DraftKings has signed a licensing deal with the NFLPA that indicates the sports gaming company’s intent to expand its blockchain-based offerings. Starting next year, DraftKings’ existing NFT marketplace will sell so-called “gamified NFTs,” digital collectibles featuring the names, images and likenesses of active NFL players which can be used in certain contests (as well as bought and sold). 

“I’m most keen on seeing how the NFLPA and DraftKings capitalize on this increasing intersection between sports and NFT games,” NFL Players Inc. general counsel and head of business affairs Sean C. Sansiveri said in an interview. “I really do think it’s going to be the cornerstone of engagement and entertainment within Web3.”

DraftKings’ product is still early in development, with few functionality details announced, but the idea of using NFTs as the basis for digital competitions is not entirely new in sports.

Sorare, founded in France, combines the concept of NFT trading cards and fantasy contests. It raised a $680 million Series B round in September that valued the company at $4.3B and has opened a U.S. office while talking to leagues here about potential future products. OneTeam, which leads the NFLPA’s digital media business and facilitated its DraftKings deal, helped the MLSPA sign a licensing agreement with Sorare in July. 

Turner Sports has taken a different approach with Blocklete Games, which allows users to buy and sell NFT-based avatars that can compete in golf competitions. Dapper Labs has long talked about NBA Top Shot NFT owners being able to use those collectibles as items in a basketball arcade game it has referred to as Hardcourt. Dapper also has a deal with the NFL and NFLPA for its soon-to-launch All Day platform, which NFL Players have already begun promoting on social media. The NFL and NFLPA reportedly received equity in Dapper Labs as part of the All Day deal, which included rights to digital video highlights.

DraftKings already has an NFT Platform, called DraftKings Marketplace, which launched this summer. Selling collectibles featuring the faces of Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter and others, it has hosted over 120,000 transactions totalling roughly $20 million in volume.

“Our customers, during the COVID period, spent a lot of time and money in the emerging tech space, crypto and digital collectibles,” DraftKings president Matt Kalish said in July. “We went from fantasy to sports betting, and we think there’s an opportunity to extend our brand even more in an area that fits our customers’ lifestyle.” 

Beth Beiriger, DraftKings Marketplace SVP of product operations, said a dedicated Marketplace team would develop the upcoming gamified offering. However, it would not be surprising if NFT-based contests connected to DraftKings’ fantasy platforms, too, as the realms of fantasy contests, video games and NFTs continue converging. When asked about developing gamified functionality for other sports, Beiriger said, “Our focus right now is NFL.”

Sansiveri said elements of the deal would be exclusive, but that it wasn’t an exclusive agreement in terms of using NFLPA IP for gamified NFT products. The PA did not have an existing licensing contract with DraftKings. 

“We don’t look at NFTs as a category,” Sansiveri said. “We look at it as product extensions, so you can go through our entire portfolio of existing licensed partners—all 87 of them—and you can contemplate an NFT extension to those products, whether it’s video games, digital trading cards, fantasy manager-style games. Even apparel in the metaverse has those extensions when you apply the blockchain technology. So we’re thinking very aggressively, but also broad about the whole area.”