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Rays offer NFTs, tickets as part of unique giveaway

Mark Parker

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The Tampa Bay Rays are taking their promotional game to the next level Saturday, July 16, as the team will giveaway Wander Franco bobbleheads, NFTs and game tickets. Photo courtesy of RaysBaseball.com.

A new promotion from the Tampa Bay Rays combines old-school memorabilia with new-school digital collectibles, and, as a bonus, the team is throwing in free tickets.

In addition to a divisional showdown against the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays are offering fans three more reasons to head to Tropicana Field on Saturday, July 16. Attendees will receive the team’s first bobblehead of shortstop Wander Franco (while supplies last), an opportunity to claim an NFT (nonfungible token) of the phenom and a free ticket to any home game in August.

The novel promotion makes the Rays the first club in Major League Baseball to offer promotional tickets as a reward for claiming an NFT. Bill Walsh, chief business officer for the team, said the giveaway is on-brand for a club known for its innovative approach to baseball – both on and off the field.

“It’s who we are,” said Walsh. “You see what we’ve done on the field – it’s well-documented in terms of us pushing boundaries and pushing the sport in different directions.

“It’s something that we’re really proud of – it’s part of our DNA.”

An NFT is an irreplicable digital collectible that provides unique ownership verifiable through blockchain technology. According to a recent report by Cointelegraph, global consulting firm Verified Market Research valued the global NFT market at $11.3 billion in 2021 and projects that number to swell to $231 billion by 2030.

For comparison, ResearchAndMarket.com reports the global sports trading card market was valued at $13.8 billion in 2019 and projects it to reach $98.75 billion by 2027.

In collaboration with Candy Digital, MLB’s official NFT partner, the team created three variations of the Franco (21) NFTs with distinct background themes – Columbia Blue, Rays Gold and Devil Rays. Fans will receive the unique designs randomly, and Walsh explained that each possesses a distinct level of rarity and future utility.

Walsh could not divulge the likelihood of a fan receiving a specific NFT but said the blue background is the most common, the gold is rare and the Devil Rays theme is the scarcest of the three.

“I’m curious to see what these begin to trade at, out of the gate,” said Walsh. “They are, obviously, able to be transferred as well.”

The Devil Ray-themed Wander Franco NFT is the scarcest of the three digital collectibles. Photo provided.

While other clubs are offering artwork of a commemorative ticket as NFTs, Walsh said that in typical Rays fashion, they decided to push the envelope by including additional tangible benefits like the bobblehead and access to a future game.

Once the team’s leadership ascertains how many fans claim the digital artwork, they will then create added benefits for ownership. The Rays and rest of MLB first partnered with New York-based Candy Digital last year to create 1-of-1 NFTs of their respective stadiums. Included with Tampa Bay’s collectible, which raised between $15,000 and $20,000 for charity, were ownership benefits like stadium tours and taking part in batting practice.

“There’s a lot of fascinating applications, I think, for sports and fans down the road,” said Walsh. “It’s exciting to kind of dive into the space.”

Walsh relayed that the team is referring to Saturday night’s promotion as an “old school meets new school” night of giveaways. He noted that collecting bobbleheads of favorite players is a time-honored tradition for many fans and called them a “fun, traditional part of the baseball experience.”

Offering NFTs, he said, is a “forward-leaning” type of new giveaway, and some fans would understand it more than others. For some, it will be their first introduction to the world of digital collectibles.

“That’s part of the reason why we’re doing that,” said Walsh. “I think it’s got some real power behind the messaging around layering it on the traditional bobblehead.”

William (Bill) Walsh, chief business officer for the Rays, speaks during a media event before Opening Day 2022. Photo by Mark Parker.

Each fan that enters Tropicana Field Saturday and scans a ticket through the MLB Ballpark app will receive an email from RaysBaseball.com within 48 hours. The email will include information on creating a Candy Digital account, which is required to claim the NFT.

To receive the free ticket voucher, attendees must claim their free digital artwork by Wednesday, July 20, at 11:59 p.m., and account holders will receive an additional email on Thursday, July 21, with information on how to redeem the tickets.

Walsh explained that the small-market Rays must push boundaries in their play and business management due to facing unique challenges and constraints. The process has paid off, as the defending American League East champs, currently sitting in second place in the division, have been wildly successful over the last 14 years.

That pioneering approach, said Walsh, extends to fan engagement.

“We try to view things through that innovative lens,” he said. “Kind of one eye on the present and one eye on the future – to steal a phrase from our baseball operations department.”

Walsh noted the team was one of the first to offer a digital wallet and loyalty products in 2012, digital ticketing in 2013 and Tropicana Field was the first professional sports stadium in North America to go cashless in 2019, before the pandemic. “When it wasn’t so fashionable,” he added. “And all of that is really just in the spirit of learning and growing and trying to find advantages where we can.”

Part of the unique promotion, said Walsh, is a test for future offerings. He said NFTs are still new to sports and the majority of the general public, and the team hopes to introduce the digital collectibles to a different audience.

Walsh said the team is bullish on blockchain technology, NFTs and Web3 applications, and there is “certainly value and things to appreciate” with digital art and owning it as a collectible.

However, he believes the real power for sports franchises is capitalizing on the online and digital community aspect.

“Web3 is really powerful,” said Walsh. “It’s coming, and it’s a growing space. And it’s one that I think there’s a lot of exciting ways that sports can be a part of that.”

The first pitch for Saturday’s game against the Orioles is at 4:10 p.m., and fans should arrive early to ensure they receive a bobblehead. For more information, visit the website here.

The Wander Franco bobblehead is available while supplies last.

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1 Comment

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    John Donovan

    July 15, 2022at3:08 pm

    Bobbleheads have held their value better than NFTs.

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