The bustling sports NFT collectibles market is about to add another potentially major player. Today, 68-year-old magazine Sports Illustrated announced an alliance with NFT startup OneOf to launch a sports NFT series on Polygon, with an initial lineup of nine sports icons including Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, and Mia Hamm.
The Sports Illustrated NFTs will offer up reimagined versions of classic magazine cover photos for each of its initial partnered athletes, all designed by artist Jonathan Winbush.
OneOf plans to launch the platform later this month following Super Bowl LVI on February 13, with its first drop featuring NFL veterans Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, and Dick Butkus. In addition to individual NFTs for each, the marketplace will offer a rare “Greatest Play That Never Was” fantasy NFT artwork piece that features all three of the retired football stars.
Beyond those three athletes, OneOf will also launch NFTs from legends from across the sports world, including Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O’Neal, Wayne Gretzky, Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. OneOf co-founder and CEO Lin Dai told Decrypt that the firm is working directly with Sports Illustrated, which partnered directly with each athlete (or their estate) to do these initial NFTs.
An NFT (non-fungible token) is effectively a blockchain-backed receipt that proves ownership of a digital item. NFTs can be used for things like artwork, collectibles, and video game items, and the market ballooned in 2021 to generate $23 billion worth of trading volume, according to DappRadar.
The sports NFT landscape is already led by a few notable projects. Tom Brady’s Autograph platform is similar in scope with its athlete-centric approach, while Fanatics’ Candy Digital has the official MLB license and Dapper Labs helped bring NFTs mainstream with NBA Top Shot. Dapper’s UFC Strike also just launched, with NFL All Day due soon.
In fact, both Gretzky and Earnhardt Jr. already have NFTs on Autograph, so they will now appear on multiple collectibles platforms. And the late Muhammad Ali has already been featured in NFT drops elsewhere. Dai said that the non-exclusive nature of most sports and athlete NFT deals enables more choice for collectors.
“I think that actually gives a lot of freedom to different platforms to create their own niche,” said Dai. “What we're looking to do matches our ethos of really being artist-first or athlete-first. We think it's very appropriate for us to do direct athlete deals, and make sure they are part of this revolution—and not only have the leagues capitalize on this movement.”
OneOf bills the Sports Illustrated partnership as the launch of a wider sports and lifestyle vertical. Beyond this initial list of nine athletes, Dai said that they’re also working with college sports teams, pro basketball franchises, racing organizations, and international soccer clubs.
The OneOf sports marketplace will also offer a minting pass, which lets buyers gain early access to all of the platform’s planned drops in 2022—including those future team NFTs. More details on the pass will be revealed in advance of the platform’s post-Super Bowl debut.
Minting NFTs on Polygon—an Ethereum sidechain scaling solution—is new for OneOf. The firm’s titular music-centric marketplace runs on Tezos, and OneOf has been one of the major players in the Tezos NFT ecosystem to date.
Embracing Polygon is a step towards a potentially wider multi-chain future for OneOf. Dai said that additional energy-efficient blockchain platforms could be adopted in time as it seeks to provide more options to partners.
OneOf’s music marketplace—which launched last summer after raising $63 million—tapped Tezos due to its smaller environmental impact, which Dai said is particularly important to many musicians. It has featured drops from the late Whitney Houston and other artists, and has partnered with Warner Music Group and The Grammys on further NFT launches ahead.
Polygon, on the other hand, is the same chain that Autograph uses. Dai said that Brady’s platform not only helped “pioneer the way” for OneOf’s sports play, but that the existing sports NFT collector base on that platform might have made it Sports Illustrated’s preferred pick.
“It's already a great ecosystem there,” he said, “and it makes sense that Sports Illustrated made the decision to go on Polygon.”