Digital collectibles like NBA Top Shot are taking off, which fanbases might be next in line?

Adam Gareau
  • April 26, 2021
  • Adam Gareau
Plenty of buzz has surrounded blockchain digital collectibles over the past year. Using data to add insight to the topic, IMI International's VP of Client Services Adam Gareau uses SponsorPulse to discern which major North American sport leagues should consider entering the budding digital space next.

Chances are you’ve heard about – and let’s be fair, maybe not fully understood – NBA Top Shot. The platform powered by Vancouver-based Dapper Labs has made a splash recently by re-energizing the collectibles and trading card space in a truly digital fashion. Backed by a similar blockchain technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the digital “Moments” have gained a following and even some impressive sales – with fans and investors spending in excess of USD$200,000 to be the owner of limited-edition Moments of star players. Despite the initial buzz seemingly fading a bit as we’ve entered spring and the pre-Playoffs lull of the NBA calendar, the platform continues to see sales volume between collectors at around $2MM+ per day.

Those who follow the NBA’s business are likely not surprised to see they were the first to make a splash in this space. The league is consistently considered one of the more risk-taking, innovative, and youth-savvy in the marketplace. In the U.S., while Engagement with the NFL typically tops the list for most demographics and segments, the gap narrows significantly when we look at digital savvy consumers – those likely to purchase cryptocurrency are nearly as likely to engage with the NBA as they are the NFL – a rare segment where the gap between the NFL and other properties lessens.


While understanding and investing in cryptocurrency definitely isn’t a prerequisite to getting in on the action, no doubt those already familiar with crypto will be early converts to the blockchain digital collectible space.

The NBA isn’t the only pro sports league getting in on the action. It was only a matter of time, perhaps, for MLB fans to get their turn, considering the storied history of baseball collectibles. Taking a more traditional route via their partnership with card manufacturer Topps, MLB launched Series 1 of their blockchain-backed digital collectibles on April 20th,2021. As above, it appears this is a wise move, not just because of the sport’s history with cards and collectibles – 2 in 3 crypto-savvy consumers are also engaging with the MLB.

So, which league might be next?UFC is already preparing their own NFT space with Dapper. While individual players like Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady have started exploring the space, the NFL is reportedly exploring their options for a fully licensed arrangement, as of March 2021. While others may rush to get to market after the early success of Top Shot, we’ll have to wait and see if other pro sports – including the NHL – decide to wait and see how MLB’s Topps partnership plays out, and if there’s significant benefit to partnering with a well-known collectibles brand.

North of the border, it’s no surprise where the opportunity lies – while NBA engagement among Canadian cryptocurrency consumers is nearly tied with the NHL, the national pastime retains its #1 standing for engagement, even in this very much emerging segment.