In a move that counters the trend in most other major sports, from football to boxing to cricket, the US National Football League (NFL) has banned its teams from selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or sponsorships to cryptocurrency trading firms.
As reported on sports website The Athletic on September 3, clubs are restricted from selling “advertisements for specific cryptocurrencies, initial coin offerings, other cryptocurrency sales or any other media category as it relates to blockchain [or] digital assets”, according to the NFL guidelines.
However, the policy does allow for sponsorships with companies that mainly provide investment advisory or fund management services related to cryptocurrency, along the lines of Grayscale Investments’ agreement with the New York Giants.
Rule Does Not Appear to Apply to Specific Players
Individual ventures seem to be exempt from the rule. For example, star quarterback Tom Brady has a joint stake in crypto derivatives exchange FTX with his Brazilian supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen, and he also owns an NFT platform in partnership with sports betting operator DraftKings. Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski recently sold an NFT collection, while Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes released his own collection of NFTs on MakersPlace in March.
Carolina Panthers lineman Russell Okung announced last December he would be getting half of his US$13 million salary paid in bitcoin. Okung timed his decision well, as the NFL had just capped the league’s salaries at US$180 million. Some suggest Okung is now the highest paid NFL player thanks to his crypto manoeuvre.
The NFL policy places it at odds with other major sports in the NFT space. The NBA has pursued a lucrative partnership with Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot dating back to May last year, and in July Major League Baseball launched its own NFT marketplace with Fanatics-owned Candy Digital.
The Athletic’s report does not disclose any negative feedback from players who have already participated with crypto firms, or whether they have been granted any form of immunity from the new ban.
Possible Reasons for the Ban
It has been suggested that teams are not permitted to sell NFTs because the league is developing its own strategy for sports digital trading cards and art. While other leagues have opened the floodgates for digital assets, the NFL is notoriously cautious with new commercial categories. For example, it trod very cautiously with gambling and alcohol promotions before eventually relaxing its restrictions.
In the case of cryptocurrency, the league currently only allows teams to align with companies that are a step removed from trading.
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