Nearly a year has passed since the NCAA announced its game-changing policy that allows student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness, aka “NIL.” Now, thanks to an increasingly popular technology and an innovative startup, student-athletes at the University of Michigan are already reaping the benefits of this change to the NCAA’s NIL policy.
“I am incredibly excited to be part of a cutting-edge program that is on the brink of changing the playing field for college sports,” says Quinten Johnson, a junior defensive back on the University of Michigan football team. Johnson is one of the first student-athletes to sign up for BlockPack, a team-based platform that will allow him, and his teammates, to unleash the value of their NIL.
BlockPack is the brainchild of blockchain entrepreneur and company founder Richard Oh. Simply put, Blockpack is a non-fungible token (NFT) platform designed for teams and organizations to engage with dynamic real-world communities, like university alumni and sports fans. Oh says that college football fans are the perfect demographic for NFTs, which have already made a big splash among NBA fans via the popular online trading platform TopShot.
“College sports represents the dominant form of real-world community engagement in the United States, and we are excited to apply the disruptive community engagement technology of NFTs to benefit student-athletes and their supporters,” Oh says. “We are still in the early days of defining real-world applications for NFTs and we are thrilled to provide a solution that enables forward-thinking college sports teams to generate meaningful income for so many committed student-athletes under the NCAA’s new NIL policy that was adopted last year.”
But the benefits of the new NFT program don’t stop with revenues, according to an interview that defensive back Johnson recently gave to local ABC affiliate WXYZ earlier this month.
“During the pandemic, I started investing, I started learning about investing, which naturally brought me to cryptos, which brought me naturally to NFTs,” the student-athlete told the network. Johnson says that BlockPack was the first platform to highlight the entire team rather than just a few star players, who typically attract the lion’s share of endorsements. He adds that BlockPack is already helping connect supporters and alumni with the team, who are, after all, its biggest fans. In essence, BlockPack provides an always-on digital platform through which fans can show their support and enthusiasm for the team.
That enthusiasm could translate into big bucks for the athletes — and for the school. Blockpack founder Oh says that given University of Michigan Football’s 1.5 million Facebook followers, even a fraction of the team’s fans buying NFTs will create a major marketplace through which student-athletes could profit off their NIL. Additionally, as that marketplace’s community grows, Oh expects the value of the NFTs will go up along with it. In the NFT universe, this automatic price appreciation is known as the “early adopter” advantage, with those who “mint” the NFTs generally getting the best price, followed by the original buyers.
As on the TopShot platform, BlockPack’s NFT buyers will receive a pack of tokens, akin to a digital player card collection. The images might be posed photographs, action shots, or even photos originally taken by fans themselves. The platform’s blockchain, or ledger, will keep track of who owns what cards and facilitate trading via cryptocurrency. BlockPack NFTs may also entitle the owners to special privileges, like admission to VIP fan gatherings. Oh says that because NFTs are minted, sold, and tracked digitally, the opportunities are limitless.
Student-athlete Johnson is not just optimistic, but grateful. “With the NCAA changing the NIL rules last summer, we have seen opportunities for a few people to partake, but have not seen the same opportunities for the team as a whole, until now,” he observes. “I believe this program embodies the concept of what it means to be a part of a football team, as well as have the ability to engage in NIL together.”