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Major League Baseball makes pitch in NFT market

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(NEW YORK) — Major League Baseball plans to expand its repertoire in the arena of nonfungible tokens this fall, partnering with a company to offer collectible digital elements, ESPN reports.

The partnership is reportedly the result of months of planning, and will be different from other sports-related NFTs. MLB does not plan to go the route of offering highlight-driven tokens, like the popular NBA Top Shot, but instead focus on “other collectible digital elements.”

The deal, announced on Tuesday, will link MLB with Candy Digital to create and sell NFTs, which have led to major speculative frenzies in both the sports and art worlds.

The first release will be on July 4, with MLB planning to sell an NFT of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech, delivered on that day in 1939. The league also intends to sell digital assets including artist renderings and tokens for in-person experiences.

The market cap on cryptocurrencies has ballooned to more than $1.5 trillion, and sports leagues have been focused on leveraging the technology that forms the foundation of those cryptocurrencies to bring in additional revenue.

“I feel like this is e-commerce 25 years ago,” said Philadelphia 76ers partner Michael Rubin, whose company owns a majority stake in Candy. “I’m not just talking about NFTs but leveraging sports [intellectual property] digitally. We sell millions of MLB jerseys a year. Why shouldn’t a jersey come with an NFT?”

Still, NFTs can be volatile. NBA Top Shot, which saw two consecutive months of more than $200 million in sales, has cooled off since March.

Entrepreneur and marketer Gary Vaynerchuk told ESPN that “baseball has had a lot of opportunity to do things differently in hindsight.”

“But I think there’s some momentum,” he continued. “You talk about the [Javier] Báezes and Fernando Tatíses of the future. Unlike a decade ago, it feels like the sport is embracing it rather than trying to control it. I’m really taken aback, in a great way, how Tatís is being accepted when Bryce Harper was encouraged to tone it down.”

“Is there opportunity for baseball to be more contemporary? Sure. That’s the exciting part. Baseball is one of the greatest and most important sports in our society. What’s cool about things that have so much legacy is it doesn’t take much for the culture and society to embrace it when it does something right.”

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