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Is There Money In The NFT Fad For Sports Media Brands?

“Perhaps the windfall a media company can receive has less to do with generating income by selling NFTs and more to do with adjusting to the behavior of those participating in the trade.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The NBA has Top Shot. The NFL is reportedly looking into launching something similar. The sports world clearly understands that there is money to be made in non-fungible tokens. 

The Future is Now: NBA Top Shot is the New Digital Frontier | SLAM

What are non-fungible tokens? Well, first of all, if you’re cool, you call them NFTs. According to Coinbase, NFTs are “are a special kind of cryptoasset in which each token is unique”. 

Most of the cryptocurrencies we are familiar with offer a single thing for a single price. Bitcoin, for instance, was valued just under $60,200 when I started writing this. Before I hit publish though, the price plummeted by 10%. Fork over whatever the current amount is, and you get a single Bitcoin.

With NFTs, you are buying something specific. In the case of Top Shot, your investment gets you a particular highlight. That makes it possible to swing trades and make deals with NFTs in a way that is more akin to an NBA GM than a day trader.

Following so far?

Honestly, me neither, so let’s just get to the question at hand.

Art is sold as NFTs. Albums are sold as NFTs. Any bit of code can be an NFT, so is there a way radio can make money off of the trend?

In order to figure out the answer to that question, I asked my friend Jordan Holberg for help. We went school together from third grade until the end of high school. Fun fact about Jordan: when we were in sixth grade, he once made me laugh so hard I peed my pants.

He was in AP and honors classes. I mostly didn’t do homework. That meant I went to Alabama and he went to NYU. Now, I write about sports media for a living, and he has just started his own company that mints NFTs and cryptocurrency.

He is very smart. I am very dumb. A perfect example of that fact is that when we were exchanging messages and emails about this column and he referenced the SEC, he stopped to make sure I understood that he was talking about the Securities and Exchanges Commission and not the Southeastern Conference.

Full disclosure: I did not, but pretended I did.

Anyway, Jordan explained that the idea of non-fungible tokens is sort of the final evolution that futurists and the Cyberpunk genre had been envisioning for cryptocurrency all along. NFTs themselves are not a cryptocurrency. They are how you invest your cryptocurrency.

I told Jordan that between something like the NBA’s Top Shot and a band like Kings of Leon releasing their latest album as an NFT, they seemed more like something you buy because you are a fan than a strategic investment. Jordan says that it helps to think back to when you were a kid collecting baseball cards.

“Was that about fandom or investing? I certainly remember going to card shows at the Howard Johnson and drooling over a Nolan Ryan rookie card, or placing value on cards with printed errors,” he told me in an email. “Non-Fungible Tokens exist in this very fungible space at the intersection of gaming, social, and finance, and I think it’s fascinating the Internet has facilitated the existence of this new type of entity.”

Okay, so we’re talking about a “you got chocolate in my peanut butter” kind of situation. Sure, NFTs are investments, but the desire to invest in a lot of cases is driven by fandom. That means that entering the NFT market may not be viable for everyone in the sports media industry, but iconic brands like ESPN or local institutions like KFAN in Minneapolis or WFAN in New York may be able to offer fans something in this space.

I asked Jordan what would be a reasonable NFT offer from a sports media brand. I was prepared to hear him mention something like a podcast or the ability to download a show that may not be available to own or have on any other platform. Instead, I was surprised by how familiar his suggestion seemed.

“The first thing that pops into my head is community,” he answered. “It’s dead-simple, at least in relative terms, to create a gated social community experience for NFT holders. It’s like a virtual ticket that isn’t forgeable, could be non-transferable, and has the potential to constantly make money for its issuer.”

