When theyre not writing ourModern @thletics column, Steve and Daveare the principals atGains Group, a sport innovationfirm that works with athletes, teams and leagues around the world.
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NIL, NFT, WTF! There are too many acronyms. It feels like I am listening to a bunch of Marines. Its hard to keep up with all of the letters being casually tossed into sport conversations these days. And when my mom brings up NIL & NFTs in one of her 168-word text messages, I know we have entered a bubble.
I (Dave) am going to do my best to connect the dots between these acronyms and fantasize about what things might look like over the next five years. My goal is to get people thinking beyond NIL means car commercials and high school sports camps! and NFTs are just phone pictures! Ill have the same thing if I just take a screenshot!
Let's start with the oldest issue: NIL, a.k.a Name Image Likeness. Most people think NIL in sports is new but it has actually been an issue in the U.S. courts every 10 years or so since the 1980s. When you look back, seemingly every time a new technology gets mass adoption, it quickly pushes up against previous legal constraints of rights of publicity. The first notable lawsuit was in the 90s when the NBA sued STATs and Motorola over a beeper device that used their data to send alerts (the league largely lost). MLB then sued fantasy owners over the use of game data and player faces (again, the league lost). In the end, the courts usually find that sporting events are very much public eventsbut the never-ending question that well keep having to answer is this: How much of that information should be publicly available? And whatever rights of publicity concerns we had over the last 40 years will pale in comparison to the ones well have over the next 10 as we introduce the power of blockchain technologies.
It is easier to dispute creative works when they are physical products. The law says you cant monetize off an athletes 1) name, 2) voice, 3) signature; 4) photograph; 5) image; 6) likeness; 7) distinctive appearance; 8) gestures; or 9) mannerisms without permission. Commercials, trading cards, video games and the FedEx Ground Player of the Week are all obvious examples of needing NIL rights. But what about the not so obvious? Parody trading cards were allowed in a 1996 lawsuit, which is only a little weird. With the advancements of photography manipulation like deep fakes, granularity of non obtrusive capture like computer vision, and biohacking, the ability to essentially recreate an athlete is going to get super weird.
Right now, NIL means pictures and stats. In the not-so-distant future, this will also include all sorts of creative combinations of private and publicly available data. What does that look like?
In the year 2026 . . .
Living across the hall from the star freshman point guard at Big State (Shoutout to Jesus Shuttlesworth), is an artist with the street name 2YZ, who has 290,000 followers on Discord. The artist puts his army of tech wizards to work extracting novel datasets from publicly available outlets. They use computer vision to ingest broadcast tracking data, they tap into publicly available weather data, they scrape social media sentiments, they grab historical basketball data, and they rebuild their Big State dorm hall in the metaverse. Then they ask the basketball star to provide them biometric data off his Apple watch and have him perform a series of T poses in order to create a realistic zombie representation of the point guard in their new metaverse game: Zombie vs. Coeds. Its a huge hit. Kids not only play it, they also gamble on it, and it makes 2YZ and the point guard 38 ethereum a semester.
This is why its important to think beyond pictures and stats in just a sport-specific context. This fantasy is enabled by advances in technology but powered by data. Data is the omnipresent yet subtle part of NIL that is often overlooked but will soon be front and center. Datas flexibility is what will push the boundaries of what is possible and what is going to fuel the next generation of NIL lawsuits. It also segues well into our next acronym: NFTs.
I wont waste words trying to describe what an NFT is (go here instead) but I will do my best to solidify the connection between NIL and NFT. Right now, NFTs are blockchain-certified static digital pixels or a gifat best. This output should not come as a surprise as the first usage of a new technology is most often just the repurposing of the old. TV was just radio with pictures, websites were just magazines with urls. OTT is just TV online. NFTs right now are just certified Instagram posts. Not to get all Gary V on readers, but the future of NFTs is going to be fascinating once the bubble pops. Once these things go dynamic, the world is endless. And how do you think a digital artifact morphs and becomes dynamic? Data, plus super sophisticated code.
Once you think past static, creators no longer need to offer some sort of physical experience to make them valuable. I dont want a meet-and-greet with my NFT, I want to be able to take my Patrick Mahomes 1-of-1 NFT and use it basically anywhere I go on the internet. I want to use Patrick Mahomes NFT in Madden then drop him in Fortnite. I want to display him as a hologram on my wall when I sleep. I want to listen to his Spotify playlist while I do his Tonal exercises. I want to get secret discounts to the products he advertises, I want better odds on his DraftKings over/unders, and I want it to make a donation to the Texas Tech scholarship fund everytime he throws a touchdown. That is an NFT worth $247,000.
Lets not forget, NIL and NFT are just acronyms that someone made up. They arent even accurate descriptions anymore. Only when you break them down can you really put some new and interesting things together. And when you tear these things apart you see how creative engineering and data science really open up interesting opportunities.
Now I just need to figure out how to get ahold of 2YZ so I can get some help converting my moms old war bonds into ethereum for this new Zombie game.
Question? Comment? Story idea? Let Steve and Dave know at [emailprotected]
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero