The Modern Day Bobblehead: Digital Highlight Giveaways

Background

In the era of enormous high-definition home televisions, sports teams have increasingly employed incentives to motivate local fans to leave the comfort of their home in favor of attending a game in person. Examples of offerings made by teams include post-game fireworks, food and drink specials, and, of course, bobbleheads. Out of this lineup of freebies, anything that falls under the umbrella of “collectible” is arguably the most attractive to fans because it enables them to take home more than just a memory from the game.

In 2019, the NBA partnered with Dapper Labs to create Top Shot, a company which sought to modernize the traditional sports card market by taking it into the digital world in the form of player highlights. A few short years later and the popularity of these digital highlights has grown immensely, as evidenced by the (still technically in beta) website regularly breaking down due to demand to buy highlights outstripping the carefully curated supply. In fact, the success has been so remarkable that it opened the door for Dapper Labs to expand its business into the NFL by working with the league to re-create Top Shot for football highlights, called All Day.

An explainer of NBA Top Shot.

So, if giving away collectibles at home games is a fan favorite, and sports fans have proven their enthusiasm for acquiring digital highlights, what if there was a project that combined those two things?

Idea

If money were no object, the only thing stopping teams from giving away more collectibles would be the creativity to come up with enough fresh ideas for souvenirs. But what if there was a collectible that not only eschewed the pricey physical component, but was also customized to reflect the very game the fan was attending?

Enter, the next generation of digital highlights.

Given that Top Shot has already done millions of dollars in business through selling “packs” of highlights and taking a percentage of card sales on the secondary market, this in-person giveaway concept would originate from a separate enterprise; just like there are a multitude of physical sports card brands, why can’t the same apply in the digital world?

There’s room in the market for a cheaper (free!) version of digital highlights, where instead of the focus being on buying and selling, a sports fan simply collects and treasures. What’s more, this also plays into the viewpoint that humans are status monkeys, and by giving away a free digital highlight from the game, it serves as a flex for fans to display which games they’ve had the privilege of seeing in person.

In a perfect world, any sports league looking at expanding its brand digitally should get buy-in from all of its teams, and then consider creating an original platform where everything digital would be hosted, including the highlight giveaways. Fans would then be given the option to create a profile and customize a personal “library” to catalogue their array of highlights.

Teams would also create individual pages to interact with fans, but also to host additional giveaways and contests. The digital highlights could even be actively used by teams, wielding them as a barrier to entry by restricting fan participation in a contest to only those who hold a certain number of digital highlights in their library. Activity begets activity, and these types of maneuvers would help grow the platform and facilitate a comfortable shift into the digital realm.

Questions to Address

This concept is far from a finished product, and there are many particulars that need to be resolved before it can be implemented. Some points are as simple as agreeing on one option over another, while others will require deep thought and may require trial and error to ascertain what works.

  • Who would be eligible to receive a game’s digital highlight? It probably makes most sense that it be anyone who scans a ticket to get into the arena, but are there any exceptions to this?
  • Should there be a secondary marketplace to give fans the option to buy and sell their digital collectible? On one hand, if this is truly meant to be a pure expression of the fan experience, then a marketplace shouldn’t be part of the equation. On the other, fans wouldn’t be forced to use the marketplace, and due to the large number of digital highlights that would most likely be given away each game, there probably wouldn’t be much in the way of buying and selling anyway (Note: If there was a market, it would necessitate some amount of regulation and oversight, including making sure a percentage of royalties went back to the league, team and player.) Whatever is decided, it is essential to make this decision early on.
  • On that same note, if there was a marketplace for the highlights, it might make sense to add tiers to the collectibles. The most obvious way to do this would be to feature two groupings of digital highlights: one would be the standard common highlight, and the other would be rare. While obviously having a much smaller supply, the rare highlight could also have a unique look or include an extra element with it, like a video message from the player at the end of the highlight. If this moved forward, the distribution for all highlights would be 100% randomized.
  • Do these highlights need to be NFTs (non-fungible tokens) like the collectibles are on Top Shot? If there’s not going to be a secondary marketplace, it probably makes the most sense to not involve the blockchain, and to simply use a database for storage. Note: Within the realm of cryptocurrency exists the popular Ethereum blockchain, where the NFT version of this concept is already in use, under the name Proof of Attendance Protocol (POAP). The prior work done using POAP should be examined closely to identify what has worked and what hasn’t.  
  • How is the highlight from the game chosen? It’s more than likely that there will be multiple plays that are worthy of becoming a collectible, so who determines which one will be distributed? Would the operations team choose one by themselves on behalf of the fans? Could they narrow down the options to a few moments from the game, and allow fans to choose which one becomes the digital highlight? If they went that route, would the options be shown on the jumbotron near the end of the game so fans in the arena could vote? Would the highlight be decided upon based on cheering? Would there be an in-arena code that fans could use to vote using their phones? As an added layer, perhaps any of the highlight options could be chosen from, and fans could each select their own. There are lots of directions this could go, but fan engagement is the purpose of this whole idea, so involving fans in the process increases the chances they sign up for an account on the league’s digital platform.
  • Does the collectible giveaway have to be a digital highlight? Could it be simplified and instead resemble a traditional sports card featuring a player on the team? It could still have a cool look to it, and there should be a movement component, but this would allow fans to collect all the players on a team through attending games. This would be much easier to manage than digital highlights, because virtually all the legwork could be completed before the season even started.
  • How often are the collectibles given away? Is it an “every game” occurrence, or does it make more sense to drop them infrequently?

Notes

At its core, this giveaway idea is meant to encourage fans to attend more games by making the experience have a lasting impact after it’s over, not to act as a magnet for speculators and flippers. If this is done well, a coherent narrative could form in the minds of fans, which could then spur them on to attend more games in the future.

For now, this concept exists on the cutting edge of what’s possible and what’s understood, which means there will be unforeseen ways in which things could go haywire. Because of this, it might make sense to attempt it on a small-scale first — in the minor leagues or as a one-night-only event — in order to stress test, identify kinks, and gauge fan interest.

Increasing fan engagement is at the core of this idea; when in doubt, base decisions around that.

Conclusion

People’s lives are increasingly lived online, and sports fans are no exception. So why wouldn’t sports leagues adapt to where the fans are? Digital highlights as a collectible giveaway has minimal downside risk and huge upside potential, so the sooner it’s tested and tweaked, the sooner leagues can discover if this is an effective way to transition digitally alongside its fans.

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