If you are anything like me, you might have seen these three letters appear together in your timelines, news updates and favourite publications slightly more in the last few weeks and months. And if you are like me until about three days ago, you will have no idea what NFT means.
The phrase these three letters stand for - Non-Fungible Token - might just have the potential to change the world of collection, design and manufacturing, be that of football shirts or otherwise. So at FSC, we wanted to take you into the world of NFTs to see what this digital phenomenon could mean for the football shirt community. Are there going to be football shirt NFTS?
What are NFTs?
So you know what it stands for: NFT = Non-Fungible Token. But what does that actually mean? Non-fungible essentially means something that cannot be replaced with something else, but rather than being priceless, these items - or ‘tokens’ - are unique, one of a kind. The most direct comparison between NFTs and the ‘real world’ is a trading card.
Except there’s a catch - something that is pretty common in the world of NFTs - because these types of trading cards are not something physical you can hold and swap with your mates. Instead, NFTs are entirely digital. They are supported as part of the Ethereum blockchain, with Ethereum being a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. The blockchain aspect of NFTs has big implications for football shirt collecting, but we’ll get to that later.
By being entirely digital, this essentially means that NFTs can be any form of digital media: a painting, a gif, a song, a 3d render, or even a Tweet. As long as it is a digital item that can be uploaded to one of the various NFT hosting sites, it can then be bid on by prospective buyers.
Whoever wins this auction then becomes the owner of that particular NFT, receiving a certificate of ownership and being added to the blockchain as a registered owner of that particular media.
From that point they are free to do what they like with the NFT, whether that’s selling it, or using it as their profile picture.
Are there football shirt NFTs?
It all sounds simple, right? But how does all of this relate to football shirts, designing and collecting?
If we think of NFTs in their most relatable form, imagine an auction for an original Netherlands 1988 home shirt. It goes up for auction, people bid, and lots of money is spent. To translate that into an NFT sale, make that Netherlands shirt a digital render, and most importantly make it unique.
This idea of uniqueness is at the centre of NFTs, and is what has led to the six-, seven- and eight-figure sums that have been paid for Tweets, 50 second audio clips and the art piece by Beeple shown below (It sold for $69 million. Sixty. Nine. Million.)
Interestingly, there would be nothing to stop me from going to that same Netherlands design, or even the Beeple art piece, and right-click downloading it to my laptop. But that would only ever be a copy, and the true uniqueness for those willing to pay the kind of extreme fees currently being seen comes from knowing that you own the original.
So if a real Netherlands ‘88 shirt could sell from anywhere between £500 to £1,000, can you imagine the price that a unique, one of a kind Netherlands ‘88 shirt could go for?
What does NFT football shirts for collectors?
A lot of you might be reading this and thinking the obvious: “But I don’t want a digital shirt”. A similar response came from many sneakerheads as NFTs entered their domain, but as of this month, RTFKT Studios have sold over $3 million worth of NFTs in the form of digital shoes, with single pairs going for over $10,000.
One reason for this, as hypothesised by sneaker writer Russ Bengtson in an article by INPUT, is that for many collectors, wearing the sneakers (or in our case football shirts) is not the main drive behind getting these items. Instead, we obtain the thrill simply from the chase of the shirt, before getting that final dose of adrenaline when that ‘Your order is confirmed’ email hits your inbox.
This, of course, is not the case for everyone in the kit community. But of those who buy a shirt to own and not to wear, many may soon come round to the idea of moving from the physical to the digital when building up their collection.
There is another catch though: anyone looking to buy into football shirt NFTs may have to stump up some serious cash. We have already listed some of the mammoth sums paid above, but experts have argued that these fees do not reflect the true value of what is being bought. Rather, it is a case of new buyers entering the market looking to make a huge profit by buying up an NFT early, before selling it on for a hefty profit.
This might seem like a betrayal to those who have been faithfully collecting for years, and it is one reason that those same experts warn that the NFT craze could be an over-inflated bubble waiting to burst. But, it is worth remembering that there are many collectors in the current shirt community who make similar buy-to-sell purchases.
One major difference that comes with an NFT purchase, however, is the ability to track the item bought through its Blockchain. With each purchase made, the new owner and the transfer of the rights to the NFT is registered and kept on the blockchain, ensuring that the owner has a record both of purchase and of authenticity.
