Tennis Australia is expanding its NFT ball art offering for this year’s Australian Open, saying it is in it for the long haul despite the uncertainty in the crypto market.
The Open last year launched an “AO Artball” collection as the hype around all things crypto peaked, with 6,776 ball artworks sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that are linked to 19cm x 19cm plots on the court at Melbourne Park.
An additional 2,454 NFTs are on offer this year.
Non-fungible tokens are a crypto asset that confers ownership of a digital item – in this case unique artwork of an Australian Open tennis ball.
Tennis Australia promised at the time of launch to update the metadata on each individual NFT whenever a winning shot during a match landed on the plot assigned to that NFT. It also said there would be merchandise and other benefits for those who owned the NFTs.
The balls were priced at 0.067 in the ethereum cryptocurrency – about AU$278 at the time of minting on 22 January 2022 – and all NFTs were sold.
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Ethereum’s value has since declined, so that 0.067ETH is now worth only $130. On the OpenSea market where the AO Artball collection is held the floor price is higher than the original price at 0.092ETH, which still represents a loss of about $100 from a year ago for people selling the balls.
Ridley Plummer, senior manager of metaverse, NFTs, web3 and cryptocurrency at Tennis Australia, said the organisation was not focused on the short-term fluctuations in the market.
“We shouldn’t just put down our tools and walk away because the market’s having its challenges,” he said. “There’s obviously a ton of external factors that come into play when you’re exploring a new technology like web3 and NFTs, and when you’re an innovative company like Tennis Australia and the AO there’s obviously challenges and and rewards that come with that as well.”
Unlike NFTs focused solely on investment, the artball program is promoted as a type of membership in the Australian Open. Tennis Australia runs a Discord server for members that helps people learn how to get into NFTs, and a rewards program for the NFT owners that includes ground passes for finals week, access to selected United Cup matches and access to a site with behind-the-scenes footage that is not part of the broadcast of the grand slam.
Plummer said about 2,000 NFT owners had taken up the offer of tickets to the Open.
He said ownership of the NFTs could be seen as similar to a gold or silver frequent flyer membership, and people who bought NFTs for both 2022 and 2023 would be the equivalent of the executive frequent flyer.
“They will get access to better benefits earlier than everyone else,” he said.
The AO Artballs for 2023 will be minted from 7am AEDT on Thursday and start at 0.23ETH each – about $446.