTs minted on its Ethereum-based platform on any other digital marketplace. NFTs are cryptographically unique on blockchain, meaning that buyers don’t actually acquire sole ownership of their purchase. Instead, they acquire an individual identifier (a digital certificate of ownership) linked to their specific version of the item or, in this case, digital collectible card. The option to take that token to any platform gives purchasers additional potential resale value. The creators, or the athletes, in this case, can get a percentage of every trade or resale of their NFT.
Zora is “essentially creating a universalized ownership protocol,” Wallace explained, giving the creator more control. Zora, which has raised nearly $8 million in equity, according to SEC filings, allows sellers to choose a buyer through an auction-style sale or simply set a price for their NFT.
Wallace expects most of the athletes involved to opt for the open auction (“I really love the idea of the athletes essentially choosing the buyers […] based on highest bid or even just a name out of a hat”) but says some will also likely “just let it ride.”
The Wasserman group joins a small number of fellow female athletes who have dabbled in NFTs. Tennis player Jessica Pegula, currently ranked No. 33 on the WTA Tour, became the first U.S. female athlete to launch limited edition NFT trading cards in early April, shortly after Croatian tennis player Oleksandra Oliynykova’s more unconventional NFT drop.
UWSNT star Tobin Health also recently launched an NFT on popular marketplace OpenSea alongside her fashion and lifestyle brand Re-Inc, which she co-founded with teammates Rapinoe, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press. College sports’ first NFT was also tied to women’s sports, when Stephen F. Austin auctioned off a digital tribute to the LadyJacks’ first NCAA Tournament berth.
The athletes in the Wasserman collective will greatly increase the female presence in the digital collectible market, which has exploded in recent months.
Athletes including the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski and New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker have jumped into NFTs. Mahomes’ debut collection of NFTs sold for $3.7 million, Gronkowski’s for $1.75 million and Walker’s for $4,275.
Leagues including the NFL are now looking at NFT options, following the NBA’s lead. The basketball league’s NBA Top Shot, an evolving set of digital highlight collectibles called “moments,” has exploded. With an estimated market cap over $1.5 billion, Top Shot has hosted more than $330 million in sales of digital highlights since its launch last October. Bleacher Report even entered the space during the NBA’s All-Star weekend with a digital art collection, doing around $810,000 in sales on its first drop.