That sounds an awful lot like ESPN+ or Mike Francesa’s ill-fated Mike’s On app. I am not saying it is the wrong answer. I don’t even know enough to know if there is a wrong answer. Maybe it speaks to the idea that an NFT can be anything.

mikes on app - Jacobs Media Strategies

The other thing to remember is that before any company can make a fortune on NFTs, it may have to invest a fortune. Take Jordan’s exclusive community. Why is it different than something like an app or a subscription service? Jordan tells me that when NFTs are involved, consumers’ concerns do not stop at status updates or memes. Their investment has them thinking about much more significant factors.

“When it comes to brands, big or small, lawyers have to get involved for sure. Again, NFTs are just digital property rights, but we aren’t digital beings and the world doesn’t exist only on the Internet. Intellectual Property, indemnification, terms of service, all that typical stuff still needs to be considered and isn’t part of anything on the blockchain. That said, it’s as complicated as you want it to be, but because NFTs are forever (if you code them that way), it’s a lot to consider.”

One advantage large, well-known sports media brands could have in the NFT space is the trust factor. I cannot help but think that is part of what has driven Top Shot’s success. Sure, fans love the highlights and the players involved, but the NBA is a global entity. I would guess most NFT believers are more confident in its integrity than some other players in the space. At the very least, people dealing in NFTs can be confident that the NBA has too much to lose to openly run a scam.

Look, I’m not naive. The banking industry, Wall Street, insurance companies, government. I know there are plenty of well-known, long established entities that are perfectly capable of operating in ways that are designed to screw their customers. There is something about fandom though that makes us willing to take on some risk. We want to trust these things and people we have something invested in wouldn’t screw us.

For instance, Jordan tells me that he believes that a large percentage of the NFT art market is being driven by money laundering. “Remember, this is a completely unregulated, brand new industry, and one should never underestimate the greed of others,” he says.

He says that for consumers, the thing to remember is that an NFT is really just a contract. It says that the buyer is exchanging a certain amount of cryptocurrency for a digital entity of some sort.

“These contracts are little programs and each one has been coded by someone. There are contract standards, but it’s up to the consumer to understand what they’re getting into. There’s nothing stopping a smart contract programmer from coding the NFT to say, ‘after 30 days, destroy yourself’. That’s an incredibly daunting task for anyone other than the most technical and hardcore blockchain user, so there’s a certain amount of trust most NFT holders are placing in the system.”

r/NFT - This is a scam!
An actual piece of NFT art that went on the market last month

Companies in the media space can achieve plenty of monetary gain from the NFT craze. There is also something to be learned. Perhaps the windfall a media company can receive has less to do with generating income by selling NFTs and more to do with adjusting to the behavior of those participating in the trade.

Jordan doesn’t have predictions on what will happen. What he does know is that NFTs have shown consumers that the model social media networks, company websites, and mobile games have operated under for so long is not the only way consumers can access the content they are looking for online anymore.

“There’s going to be a huge shift between the current attention economy, where creators are paid based on engagement (likes, follows, clicks, eyeballs) and those doing the actual engagement get nothing other than their data mined and sold, to a participation economy, where everyone is compensated and has a stake in whatever it is they’re engaging with. If NFTs are based on crypto and part of a larger whole, and they have value assigned to them, and those NFTs can be bought, sold, and traded, the more compelling their use-cases are, the more functionality they provide and active the community, the more monetary incentives, policy, and governance can be created to compensate and incentivize participation.”

Technology is a constantly evolving thing, so each generation’s expectation of entertainment changes. Think about social media. The idea of being able to send a message to your favorite player after a game and the potential for them to respond directly to you was something that existed only in our dreams when we were teenagers. It makes sense then that the idea that a fan should get something more for their investment than just a newsletter or t-shirt is coming. It’s an expectation sports media companies should be thinking about right now, so that they aren’t the last ones into a flooded marketplace.

Inducing choice paralysis: how retailers bury customers in an avalanche of  options

“Crypto/NFTs have opened up a whole new world of what it means to be a consumer of entertainment and culture, and, for the moment, the sky’s the limit,” Jordan tells me. “We are very early.”

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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