For more than 60 years, sports fans have collected Sports Illustrated magazine covers featuring their favorite athletes and teams and displayed them in their bedrooms, offices, lockers or anywhere else memorabilia collectors decided to show off their fandom.
Now, there’s a new way to display the iconic magazine covers with the soon-to-be-released Sports Illustrated Covers Collection.
SI’s magazine covers are hitting the blockchain and entering the digital marketplace in what promises to be one of the most anticipated NFT drops the sports world has ever seen. Thanks to a partnership with OneOf, a leading NFT platform and marketplace, Jonathan Winbush, an award-winning 3D animation artist, and Authentic Brands Group, owner of Sports Illustrated, the Sports Illustrated Covers Collection will highlight superstar athletes and feature their career-defining SI covers.
“For almost 70 years, Sports Illustrated covers have showcased the greatest moments in sports and made them history,” said Michael Sherman, VP Media at Authentic Brands Group. “In partnering with OneOf, superstar athletes and renowned crypto artists, we are now able to bring those iconic covers to life in a new and creative way.”
The first batch of this collection features three of the most dominant and prolific players in NFL history: Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Dick Butkus, along with reimagined 3D-animated versions of their historic Sports Illustrated magazine covers. The remaining SI Covers Collection will showcase other influential and prominent sports figures like Billie Jean King, who was the first woman to be named SI’s Sportsperson of the Year, Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O’Neal, Mia Hamm, Wayne Gretzky and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I am thrilled to be releasing my first NFT collection with Sports Illustrated and OneOf,” Emmitt Smith said. “Over the years, I have enjoyed finding new ways to engage with my fans, and I am excited to share with the world what we created together.”
By nature, sports fans are passionate, and it’s that passion that has fueled the popularity of sports card collecting. “The Hobby,” as it’s known among collectors, has exploded the last few years with some cards selling for north of $6 million.
“Why is a piece of cardboard with the name of an athlete and a grainy picture worth three-, four-, five-hundred-thousand dollars? It’s because we decided it was rare, we decided it was meaningful,” OneOf co-founder Joshua James said. But there’s a few drawbacks to collecting sports cards. For starters, proof of authenticity and getting cards graded is quite the burden for the prospective seller and could take months before a proper evaluation is received. That lengthy process can bring card sales to a standstill.
NFTs and the blockchain solve card collecting’s pain points. “Can we prove it is real? That’s something the blockchain really solves well. It is much easier to prove your Emmitt Smith Sports Illustrated 1-of-1 NFT is the only one than it is to prove your Emmitt Smith rookie card is actually real,” James added.
Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, admitted he’s somewhat of a sports memorabilia collector himself and said getting authentic items to his fans was always one of his concerns. When SI approached the Hall of Fame running back about the SI Covers Collection, he was intrigued. “Sports Illustrated has some things that are very unique through the lens of photographers and others that they can bring to the table in this NFT world,” Smith told SI.com.
“These NFTs are a little bit different…I’m looking for something a little bit more dynamic,” the former Cowboys superstar added.
Winbush, the artist responsible for bringing that dynamism to life, certainly felt some of the pressures around this project, especially when considering many of the SI covers included in this NFT release feature some of the greatest athletes of all time. “Since I am such a fan of these legends, I put extra pressure on myself to execute the best visuals to best represent not only the athletes involved but also Sports Illustrated, because of the historic nature of the magazine,” Winbush said.
In order to bring NFTs to the masses, the barrier of entry must be reduced and the price point needs to be affordable for the everyday fan, according to James. The SI Covers Collection will start at $25, with each athlete’s magazine cover having multiple rarity tiers, including an ultra-rare “Super Diamond”. NFT collectors will certainly appreciate the zero dollar-gas fee they’ll find on the OneOf platform. Combine that with the environmentally responsible Polygon blockchain protocol and the fact collectors can purchase the SI Covers Collection with cryptocurrency or a credit card, the buying experience aims to be user-friendly. The Sports Illustrated Covers Collection will be exclusively sold on the OneOf platform and more details around the official drop date will come shortly after the Super Bowl on February 13th.
What is an NFT?
NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, which is an unnecessarily complicated way of saying a digital asset. NFTs can come in many forms, shapes, sizes like photos, videos, music and tickets. Each NFT has its own unique “digital DNA” stored on the blockchain, which shows all vital information including the creator of the project, previous and current owner, and sale price. Some of the most popular NFT projects include Bored Ape Yacht Club, which currently sell for around $325,000 and grant its owner exclusive member benefits, and Gary Vaynerchuk’s VeeFriends, which is a series of digitized hand drawings that gives people access to Vaynerchuk’s business conference, “VeeCon”. Beeple, a popular NFT artist, sold his “Everydays: the first 5000 days” NFT for $69.3 million in March of 2021. Our partners at TheStreet have a great explanation of the NFT industry.