Kansas basketball fans soon will have a new way to add to their memorabilia collections.
The University of Kansas men’s basketball program is joining the University of Kentucky in partnering with white-label NFT platform company Mercury to provide fans exclusive digital collectibles of their favorite KU players and coaches.
Dubbed the “Rock Chalk” community and found online at RockChalk.io starting Feb. 19, the new endeavor will provide fans the opportunity to buy, sell and trade digital KU NFTs of KU coach Bill Self and players Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Remy Martin and more.
The addition of NFTs to the sports memorabilia market has blown up in the past year. According to a recent article from Reuters, NFT sales, across all genres (art, music, sports, fashion and more), topped $25 billion in 2021.
Several former Jayhawks have created their own NFT presence tied to their professional teams, and dozens of professional athletes have joined in the craze of creating new experiences through the collection of non-fungible tokens.
“This is the sports memorabilia market moving online,” Mercury CEO and co-founder Porter Grieve told the Journal-World in a recent phone interview. “The same way that people used to collect baseball cards, now they’re starting to collect stuff in the digital world.”
While the NFTs are not the same in that they cannot be held and displayed in one’s home, Grieve believes that this new variety of sports memorabilia brings something to collectors that traditional mediums could not.
One is scarcity.
“These athletes’ college careers are so short, so that makes these NFTs all the more scarce,” Grieve said, noting that this partnership will also provide name, image and likeness earning potential — through KU’s connection with G3 Marketing — for the athletes associated with the new endeavor.
Another way these NFTs differ from more traditional collectibles such as cards, bobbleheads and apparel, is in the way they can capture big moments.
For instance, in addition to having his own NFT as a sort of player card, Mercury could create an NFT for Agbaji’s game-tying 3-point shot in overtime against Texas Tech. Any other big moments or highlight-type plays could be quickly converted into an NFT for collectors, and Grieve said his developers could turn something like that around quickly, having it available to the public as soon as one week after the moment takes place.
Beyond that, Grieve calls the RockChalk.io platform a sort of online community that KU fans will benefit from in ways beyond NFT collection. Through their purchase of NFTs, fans will be able to access special offers for tickets, opportunities to meet the players, actual physical memorabilia and more.
“For us, this is really just about bringing the fan base and the community closer to the teams and players they love,” Grieve said. “What we’re delivering to the players here is a way to connect with fans off the court in a sort of new and exciting way (and) a way to earn off-the-court income in a very passive, low-lift manner. All they have to do is say, ‘Hey, those look good, you’re using my likeness, love the look, feel free to sell them.’ And then they get a cut of the revenue.”
Agbaji, for one, is all-in on the KU-themed NFT launch.
“I’ve always been proud to be part of this historical basketball program, and I see this as another cutting-edge opportunity for the University of Kansas,” he said in a news release announcing the partnership. “I’m excited that we are at the forefront of NFTs in the NCAA and how this technology will create an entirely new platform for us to engage with the best fans in college sports.”
For now, the KU-specific NFTs are limited to Kansas basketball. As was the case with Mercury’s decision to partner with Kentucky men’s basketball as one of its first clients in the collegiate space, Grieve said working with Kansas basketball gives Mercury an opportunity to reach thousands of college basketball fans from coast to coast.
“This isn’t something that we want to blast out to every school or sports property in the world,” he said. “We’re focused right now on going to market with a select few, iconic programs.”
He called them “forever brands,” but noted that Mercury is exploring future opportunities with other Kansas Athletics sports teams.
“It’s very important to us that we partnered with an institution that has a rabid fan base,” Grieve said. “We’re very focused on making sure that every NFT we sell has value and becomes a piece of KU history forever.”
Starting today, KU fans can check out RockChalk.io and add their name to the platform’s email list or join the Discord community. KU-specific NFTs will officially go on sale on the site starting Feb. 19.
For a glimpse at what the actual KU NFTs will look like, fans can check out the Kentucky-specific site UKBlueChips.io to see how Mercury has rolled out the Wildcats’ NFTs.