WNBA NFTs have arrived! The league partnered with Dapper Labs to introduce WNBA Top Shot Moments in August of 2021. Meanwhile NBA Top Shot has seen $436 million in trading volume since launching last year, according to Decrypt.
“Top Shot presents an exciting opportunity for the WNBA to engage passionate fans on a whole new level and celebrate the league as it continues to make history,” said Christy Hedgpeth, WNBA Chief Operating Officer. “We have been at the forefront of innovation in many respects and partnering with Dapper Labs on Top Shot allows us to highlight the talent and incredible performances of WNBA players in a heightened way through a digital experience.”
But WNBA athletes didn’t wait on the league to experiment in the space before jumping in with their personal brands. Players such as Seattle Storm‘s veteran Sue Bird and co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, Renee Montgomery, released their own NFTs first.
So today we’ll break down the market potential for WNBA NFTs, and discuss the unique approaches of the WNBA athletes paving the way (plus current bidding results). Plus, we reveal, well, what exactly an NFT is. And, we’ll share what the future might hold, including future WNBA Top Shot drops.
On the one hand, the market is primed for WNBA NFTs as female spending power continues to increase and the league continues to make an investment in digital-first fans. On the other hand, NBA NFTs’ interest has dropped dramatically, which when used as a reference point, makes things potentially less interesting for the women’s league.
Globally, women control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, according to HBR. In aggregate, women represent a growth market more than twice as big as China and India combined. As a result, the female consumer, and all her spending power, could make a big impact in the currently male-dominated NFT space (research shows that women make up only about 15% of crypto users).
Alexis Ohanian, Reddit Founder, recently tweeted, “I’ve invested big in women’s sports, but the rise of NFTs and trading card boom is going to be HUGE for women’s sports. These markets are male-dominated right now. Women are undervalued, just as they are in other markets, despite actually having much more influence on dollars.” To be clear, NFTs and trading cards are two distinct spaces, with possible overlap.
On the flip side, NFTs also present a unique opportunity for female athletes to generate revenue streams. “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, to Yahoo Sports.
NFTs’ potential opportunity for the WNBA and its athletes also coincides with the league’s continued investment in digital. From development of the WNBA App and League Pass, to Amazon distribution and a Google partnership, the WNBA is making a continued bet on the rise of digital-first fans. The most recent step towards capitalizing digitally is the WNBA’s new partnership making PointsBet, a top-tier global sportsbook operator, an Authorized Gaming Operator of the WNBA.
“Innovating at the WNBA and enhancing the fan experience starts with recognizing how our fans want to interact with the players, teams, and the league, and PointsBet will enhance a second screen experience that digitally-engaged fans are looking for,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “We’re excited to partner with PointsBet to continue expanding in the sports betting space and look forward to the innovative ideas they will bring to our game.”
In short, the WNBA isn’t sleeping on the Metaverse, and because things are hopping online, the online economy will continue to grow – NFTs being one salable option.
However, while there’s spending power and growing digital interest, there might not actually be NFT interest. The best reference point for a basketball league in the space at this point is the NBA. And while more than 340,000 NBA fans have joined Top Shot according to their website, search interest in NBA NFT related terms hit a huge spike in late February 2021 and has been on the decline ever since. Though it looks like a small uptick in interest could be on the way as of August.
The trend isn’t contained to just the NBA though. In fact, Google searches for general NFT terms show a similar story.
No matter the opportunity, female athletes have started taking the leap.
WNBA champion Sue Bird, number one 2021 WNBA Draft pick Charli Collier, and number three selection Aari McDonald dropped NFTs on May 10th, 2021. Each athlete released a limited one-of-one digital collectible card as part of Wasserman’s The Collective Series, designed by Los Angeles-based artist Lauren Nipper according to Sportico.
All three hoopers opted for an open auction sale, and today Sue Bird’s highest bid is essentially equivalent to $300, while Charli Collier’s is at $100, and Aari’s is at $35. Though, the athletes’ earnings could go up in the future beyond the sale price, as Zora also allows purchasers to trade and resell its NFTs on any other digital marketplace, giving purchasers additional potential resale value (and the athletes a percentage of every resale).
Wasserman’s play isn’t the only WNBA foray into NFTs.
Atlanta Dream co-owner, and two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery and HEARTLENT Group also launched an NFT collection on May 21, 2021 called “My Starting Five” focusing on some of the biggest moments of her career. Each of her NFTs also comes with an MEM jersey.
“These are going to be very important things that happened in my career,” Renee told Yahoo Sports. “When I opted out, that was a big moment in my career, you know. And so there’s going to be something there for that. So people can understand me, I’m going to tell it through my NFTs.” The NFTs include her WNBA record seven three-pointers in one game, her celebrated opt-out tweet, and her career-spanning six championship rings.
Renee’s goal for her work in NFTs goes beyond the impact it can have on her own situation. “In my TED talk, I talked a lot about tech and being tech-forward. The Black and Brown community, we have to dive more into that field,” Renee told Erica L. Ayala for Forbes. “You have to be what you can’t see sometimes, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
With the collection, Renee also wants to prove she can hit the same price point as male athletes’ NFTs, according to Yahoo Sports. For reference, a LeBron James Top Shot moment sold for over $387,000 in April, after a previous LeBron James Top Shot moment sold for $208,000 in February.
