The Tampa Bay Rays are getting in on the NFT business.
The Rays and all the other Major League Baseball teams are partnering with New York tech company Candy Digital to auction a series of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, featuring artwork of their stadiums. The Rays’ Tropicana Field token is the team’s first item auctioned through Candy via the company’s new “Stadium Series” partnership with Major League Baseball.
NFTs are a relatively new type of collectible that’s taken off in the past year, despite many people having little idea what they are. Each is a digital image or clip authenticated by the same technology that powers cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, which provides a digital breadcrumb trail between buyer and owner. You can make a copy of an NFT, same as any digital image, but only one is considered an original, guaranteed by the artist or dealer. As a work of digital art, that makes it more valuable.
The Rays’ NFT features a twirling image with the rays tank at Tropicana Field on one side, and artwork from California artist S. Preston on the other. There are two variations, a “steel” version that anyone can purchase an official copy of for $100; and a more exclusive “gold” version that comes with VIP perks like a first pitch experiences, stadium tour and meet-and-greet with a front office executive.
NFTs have drawn some scrutiny and controversy, both from those who question why a piece of copiable digital art might sell for millions of dollars, and from critics who argue the electric power necessary to produce and secure NFTs is an environmental hazard.
That hasn’t stopped digital sports cards, video clips and artwork by high-profile artists from selling for tens of millions to collectors and investors. And that’s prompted many organizations, including Major League Baseball, to hop on the bandwagon.
In July, Major League Baseball and Candy teamed up to auction a Los Angeles Dodgers World Series ring NFT. One of the physical perks? An actual Dodgers World Series ring. Proceeds from the auction, which netted nearly $130,000, benefitted the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.
“From trading cards to autographed balls, baseball fans have demonstrated their passion for the sport and its players through collectibles for decades,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a June statement. “In working with Candy Digital to offer NFTs to MLB fans, we’re delivering an exciting new addition to the robust baseball collectible market.”
The bidding on Candy’s Tropicana Field NFT was up to $1,400 on Monday night, and is likely to rise by the time the auction ends on Thursday. The gold NFT of the Mets’ Citi Field sold for $30,000, and one of the Red Sox’s Fenway Park sold for $12,000.
A Rays spokesperson said it had not yet been determined whether MLB’s portion of the NFT auction would go toward the Rays Baseball Foundation.
Candy Digital is run partly by Michael Rubin, chairman of sports apparel and merchandise company Fanatics. Among the other items auctioned through the Candy-Major League Baseball partnership was a clip of Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man alive” speech, which raised $70,000 for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, research.
The Rays aren’t the first big local enterprise to get into the NFT game. The Bucs’ Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have launched NFT lines, as has Big Cat Rescue owner and Tiger King star Carole Baskin.