A Lebron James sports card going for $230,000 normally wouldn’t be big news. After all, sports cards sell for astronomical numbers fairly often. But this sale was different. Because it’s not your average sports card. It’s part of a new trend of NFT sports cards.
NBA Top Shot is an NFT marketplace that allows users to buy, sell, and collect top moments from NBA games. At its very core, the marketplace is essentially an NFT sports cards shop. Fans log in and purchase packs of cards containing video highlights of dunks, three-pointers, and tricky layups.
The marketplace has seen an explosion of growth since its release. Starter packs, which exist simply as an entry point for users, are frequently sold out. More expensive “holo packs” starting at $999 are so popular they crash the site. And moments from the league’s top stars sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While the headlines are flashy, with those aforementioned hundred thousand dollar sales making breaking news, the platform’s bread and butter are transactions under $50. In fact, more than 3 million transactions have been for moments priced under the fifty-dollar mark.
What does that say about NFTs in general? And more importantly, why does this matter for the future of theatre?
People talk about NFTs in terms of extremes. On one end of the spectrum, you have folks who reject the very notion of NFTs. They refuse to learn about them, and whenever they come up in the news or in a Twitter conversation, they have nothing but bad things to say.
However, the NFT adverse are simply reacting to those on the other end of the NFT spectrum. People who use NFTs to block access to art, or who have allegedly sold a million-dollar JPEG of a cat meme and now sell themselves as some sort of get-rich-quick blockchain guru.
But what NBA Topshot shows is that the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Doesn’t it always?
The Middle Ground
The fact that most Top Shot transactions come in at under $50 speaks to the true use case of NFTs. While there no doubt exists a fraction of Top Shot users looking to strike it rich in the NFT sports card game, most users treat the platform as an extension of their fandom, purchasing NFTs like they would any other collectible. This says something about how NFTs are seen by a majority of the buying public. As digital collectibles fans use to connect with properties they are passionate about.
So, what exactly does this mean for theatre?
Similar to diehard NBA fans, theatre fans are extremely passionate. When they love a show, they LOVE a show and will buy hats, mugs, and any merch thrown their way. When thinking about NFTs, you shouldn’t think of them as million-dollar items. Think about the middle ground. Theatre NFTs or NFT sports cards are simply an extension of affordable merch.
Theatre productions can benefit from the sale of NFTs in the same way they benefit from the sale of physical merch. The only difference is that NFTs extend the life of your show beyond the stage. For instance, through Third Act shows are able to receive royalties for the entire life of their NFT. Every sale, resale, and auction pay a percentage back to the original IP owner. Something your run-of-the-mill merch doesn’t do.
But NFTs can be so much more than just digital collectibles. They can be used in ways that take fandom to a whole new level.
A New Type of Fan
The nature of entertainment has fundamentally changed. With a plethora of entertainment options available, niche fandoms are becoming the norm. Niche doesn’t mean bad. Though these niche fandoms are made up of smaller cadres of fans, the level of fandom has increased exponentially.
This is a product of the digital nature of entertainment. Fans have access to their favorite properties through streaming services and their favorite personalities through Twitter. Because of this, fans not only love connecting with every aspect of an entertainment property, but they actively seek out ways to do so.
Right now, theatre is not taking advantage of this fandom boom. Theatre Makers limit themselves to the stage, locking their properties behind oftentimes hard-to-access theatres in major markets. But they don’t have to. Top Shot provides a roadmap the theatre industry can follow to take shows beyond the stage.
In a way, NBA games are similar to theatre productions. They are ephemeral in nature. Sure, you can watch a game on TV or highlights on YouTube, but for sports fans, nothing beats the live experience. The same goes for theatre fans. There’s nothing like seeing a show.
NBA games are also hard to access. Just like theatre, tickets often sell for hundreds of dollars, and you have to be near a major city to even get to an arena. But with Top Shot and NFT sports cards, the NBA has added a new layer to their sport’s fandom, opening it up to a whole new userbase.
By creating NFT sports cards, the NBA found a way to extend the game beyond the court. They gave fans a new way to connect with and access the league and its players. Theatre can do the same thing. Productions can offer NFTs to their audiences, giving them an additional layer of fandom to explore, and allowing those who may not be able to go see a show the opportunity to own a piece of one.
But while Top Shot has provided a roadmap, Theatre Makers have a chance to take things a step further. Top Shot’s model, while effective, is simple. Sell fans NFT sports cards. Theatre has the potential to use NFTs in even more creative and effective ways.
A lot goes into a theatre production. There’s writing, rewriting, rehearsals, costuming, set design. All of these aspects can not only be turned into NFTs but also shared with fans in ways that give them unprecedented access to the shows they love.
Like Top Shot, theatre NFTs can be simple highlights. An iconic dance move or clip from a beloved song. Unlike Top Shot’s assets, theatre collectibles can be keys to unlocking exclusive fan experiences. Own an NFT and get a sneak peek at the rehearsal process, purchase a digital collectible and access a cast meet-and-greet. The possibilities and use-cases are limited only by imagination. Luckily when it comes to Theatre Makers, imagination is unlimited.
NBA Top Shot has been incredibly successful thus far. But the marketplace has not utilized NFTs to their full potential. Theatre has an opportunity to learn and improve upon Top Shot’s NFT road map. Doing so may just lead to the future of the theatre industry.