Renee said, “I’m trying to create high-quality NFTs to see if we can reach that same premium price point that the men are getting. So that’s my goal to just put out there a good product, and, hopefully, people gravitate towards it.”
As her collection went live, an offer was received on the Seven 3s NFT, and 6 rings (1 of 6) has sold for $365.38.
There aren’t many strong points of comparison. References from the female athlete space include the release from re-inc’s USWNT stars, with Tobin Heath’s NFT selling for $4,809, Christen Press’ for $3,308, Meghan Klingenberg for $1,314. The cards were the first NFTs done by female Olympic athletes. Later, Megan Rapinoe’s card launched as part of The Collective at $495.
Most recently, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka’s digital art piece NFT sold for $150,000. It was one of five works in the ‘The Colors of Naomi Osaka‘, her debut NFT collection created by her sister, Mari Osaka which in total went for over $580,000 (including one work for $200,200). A sixth work was raffled off as part of a $5 ticket draw, which could be purchased using a credit card rather than cryptocurrency, thereby widening access to any fan. And there was also a free phone wallpaper digital download, expanding reach even further.
There are some differences between the way the WNBA talents released their NFTs that could provide learnings for future players. For one, they used different sales platforms: Zora and Overseas. Zora has 30,000 followers on Twitter, which is smaller than OpenSea‘s 176,000.
In terms of related press, the Wasserman Collective’s press went live about two weeks in advance of their NFT launch so there was no way to purchase while the news was on, while Renee’s press went live the same day as her release.
Sue doesn’t appear to have promoted her drop on any of her personal brand platforms, Aari shared Wasserman’s tweet on her account well ahead of the launch, and Charli shared Just Women’s Sports tweet with the news of the launch on April 28th, prior to the launch too.
Renee took to social media to share the news on the day of the launch with her followers. And Jonah Ballow, Head of Content + Production for HEARTLENT Group, and Elliot Gerard, Head of Creative, joined her podcast, Remotely Renee, to discuss the development of the launch including the artists and their work.
But what exactly are these WNBA athletes selling? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a digital file that only you own. Though sometimes they come in a limited release, so you might own, say, one of only five in the world. You can buy and sell them, just like you would a physical card – so they’re kind of like digital trading cards.
The file you purchase contains digital assets such as a work of art, a photograph, or a sports collectible, for example. It’s similar to buying art in the sense that it’s basically worth what someone would pay to buy it from you.
The key is that NFTs run on blockchain, which is a decentralized system and record keeper that keeps track of transactions, ownership, and the validity of the NFT’s asset. Basically, blockchain is a relatively secure way to store and pass something unique online from one person to the next. So NFTs are great for copyright management.
Many NFTs being created are on the ethereum network. While bitcoin’s blockchain was created to store transaction values and track the movement of bitcoin between accounts, the ethereum network acts as a software platform where developers can store computer code for other blockchain projects.
Still lost? Just know this: Renee Montgomery describes NFTs as “the new age trading card.”
NFTs have been around since early 2018. But their popularity didn’t really take off until the second half of 2020, climbing to a market value of at least $338 million, from about $41 million in 2018, according to a report by NonFungible.com and L’Atelier.
According to Conflux, some market analysts now project that the total market cap for project-based NFTs could rise to more than $1.3 billion in 2021. This seemingly flies in the face of the Google Trends search data from above, but it could be that the market is bolstered by relatively very few, big players.
It turns out you can buy a WNBA NFT, beyond just the individual players’ offerings. During the SportTechie State of the Industry virtual conference on March 24th, 2021, in a panel moderated by Decrypt, Caty Tedman confirmed that Dapper Labs was working with the WNBA to bring the league into Top Shot or a Top Shot-like experience.
“We’re working through some stuff with the [WNBA] right now, but it’s the 25th-anniversary season and we’re super excited about what that can look like in Top Shot or a Top Shot environment,” said Caty Tedman. “There’s super spectacular talent on that side.”
But first, Dapper Labs had some stability issues to sort out, before expanding into additional markets. NBA Top Shot’s user surge led to downtime, restrictions on registrations and transactions, and issues with a bunch of bots trying to take valuable packs of NBA “moments” sold as NFTs, as reported by Decrypt.
Finally, the WNBA partnership with NBA Top Shot has debuted in August of 2021, and together they’ve released WNBA Moments to bring fans the greatest past and present moments of the league. The experience will feature dynamic in-game moments from WNBA players and legends, headlined by 2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie.
“The players and the fans have been looking forward to this announcement with great excitement and anticipation,” said Terri Jackson, WNBPA Executive Director. “We are thrilled that Dapper Labs saw the promise and the opportunity to capture the game’s most electrifying moments and infuse the fan experience with authentic moments in the digital collectible space.”
