Sports cards as a collectible and tradable item have been around since the 19th century. They were a huge craze for a very long time until they steadily became far more niche by the end of the millennium.
A rather small but considerable part of this development was the rise of digital technology. Even contemporary non-memorabilia trading cards such as Magic: The Gathering faced pressure from digital collections such as Hearthstone and Shadowverse, which were poised to take advantage of the internet, and the inherent portability and virtual asset collecting it offered.
But ironically, the very same technological advancements that pushed sports cards into relative obscurity are now the very things that are aiding their return. Or, more specifically, their virtual return, especially within current blockchain networks, where NFT sports cards are gaining traction.
(NOTE: This article will only discuss NFT sports cards exclusively. For more basic topics regarding NFTs and blockchain networks in general, please refer to other related articles on this site.)
Why Do NFT Sports Cards Exist?
Long story short, almost any collectible can be turned into an NFT, with adequate virtual elements and properties for it to exist as such. Artworks are usually the most popular type of NFTs. But, in the context of this article, other types of collectibles comparable to sports cards can be fair game as well. For example, Larva Labs’ Cryptopunks has the largest blockchain avatar collectible archive, with millions of items commemorating various themes, each with its own demand levels and rarities.
As for trading cards in general, they work almost the same as their physical counterparts (if there are any). The only real difference is that their existence is acknowledged within the confines of the pre-set blockchain network. In fact, the fundamental idea that other enthusiasts confirm your collection within the group is strikingly similar to how ownership, or even buying and selling, is addressed for non-fungible tokens.
So NFT sports cards exist because they technically can. They are essentially collectible items (memorabilia) for enthusiasts, with data types and information that can easily be shared across an open, decentralized network. Basic ownership becomes possible through the community itself. And most importantly, value is largely determined by each collector’s personal sense of merit, rather than just being affected solely by market forces.
I Collect Actual Sports Cards. Why Should I Care About this Virtual Stuff?
The biggest skepticism about NFT sports cards is their agreed-upon level of authenticity as real-deal sports memorabilia. Sports cards, being already rooted in a hobby spanning almost two centuries, are as much a piece of history as anything else.
If you have, let’s say, Joe Jackson’s 1910 T210 Old Mill baseball card, not only do you have a fragile, red-bordered collectible of that player but you are also keeping a physical part of history.
But in the age of digital information, we can argue that sports cards’ “data”, from their physical dimensions to the historical significance they represent, can be preserved better using computers. In fact, as an NFT, maintenance (keeping the item in pristine existence) is even more robust. A decentralized system ensures that the entire network acknowledges its existence, and no fiat currency would have to “prove” its value beyond being some fancy claimed collectible.
Topps, for example, is now moving towards the adoption of blockchain-based versions of their classic baseball card collections by introducing the “Series” collectibles. As long as you have a secure crypto wallet, your “identity” is established, and netting a rare card automatically means that your identity is registered to it (as the owner) via the agreed and confirmed transaction on the supported blockchain network (WAX). It’s more secure than if it were on some random online service-related server or a fragile personal use device.
What are Some Examples of NFT Sports Cards?
Googling the term “NFT Sports Cards” will usually result in a number of different news articles relating their sensational arrival (disruption?) in the collectibles hobby niche. But the most notable ones that touch upon how prevalent they are include:
1. Topps Series 1 Collectible Baseball Cards
This is a series of standard product-based NFT collectibles by Topps, where users buy various media-infused virtual card packs as any trading card player would. Unlike NFTs that we see in the news, these are not auctioned or sold as exclusive valuables. Rather, they are introduced as regular products, selling officially for $5 a pop for six random cards, or $100 for a bigger, premium pack of one hundred.
On April 20th 2021, the company released 50,000 standard packs, and 24,000 premium packs to be sold in the first wave. The rare cards have the signature “exclusive” NFT treatment that helps the supporting blockchain network thrive even further.
2. NBA Top Shots
Not exactly sports “cards” as they are traditionally known, but essentially the same thing due to their similar collectible nature (available in packs, roster-type collectability, etc.). Instead of a static image with stats featuring players and iconic moments in their histories, though, Top Shots instead feature short video clips. NBA Top Shots first became available in October 2020, when over 300,000 people lined up to buy Top Shots packs worth $14 each, with availability set at 92,500.
Having already given enough time to circulate among collectors, NBA Top Shots now sell for the prices that you typically expect for NFTs. For example, a Top Shot featuring Victor Oladipo sold for $15,000, with the most expensive at the moment being a Lebron James Top Shot that is worth the equivalent of $387,600.
Where Would NFT Sports Cards Go From Now On?
A good bulk of the sensation behind NFTs in popular media hinges on these crazy transactions and virtual items being sold for ludicrous amounts. While this also holds true for those who are lucky enough to open a virtual NFT pack containing something very valuable, this won’t be the case for everyone. Furthermore, at some point, we should expect the NFTs craze to cool down and return back to their niche roots, before becoming just another ordinary method of buying confirmed virtual goods online.
And that is a good thing. NFTs have proven once again the superficiality of our sense of value. But, they have also shown that there is actually a way to keep digital items online without worrying about a specific server shutting down, or services being closed. If you have ever witnessed the end of an MMORPG you spent ages playing or a virtual asset-based online service you used so much, then you understand firsthand that the internet doesn’t necessarily keep all things permanent.
For NFT Sports Cards, in particular, the permanence of your collection within a decentralized data processing system becomes more or less guaranteed, security issues aside. Thanks to blockchain networks, it is now possible for prized baseball or basketball cards to be free from the shackles of temporal depreciation and localized data corruption… forever.