Manchester City and OKX Launch ‘Unseen City Shirts’, free limited-edition NFT jerseys

Manchester City and their sleeve sponsors, the crypto exchange OKX, have launched free NFT digital jerseys.

Overview of ‘Unseen City shirts’ 

Manchester City Football Club and leading crypto exchange OKX have launched ‘Unseen City Shirts’ — a campaign which features re-designed commemorative football shirts that are minted as digital collectibles for free. 

The digital shirts are minted via the OKX NFT platform, and owners of the collectibles are in with a chance to redeem a series of exclusive prizes. 

There are two designs in the campaign, that have been launched separately over the last several days: 

  1. The Roses and the Bees: Classic. This jersey is designed by artist Christian Jeffery. It’s a homage to Manchester, the shirt includes the Lancashire Rose and the Manchester Worker Bee, an emblem of the city for generations.
  2. Blue Moon. This jersey is by artist Charli Cohen and it is a nod to Manchester City fans themselves. This design took inspiration from the song itself, Blue Moon, which is played before every home game and serves as the anthem of Manchester City fans. The shirt design illustrates phases of the lunar cycle with a subtle touch of the OKX brand on the shoulders integrating its brand colours.

Each jersey is assigned a rarity level – Classic, Rare or Ultra Rare, providing fans with a chance to win exclusive prizes. The chart below outlines the different tiers of rarity and what those collectibles could potentially win. 

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The Roses and Bees Jersey saw ~67,000 claims, with 50,000 in the first 8 hours of the campaign going live. 

Blue Moon is currently live with ~3000 claims so far. 

It was only fitting therefore that I minted one of these digital collectibles to take a deeper look into the fan journey. 

It begins with fans being directed to the OKX NFT Marketplace where they can then click the ‘Claim for Free’ button. 

After that, you are then given two options.

  1. Connect an OKX wallet or use the OKX application
  2. Use your own wallet, like MetaMask, Phantom for example. 

You are then prompted to confirm the number of collectibles you want to mint (although the maximum is 1) and then input your name, surname, email and country before claiming the NFT. 

The NFT is then viewable in your account or your wallet. 

Sponsor-led activations are the short-term future

Recently, I’ve been talking about how the driving force behind Web3 activations in sports stems from sponsor dollars and resources that they can provide, at least in the short term. Against a backdrop of corporate cost-cutting and economic uncertainty, someone has to foot the bill. 

These sponsors are better prepared than they were 3 years ago. Many of the willing buyers of rights in this space have started to create more holistic ‘product’ offerings that allow them to activate this inventory in a B2B2C fashion.

OKX for example, now have a wallet and an NFT marketplace. This means they have more control over the activations and have to collaborate with fewer third-party vendors. Many blockchains have also funded the development of, or developed themselves, a full suite offering approach so that they can take advantage of the sponsorship assets they are buying to their fullest. Fan engagement tools and wallet-as-a-service, are just two examples of things exchanges and blockchains have built as parts of their ecosystem to ensure the best use of that sponsorship inventory. 

Often, when sports IP sell their rights — they will say “Go and execute all of the things that we agreed upon in our contract”

In previous crypto cycles, the market was so frothy that many in the space signed these deals without having the fundamental offerings that bring the agreed-upon terms and activations to life. It was hypercompetitive and there was a rush to spend marketing dollars. 

This cycle, those sponsors are much better equipped — and I think will be the drivers of most of the innovation we see in this intersection in 2024.

Free NFTs in data-poor environments make sense

Many will ask the question ‘Why free NFTs?’, especially in sports, where there is such an emphasis on revenue. 

But the other area in which sports as an industry is weak is knowing their customers, in this case, their global fanbases. 

Sports as an industry is so far behind in this realm compared to social and tech products that know so much (some would argue too much!) about their customers. This allows those products to create personalised experiences and exceptional user journeys throughout their respective ecosystems. Digitally, sports is behind and as an industry has an incredibly poor understanding for their fans. This won’t be solved by free-to-claim digital collectibles, however creating an on-chain network of fans, on a decentralised ledger where you aren’t beholden to a centralised party feels like it could be part of the equation that solves for this. 

Further Analysis and Concluding Thoughts 🧠

Manchester City have a host of Web3 activations and OKX are their primary partners in this space.

Within that relationship alone, they also have something called the ‘OKX’ collective’, which is an immersive metaverse experience featuring some Manchester City players and other cultural icons.

Alongside this, Manchester City also have their own fan token, which was announced in March 2021 in a partnership with fan token provider Socios. 

Recently, they have also announced a partnership with Quidd, a digital collectible platform specialising in selling digital trading cards amongst other things. 

But the more of these partnerships that are announced the more disconnected the fan journey becomes digitally. We must remember that these are the same groups of people that are being targeted for all of these Web3 activations, and the more this pie is sliced the smaller those audiences become. Of course, commercially, it is in Manchester City’s interest to slice that pie and sell more sponsor categories — but I think it’s wise for teams, leagues and federations to also think about what the middle layer that connects the dots looks like. 

For OKX, activations like this make a lot of sense. The NFTs are free and great for onboarding fans onto their platform, although this does come at a cost as there are gas fees to cover the blockchain transactions. 

The overlap between people buying crypto or crypto derivatives like NFTs, and sports fans, is incredibly high. This is why we continue to see so much spending in sports by crypto companies and protocols. But whereas before the plan was a lot more akin to building a plane while it takes off and flies, the companies spending these eye-watering sums at least have a runway to take off from at this present point in time. 

There is a basic subset of off-the-shelf solutions they can now offer to their partners which means they don’t need to start from scratch. This means we will likely see faster agreement-to-execution cycles in the sports x Web3 intersection when blockchain or crypto sponsors are funding the output.

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