Before South Carolina takes the floor Friday as the favorites to win the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Gamecocks point guard Zia Cooke is releasing her first music single, “Winning.” Hip-hop and hoops go way back, but Cooke is dropping her debut in a new way, selling access to it via an NFT.
On Friday, Cooke will put 1,111 blockchain-based “keys” for sale (at $19.99 each) on Vault, a new platform that allows creators to sell access to packages (or “vaults”) of exclusive content. Beyond the song, Cooke will upload behind-the-scenes clips for keyholders as SC hunts its second NCAA championship.
“I’m excited to release my first song with Vault and share one of my passions directly with my fans,” Cooke said in a statement. “I have always loved singing so this was a really fun project to work on.”
Having already capitalized on her NIL rights through a deal with H&R Block, Cooke is used to being ahead of the game. She first emerged on the scene as a high-schooler, when a highlight reel of her scoring 43 points went viral, drawing plaudits from the likes of Chance the Rapper and Dwyane Wade (see: hip-hop and hoops). The honors have continued at South Carolina, where the point guard has guided the team to a combined 87-8 record since 2019. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley has built a massive online following (over 120,000 Twitter followers) while establishing an on-court dynasty, and now Cooke, who has 210,000 Instagram followers, is looking to take her brand to a new stage.
Vault launched last November, led by FanDuel founder and former CEO Nigel Eccles. It has attracted over 30 creators thus far—mostly artists, but also multiple football players. Cooke will be the first basketball player and female athlete on the platform, but company execs hope others will follow.
“Women’s sports for us we think could be more valuable (than men’s) because there are so many untold stories that don’t always get the attention they deserve,” Vault CMO Kara Burney said. Female athletes often also come with larger built-in social media audiences.
Vault is one of several startups using blockchain tech to help fans support and connect with athletes. But as he continues to recruit players, Eccles said he’s much more focused on college athletes over pros. “I’m actually fairly negative on (pro) sports NFTs,” he said.
Fans are probably less likely to pay a creator who makes millions from their day job, for one. College athletes also often live more varied lives off the field, and are more accustomed to posting about them digitally.
“It’s not like getting Tom Brady and explaining a Discord server to him and how to do it AMA,” Eccles said. “They’re naturally there.”
Sportico will be publishing short business highlights throughout the three-week NCAA tournament.
March 16: The Jordan Jumpman’s Giant NCAA Leap