WNBA fans new to Top Shot will instantly be immersed into a world where they can discover great plays, open packs to collect epic WNBA Moments, show off their collections, and trade with their peers from the moment they engage on the Top Shot marketplace, secured by Flow, the blockchain developed for consumer experiences at scale.
The first WNBA pack drop (Best of 2021) is scheduled for Friday, August 27, 2021. However fans have an opportunity to guarantee a spot to purchase by signing up and registering starting today (August 25th).
The first 10,000 fans to register will get an exclusive, free First Access Moment. Plus, those fans with First Access will be guaranteed a spot to purchase a pack from Friday’s drop.
But all fans can join the Top Shot queue, for an opportunity to obtain WNBA Moments this season. Furthermore, according to an Indiana Fever email, anyone who signs up during the launch week will earn a guaranteed mystery Moment from 1 of 4 WNBA players.
Plus, Boardroom is giving away 50 WNBA packs free to celebrate. You can enter here.
The list of players in the first ever pack drop, Common 2021 regular season Moments is:
(A’ja Wilson’s Common Moment won’t be available in this pack. That moment’s top purchase price so far has been $10,000.)
“In their monumental 25th season, we couldn’t be more excited to debut the WNBA and the players on Top Shot,” said Caty Tedman, Dapper Labs’ Head of Partnerships. “We’re focused on revolutionizing how fans connect to the sports and players they love and share a goal to transform the fan experience. In the spirit of the iconic and trailblazing league they are, this launch is just the beginning of what we have in store for the W and its fans.”
Later packs set to drop this year include a Rare pack, a historical set with plays from previous 25 seasons; a Second Common drop; and a Legendary Drop – 2021 Playoffs.
In addition to the WNBA’s moves into the space, round21 has released some WNBA NFTs. Designed in partnership with GigLabs and swatchbook, a first-of-its-kind RareBall collection launched on November 19, 2021.
The collection includes 2,121 custom-designed expressive digital NFT basketballs including athlete signature balls by ten NBA and WNBA greats that represent their unique story on a new canvas. There are featured signature balls from: Michael Carter-Williams, Renee Montgomery, Angel McCoughtry, Ticha Penicheiro, Marcus Zegarowski, Gary Harris, Mason Plumlee, Tamika Catchings, John Collins, and Swin Cash.
For each partner athlete, there will be 21 signature “player edition” balls in this genesis collection. Getting one of those will be a big win and a possible key to future athlete engagement opportunities and giveaways. The packs are priced at $89 and come with a 10% chance to pull a Legendary Player’s Edition Signature Athlete Ball.
Also, built within the Dapper Labs ecosystem, they extended the passion for sports and NBA Top Shot collectability into a new space – playable art. All of these 3D basketball NFTs can be used to play in the immersive RareRooms’ mini game “PopShot”, giving the owners a chance to win community rewards and bragging rights. Check the drop out on RareRooms.
Another interesting basketball move into the NFT space recently came from Michael Jordan, which could provide takeaways for future WNBA moves in the space.
Michael Jordan and his son announced they were launching Heir Inc. on December 27, 2021, and shared that the platform will launch in 2022. The holding company made its debut with HEIR, a decentralized digital community that will help athletes use the advantages of Web3 and the Solana blockchain network to connect with fans, including via the use of NFTs and “huddles” that provide a direct path to exclusive experiences and limited product releases.
“We envision HEIR becoming the platform that will help cultivate the future of athlete Meta-Brands,” said HEIR Inc. co-founders Daniel George and Jeron Smith. “Dedicated supporters are at the heart of the platform, and they’ll benefit from early adoption ownership and unmatched access to their favorite athletes. Through marketplace engagement and tech-enabled activations, our platform unlocks the underserved monetization of fandom. We are excited to offer creators a wider range of engagement tools to reach passionate supporters, especially Gen Z and millennials, in new ways.”
They’ve also filed five trademark applications: 1. HEIR, 2. HEIR Token, 3. Meta Brand, 4, H.E.I.R. How Excellence Is Remembered, and 5. H.E.I.R. How Excellence Is Recognized.
Perhaps a Web3 world creation could be in the WNBA’s future as well.
Now you’re equipped to buy WNBA NFTs and be part of driving the growth of a new market. As Renee told Erica L. Ayala for Forbes, “A lot of male athletes, when they put things out, automatically the price tag rises because they’re an NBA player, or they’re an NFL player. When women or female athletes are trying to do different things in different spaces, I would love if people supported the same way because that’s how growth happens.”
The issue doesn’t appear to be limited to the sport space in NFTs. “From my perspective and understanding, it seems that women are having a hard time being represented and valorized across the NFT landscape,” digital artist Alycia Rainaud, who goes by Maalavidaa recently told Vogue.
In response, artists have created communities, such as Heal the Deal, that host weekly clubhouse sessions on crypto art and NFTs, and welcome artists, newcomers, and collectors to reach out to gain or offer support — a model that could be applied to the female athletic space as well.
Don’t let WNBA stories go untold. Would you be willing to send a $5 tip to our Venmo tip jar because it helps support our reporting? @megsterr.
Or our Paypal: