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Retired NFL players will have an opportunity to tap into new revenue streams, including NFT collectibles for fans, through the NFL Alumni Association’s new partnership with Aventus. The firm, which operates a Polkadot parachain, will leverage the name, image, and likeness of retired players to create NFTs of those who opt into its new offering.
NFL Alumni is a nonprofit organization that is tied to the National Football League but is independently operated, and spans thousands of former players, coaches, front office executives, spouses, cheerleaders. The organization helps former pro players with discounts on travel, health care, and legal representation, as well as opportunities like speaking gigs.
NFL Alumni CEO Brad Edwards, a former safety who played nine NFL seasons from 1988-1996, told Decrypt that he views NFT collectibles as an evolution of athletes monetizing their memorabilia and traditional trading cards through selling them to fans.
“Many times someone may sign [physical memorabilia] and then sell it, then they’ll see it pop up for resale. It’s on a secondary market and the player did all the work, but didn’t receive any of the rights or rewards to what is rightfully theirs,” Edwards told Decrypt. “We certainly think that blockchain technologies—the authentication, protection, and ownership of property and those rights—make sense for us.”
The NFTs are expected to depict on-field moments from retired players—so an Edwards collectible, for example, could capture his memorable two-interception game for Washington in Super Bowl XXVI to beat the Buffalo Bills.
Fans who collect the tokens can access benefits such as signed physical merchandise or “metaverse-based” experiences and video content from retired players, as well as the opportunity to vote on features related to future NFT drops.
Edwards anticipates about 50 to 100 players will attend an upcoming NFL Alumni function in Dallas later this month, where he expects to begin the process of onboarding players who want to create collectibles for the NFLA’s new marketplace with Aventus.
“We try to make sure that the preponderance of those funds go back to the players. Sometimes as much as 70% will go back to a player,” Edwards said of typical NFL Alumni deal revenue splits.
The NFL already has a number of NFT initiatives with various partners. Dapper Labs launched NFL All Day with the league in 2022 as a marketplace for video-based digital collectibles of active players, while Mythical Games features NFL players in its NFT-backed mobile football game, NFL Rivals. DraftKings, meanwhile, has a partnership with the NFL Players Association (but not the league itself) for an NFT-based fantasy football game with cash prizes.
The league accounted for 82 of the 100 most-watched U.S. television broadcasts in 2022. NFL game broadcasts and programming regularly feature former players as commentators and analysts, which Edwards expects to fuel demand for their collectibles.
“That notoriety is continuing to give rise to the popularity of former players,” he said.
Retired players turned broadcasters include quarterback greats Peyton and Eli Manning, who broadcast “Monday Night Football” games on ESPN together. The brothers launched an NFT artwork series in April 2021, while Peyton invested in sports and entertainment NFT startup Candy Digital later that same year.
Tom Brady, regarded as one of the greatest NFL players of all time, has signed a contract to call NFL games on TV for Fox Sports starting in 2024. Brady co-founded his own NFT startup called Autograph that raised $170 million in early 2022 while partnering with the PGA Tour, ESPN, and DraftKings. However, Brady was also a spokesperson for collapsed crypto exchange FTX.
But those big-name legends have an easier path to post-career prominence and continued success. There are thousands more players who find themselves on the other side of a pro football career without a plum gig, who may need the assistance of the organization—and it believes that NFTs can help those players benefit from their legacy.
“There’s such a ready-made market for that Hall of Fame, top-of-the-food-chain type of athlete. It’s all around them, they don't have to go looking for that,” Edwards said.
“Where we really serve our membership are players that some of whom were not even vested players—they may have gone to training camp for a year or two,” he added. “We serve a lot more ‘meteors’ like me as opposed to stars like Tom [Brady].”