In a community that unfortunately contains too many fakes, this feature would provide much-needed confidence. Nike have even patented ‘CryptoKicks’, a system which will see buyers of real, physical sneakers also be supplied with a matching digital asset which will register on the blockchain as being owned by that buyer. Then, if those physical shoes were to be sold, the digital asset would transfer owners on the blockchain.
If not adopting the entire NFT system, then this ownership tracking aspect of it, at the very least, looks useful to collectors, with tracked ownership helping to keep authenticity and trust in the football shirt community.
What does football shirt NFTs mean for designers?
At FSC, we love seeing the huge range of incredible concept shirts that appear on our feeds, and the blockchain tracking feature that could boost trust among buyers could also benefit these designers.
As well as providing a new platform for designers to showcase and sell their latest work, the blockchain’s tracking of owners ensures that the original artist can always see where their work has ended up, and who exactly owns the rights to it. And if they want, they can even limit the usage rights the owner has over their creation.
This is important because so many artists regularly have their digital work stolen online and reposted with zero credit, but with NFTs the artist would be able to keep track of where their work officially ended up, giving them a stronger backing to have any unofficial use of the work removed.
And perhaps most importantly they can benefit financially too! When listing an item, the creator can enable a sell-on clause-like feature that ensures they are paid a percentage everytime the NFT changes hands.
So if friend of FSC, Cenk Ünal, were to design a Netherlands ‘88 concept shirt and sell it as an NFT, we could buy that concept for £1,000, all of which would go to Cenk. But if we were to then sell that same design a week later for £2,000, and Cenk had enabled the sell-on feature, then he would be entitled to a set-percentage of that fee.
This means that artists will be able to see some of the benefit if the unpredictable market of NFTs sees them lose out on a significant income initially, while also keeping track of where their designs and creations end up.
What does this mean for brands?
So collectors have the opportunity to own one-of-a-kind digital football shirts and be sure of their authenticity, and independent designers are given a marketplace and a continued means of income, but why would that benefit the big brands in football shirt design?
While the football shirt business is clearly a profitable one for big brands - why else would we see up to four shirts released each season? - the opportunity to move into NFTs may still prove too enticing to ignore, as Nike have already shown with the Cryptokicks patent.
And that is not because these manufacturers necessarily want to supply buyers and fans with the best and easiest way to pick up new shirts. It is because of the vast profit margins which could be present in the market, thanks to the lack of overheads that come with digital art.
With a physical shirt, the cost of sourcing, manufacturing and shipping can drastically drive up prices, while with NFTs the only cost is the server space and the time spent on the project by the design team. With the world's biggest clubs selling between 1 and 3 million shirts each year, the cost of this manufacturing and transport is huge, and so replacing it with the NFT model could lead to huge savings.
By cutting out such costs and measures, these large companies can also become - or at the very least appear to be - more sustainable. With the loss of raw material usage and international shipping, the environmental cost of football shirts is significantly reduced in an NFT model, allowing collectors to obtain the shirts they want, while also staying true to their personal values.
More and more, consumers care about the processes that go into what they buy, and that has been reflected in numerous changes to manufacturing by big brands, as well as campaigns like adidas’ Parley collection, or the recent ‘coffee bean shirt’ from Forest Green.
To continue our now very drawn-out Netherlands ‘88 example, if Nike and the Dutch FA were to launch just one shirt entirely via NFT, then the media hype alone could be worth it, with the brand able to play on one of several themes, be it technological innovation, or sustainable manufacturing.
And while some of you might be reading this thinking “I wouldn’t pay thousands of pounds for a digital football shirt”, there is almost certainly someone out there who will, and the big brands will find these people.
Hopefully now some of you have a better understanding of the ever-changing world of NFTs, and possibly because of that you might be extremely hesitant about the whole concept.
Our advice would be not to worry too much. The NFT market is still incredibly raw, and while the current buzz is seeing over-the-odds prices being paid, this could also lead to the bubble bursting when the 1% get bored of paying $3,600 for a ‘Gucci Ghost’ NFT.
Still, there are positive aspects of this movement: artists see more control over their work financially, brands can reduce the carbon footprint of their production processes, and collectors can have more trust in the market thanks to blockchain. And remember that so much of the current football shirt community was built on the growth of an online auction site in the form of Ebay.
NFTs and some of their benefits might well be the next step in the evolution of this world, and hopefully it will bring some new kit collectors and enthusiasts with it!