Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick can pinpoint the exact moment that he decided to take his passing interest in Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, more seriously.
“It was when I went to see Barry Hearn from Matchroom Sport for a catch up around four months ago,” Fitzpatrick explained. “The first question he asked me was ‘What’s your NFT strategy?’
“It was then that I thought maybe I should be taking this a bit more seriously than some casual reading at night time. I started researching it a lot more and found that the Rugby League World Cup had announced that they will be releasing some NFTs, and thought it needed some serious focus from us.”
Four months later and the Wolves have become the first rugby league club in the world to “drop” NFTs, online digital collectables that will feature star half-back George Williams.
NFTs are classed as unique assets in the digital world. They can be bought and sold like any other piece of property, with details of that purchase and all future purchases recorded on what is known as the blockchain.
It’s a concept that people of a certain age have struggled to grasp, but one that Fitzpatrick is confident will help the club engage with a younger target audience.
“In a way it’s quite similar to the old rugby cards that we all used to collect,” he continued. “Design wise and visually, they look a lot the same, but these you keep on your phone and your laptop instead of in a folder.
“It’s fair to say that the response has been mixed, because it’s a relatively new concept. People are trying to understand it and get their head round it.
“Some have seen that we’re ahead of the game – and ahead of a lot of Premier League clubs – and have said fair play for seeing the opportunity. We’re being bold enough to step up and be the first in rugby league.
“I was speaking to Blake Solly at South Sydney and they will do a drop early next year, so they were slightly disappointed that we beat them to the punch. Brett Hodgson rang me the other day and it was uncanny, he said one of his staff had been talking to him about NFTs, then bang the next thing Warrington are releasing some.
“We’ve never been afraid to innovate or push the boundaries. We live in a noisy environment where everybody is vying for attention, and if you’re just vanilla then people will scroll past you. You need to be interesting and relevant otherwise you wither and die.
“Now we’re here as the first professional rugby league club in the world that is dropping NFTs. We’re pioneers and part of history.”
Fitzpatrick is also confident that the Wolves have everything to gain and nothing to lose by entering this new digital market. “When I looked at what we’d get out of it and what value it would have for the club, I think there’s numerous things,” he said.
“I had a call with the head of strategy at Man City as they’re one of the few sporting clubs here that have done an NFT drop, and they talked about the importance of being aggressive, and that this drives engagement with a new community, which is the digital community.
“That’s exactly why we wanted to do this. Is it going to make us fortunes overnight? That would be nice, but probably not. Does it demonstrate that we’re a progressive organisation that looks to engage with potential new supporter bases? Absolutely.
“Plus it allows our current supporters to own some unique pieces of artwork and Warrington memorabilia. It shows that as an organisation we want to be at the forefront of new media and new platforms.
“One of our core values is being progressive and this certainly fits and aligns to that. There are other opportunities that we can explore as well.
“These are the platforms that the younger generation are engaging with so it makes sense that if we want to broaden our supporter base and attract young fans, we need to be on those platforms and speaking the language that they understand.
“And it’s not just the NFTs – if you saw our kit launch recently it was done in a manner that will engage a younger audience.
“I don’t see a downside to be honest. If you look at the development of Crypto currencies in the last few years, the rise has been incredible really.”
Warrington’s NFT drop has been done alongside alongside creative design firm JRNMO and specialist NFT services company NFT Workx, whose chief executive Jamie Wilson believes more clubs will follow the Wolves’ lead.
“We’re really excited to be working with Warrington and truly proud to be the first rugby league club to launch an NFT,” Wilson said. “But we won’t be the only ones.
“This could be a way to bring younger fans into the sport, by being at the forefront of technology. It could bring people from outside of the sport into it. Nobody should be disappointed to see an increase in interest in the sport from younger people.”
The groundbreaking Williams admits he was as much in the dark as many others about NFTs until relatively recently, although his England team-mate Oliver Gildart, a keen collector, helped supplement his knowledge.
Williams said: “Like a lot of people, I didn’t know much about them. A couple of my mates had mentioned it to me a few months ago and I’d been asking about it.
“I did a bit of research and spoke to Karl about a month after that, he’s really into it and thought it was a great idea to keep up with the times and do something new.
“I’m happy to be the first person to be involved in it, not only for me, but for Warrington to be the first to do it.
“Hopefully it can get a new world involved – NFTs and the Crypto world are going mad and hopefully we can gain some new supporters from it. It’s a way to get people talking about the sport one way or the other.”
The Wolves’ NFT selling page can be viewed at https://opensea.io/collection/warrington-wolves-rlfc-2022-kit-cards.
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