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NFL bans blockchain, NFT deals but hires strategist

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The Athletic reported that the National Football League (NFL) has announced that for now, teams will not be allowed to sign sponsorship deals with cryptocurrency trading firms or sell branded non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The reasoning is likely that the NFL is developing a league-wide digital strategy, and deals of this nature could compete with their offering. Hence it’s hiring someone to develop a strategy for the sector.

“Clubs are prohibited from selling, or otherwise allowing within club controlled media, advertisements for specific cryptocurrencies, initial coin offerings, other cryptocurrency sales or any other media category as it relates to blockchain, digital asset or as blockchain company, except as outlined in this policy,” according to guidelines read by an unidentified team official to The Athletic reporter.

While many other leagues and clubs have adopted NFTs and other blockchain-based initiatives, we’re only aware of one NFL sponsorship. Digital currency investment firm Grayscale sponsors the NY Giants, a deal formalized before the new rule was put in place. But beyond that, not many partnerships are integrating the NFL in the blockchain space. 

Historically, the sports league has been cautious of associating its name with industries such as gambling and alcohol, but as sports betting is becoming legal in the United States, that’s evolving. The regulatory cloud over cryptocurrency, scams and NFT bubbles might have made the NFL apprehensive about joining at the first sign of profit. 

Still, with NBA’s Top Shot’s success, MLB’s partnership with Candy and Topp’s new digital trading cards initiative, the NFL might miss an opportunity if it didn’t invest in an NFT strategy. 

Hiring to spearhead blockchain, NFT strategy

It’s likely no coincidence that the league is currently hiring a Director of Emerging Products. The role requires expertise in “blockchain, non-fungible tokens, and cryptocurrency”, sports betting and intellectual property licensing.

On the other hand, football players are very active in the NFT industry. Rob Gronkowski was one of the first players to launch and sell NFTs for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which opened the space for other athletes to follow in his footsteps, and Tom Brady has launched his very own NFT platform for celebrities. The league’s player union NFLPA was also one of the organizations that signed exclusive licensing rights deals for collectibles with Fanatics, which has a majority ownership in NFT platform Candy. 

Meanwhile, the NBA has set up a blockchain advisory board to further explore the uses of the technology in the league. The WNBA recently joined Top Shot’s roster of NFT highlights. And DigitalBits will sponsor alongside Zytara Italian soccer team AS Roma in a $42 million deal as well as Inter Milan.

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