For decades, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has prohibited college athletes from receiving outside monetary compensation for their contributions to their academic institutions’ sports. The NCAA enacted this prohibition in an attempt to preserve the “amateurism” of college sports, citing that collegiate athletes were not professionals and thus were not entitled to compensation outside of stipends or scholarships. As of last summer, however, this is no longer the case.
On June 30, 2021, the NCAA reversed its long-standing policy, thus allowing college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL). While this has raised concerns from many NCAA leaders regarding its amateurism rules and recruitment tactics, it has allowed many collegiate athletes to explore new opportunities to monetize their NIL both on and off the field, including the potential utilization of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
“While NFTs appear as digital images, animations or objects, they are actually a ‘dynamic community engagement utility’ that is in the early days of a long-term revolution,” says Richard Oh, founder and CEO of BlockPack, an NFT platform designed for teams and organizations to engage with dynamic real-world communities. “We believe college sports are the most dramatic example of large real-world community engagement in the United States. The NCAA’s new NIL policy creates a transformational opportunity for us to bring the most powerful community engagement and monetization technology to the strongest real-world community.”
Building communities through NILs and NFTs
The change in NIL legislation dates back to 2019, when California became the first state to prevent colleges and universities from prohibiting athletes from profiting off their NIL. Since that time, 19 other states have enacted similar laws; 8 of which went into effect in 2021 with the remainders being enacted throughout 2022-2025—despite the NCAA’s lobbying efforts to pass a nationwide NIL law rather than individual state laws.
“Since this law went into effect,” says Oh, “NCAA student-athletes are able to monetize sponsored content like social media posts and videos, as well as merchandise or autographs with their NIL.” For athletes who sign up with BlockPack, according to Oh, this would enable collegiate athletes to monetize their NIL and continue building digital and real-world followings and communities through entirely new revenue streams of NFTs. Although NFTs in sports is not a new concept, BlockPath’s model prioritizes the community engagement power of NFTs rather than just the collectibility of the NFT itself.
“NIL opportunities are fundamentally inefficient since they require student-athletes to promote a company’s products or services, which puts student-athletes in competition with celebrities, influencers, paid actors, animations, and more,” Oh tells us. “BlockPack’s platform is designed to enable student-athletes to effectively monetize fans’ and supporters’ intense loyalty for the team — not an unrelated product or service — while also capitalizing on deep support for the team as a whole, which is greater than the sum of the individuals in any given year.”
A new kind of NFT platform designed for NIL
According to Oh, existing college sports NFT programs have been designed with a focus primarily on individual players and the interests of sports collectors, similar to the NBA’s Top Shot NFT marketplace. With NFT programs largely centered on collectibles, however, the value creation of those assets is realized over time (potentially years, decades, or more) rather than up-front. This is one of the main differences between these platforms and BlockPack’s own.
Although Oh explains that BlockPack’s platform is bound to appeal to sports collectors, its program is primarily designed in such a way to capture intense community support for the team. This operating model gives supporters an incentive to raise as much money as possible in competition against other teams.
“The resulting high-value NFT collections reflect the premium value of the resulting community,” Oh says, “both student-athletes and the members of the community themselves. BlockPack’s NFT program is designed to create far greater monetization for comparable student-athlete NIL.”
As Oh tells us, with BlockPack’s integration of NFTs into its business model, supporters are not giving money to student-athletes. Rather, they are instead purchasing digital collectible assets where the auction and community design enable supporters, fans, and followers of a particular athlete to earn money on their collections while also enabling new forms of community engagement, incentives, and rewards.
“The critical distinction for major college football versus typical NFT projects,” Oh mentions, “is that those large communities of supporters with the ability and desire to demonstrate financial support — either as donors or collectors — and the spirit to compete against other teams already exists. As such, our program has been designed to attract maximum engagement from both traditional NIL supporters (e.g., boosters) and new high aggregate value NIL supporters (e.g., individual fans and crypto investors).”
According to Oh, the strategy, planning, and development work for BlockPack’s platform and program have been in process for several months via consultation with third-party platforms, student-athletes, boosters, attorneys, designers, marketers, and more. Every element of the platform is being unveiled in stages to support the phases of its launch.
“We didn’t create just another generic NFT card program for college sports,” Oh clarifies. “Our entire program has been designed end-to-end to create the most inclusive, fair, and transparent NIL program for student-athletes in every sport to finally earn fair market value NIL income through engagement with their fans and supporters.”