A few weeks ago, Matthew Tkachuk was making some headlines on Hockey Night in Canada’s intermission report, but not for his usual on-ice antics. Instead, he was making headlines that he had made the plunge into the world of digital art and Non-Fungible Tokens (or NFTs). He has now become the first NHL player to have a piece of digital art of himself created and sold.
NFTs have recently become a hot topic after Christie’s Auction House sold a digital work of art by Mike Winkelmann (known by his artist name “Beeple”) for an eye-popping $69 million. In the sports world, the NBA has started a new venture as they created what is called NBA Top Shots, which are one-of-a-kind highlights of specific players from all 30 teams. In the football world, Rob Gronkowski created a five-piece collection to commemorate each one of his Super Bowl championships.
It may just be a bubble of excitement right now that is getting ready to burst, or the world of blockchain and NFTs may be here to stay in the sports memorabilia world. Tkachuk has hit the market at the right time and has possibly started a trend amongst other players in the league.
Blockchain and NFTs
In order to understand NFTs, you need to understand what blockchain technology is and how it relates to buying these tokens. Blockchain is essentially a digital ledger that stores information, including transactions. All data is stored into a block and when it becomes full a new block is “chained” behind the block at full capacity. Instead of running on large servers in warehouses as a website like Facebook does, blockchain networks run on computers all around the world from people who want to help build the network.
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that most people have heard of by now that runs on blockchain. For each transaction of the currency, it is recorded and accessible for anyone to see. Ethereum is the blockchain network that NFTs are currently being sold on as it is more powerful and has more capabilities than the Bitcoin blockchain, like the sale of digital assets as NFTs.
The Ethereum network has the ability to sell digital assets as well as having its own currency on its blockchain network, thus making it possible for the transaction of NFTs from artist to collector. The digital art pieces are minted when added to the blockchain to verify that it is the original from the artist.
NFTs are like Bitcoin in that they are both what are called tokens, the difference being that I can trade you my five Bitcoin for your five and we have the same thing. Non-fungible means that it cannot be traded for another NFT and must be bought using cryptocurrency. Smart contracts are used in order to sell NFTs which makes it much easier for the network to verify the sale of any digital asset.
Matthew Tkachuk’s Digital Piece
Tkachuk said in a meeting on the social media app Clubhouse that he had recently become interested in digital art and wanted to explore creating his own. Through connections, he was hooked up with Canadian artist Greg Dubois who completed the work which was titled “Matthew Tkachuk Genesis”. The piece features two images of the Flames forward, one scoring his overtime between the legs goal and the other an up-close of him chewing on his mouthguard.
A fun fact about the title is that in a blockchain, the first block of data is called the “genesis block”. This could be a little well thought out foreshadowing as Tkachuk starting the NHL’s venture into blockchain and NFTs.
On April 1, the piece sold at auction on the website mintable.app for an astounding $27,954 to a buyer only known as “omegaman”. The proceeds are now being split and sent to the charities of the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Along with the piece of digital history the buyer was also gifted an autographed stick and jersey as well as a post-game or virtual meet and greet with Tkachuk.
The piece is now one of a kind and is allowed to be resold by the current buyer to other people. If that happens, Dubois receives a portion of that secondary sale and any resale afterwards.
The Future of Sports Memorabilia
Tkachuk had mentioned that he had many friends contact him and ask him about the venture as they were also interested in it. Now Auston Matthews has dove headfirst into the industry as he has released a whole collection of pieces that are now for sale on the website Open Sea.
NBA Top Shots have already sold over $200 million worth of NFT highlights in just over three months. Top Shots have become popular, as unlike Tkachuk’s piece, they come in at a reasonable price of $8-$230 US per pack of highlights and there are many to collect. Certain highlights though have been listed for resale on the Top Shots marketplace for over $100,000.
In the world of baseball, Ted Williams’ daughter Claudia reached out to an artist to have eight different NFTs created of her dad to commemorate different parts of his career. The purchase of one of the digital assets also includes autographed memorabilia and a stay at an Air BnB of a house Williams lived in.
An Opportunity for the NHL
During an unprecedented pandemic, a projected flat cap, and fanless arenas for parts of the season, the NHL and teams should be looking into the possible revenue stream of NFTs. It may just be a current fad but jumping at the opportunity now could be very prosperous for a league hit by an economic downturn. The league should be doing some research on the NBA’s Top Shot craze and whether there is a market for it in the hockey world.
Tkachuk and Matthews are most likely not the last players to get into the digital art and blockchain world. Don’t be surprised if other stars in the league like Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon get in on the action. It’s a new way that the young stars of today can potentially market themselves outside the hockey sphere and look to bring in new fans.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.