After tracking the market for more than a year, the NHL announced a league-wide, multiyear partnership with NFT platform Sweet on Thursday.
The league will launch a blockchain marketplace for digital collectibles and video moments later this year, with a focus on engaging fans both online and in person. The NHLPA and NHL Alumni Association are also part of the agreement. Financial details were not disclosed, though Sweet has offered a guaranteed annual minimum as part of the deal.
In addition to buying and trading NFTs, the destination will allow users to build digital trophy rooms to display their holdings. Certain NFTs will be redeemable for real-world benefits ranging from merchandise to live experiences, and there will also eventually be game elements that depend on on-ice results.
“NFTs can be certainly valuable on their own, but also as a potential link to these other experiences,” NHL EVP for business development and innovation Dave Lehanski said in an interview. “And we give that almost equal weighting. That’s part of why we took as long as we did, is to really build out a strategy for how do we create a marketplace that brings all this to life with a partner that’s really committed to it.”
Lehanski said the league met with more than 50 companies before establishing a list of finalists and eventually choosing Sweet. Among the NHL’s priorities was having a custom-built marketplace. The league—along with the NHLPA and NHLAA—will be closely involved in the product’s development, with staff dedicated to the project.
“It spans across, quite literally, every department at the league,” Lehanski said. “Have I ever seen anything like this? Not really. Not something this new, not something that’s moving this fast, not something that touches all aspects of our business the way it does.”
New York-based Sweet is not as well-known in the sports world as peers like Candy Digital (MLB’s main NFT partner) and Dapper Labs (NBA Top Shot, NFL All Day), but it’s by no means a foreigner, either. The company already has deals with multiple NBA teams, the Australian Open and F1 brands, as well as entertainment properties from Burger King to Elton John.
Founded in 2017, Sweet was valued at over $100 million last fall when blockchain firm Animoca Brands invested in the company. At the time, Sweet had over 600 brands using its platform and tools.
“We’re really good at the kind of game mechanics and the consumer engagement piece to make this more about the fans and the experience and really a new way that you can appreciate the league,” Sweet founder Tom Mizzone said in an interview. “From day one, the NHL was very aligned with trying to figure out, How do we tie things to these things that give value to the fans above and beyond just owning the piece?”
The NHL is also continuing to explore finding an additional partner in the fantasy NFT gaming space with the hope of potentially tying the two experiences together.
Thursday’s announcement can be read as a sign of commitment from the sports industry to continue integrating blockchain technology into its lines of business, despite recent plunges in cryptocurrency values.
“This is about creating a fan experience, and this is about figuring out how this connects to everything else that we’re doing and everything else a fan wants to do and get out of their NHL fandom,” Lehanski said. “There’s going to be more volatility over the next year or two, but what we’re really building for is longer term than that.”