Blockchain, Crypto Becoming Bigger Part of Sports Than Just Anthony Rizzo’s Twitter Account

Whether it’s the vague Matt Damon commercial that has become ubiquitous during NFL broadcasts or Anthony Rizzo’s super cringey new Twitter persona, cryptocurrency has begun weaving itself into the fabric of sports. What began as seemingly nothing more than a curious fad with Bitcoin, at least among casual observers, has now become a full-fledged movement featuring several forms of digital money. Then you’ve got NFTs, which even most early adopters don’t seem to truly understand.

I’m by no means a crypto-bro, though I do consider myself an expert on this topic because I got $5 in free Bitcoin through PayPal that has since become $4.08. If only I had been like Russell Okung and asked to have half of my salary paid in Bitcoin, I might have like $10 by now. Alright, you got me, I’m not actually an expert at all.

And while I’m also highly skeptical of a great deal of this stuff, I’m also more than a little fascinated by its potential to impact sports in a more meaningful way than Rizzo’s goofy profile pic. Heck, we’re already seeing various crypto markets purchasing naming rights to arenas for over hundreds of millions of dollars. Can you imagine heading to Wrigley Field at Ethereum Ballpark for a game?

The future may all come down to blockchain, which some believe will serve as the next iteration of the internet as we currently know it. While it seems like a far-fetched concept that may simply be the pipe dream of zealots, I can remember yelling at my parents to get off the phone so I could check out eBay.

Known mainly for their role in tracking cryptocurrency transactions, blockchains are responsible for maintaining secure, decentralized records by sharing digital information across the nodes of a computer network. Hey, did I lose you? No worries, this was the part where I sort of spaced out when my partner was explaining it to me.

The whole key here is that this system varies from a more standard database in that the data is stored in “blocks” that have finite storage capacity. Once a block is filled, it is closed and linked to the previous block and so on. Think of it as a train, except without a depot. The idea that blockchains are “trustless,” meaning they are completely decentralized and that blocks can’t be altered once filled, and don’t rely on a single entity is appealing to those who’d like to shrink global giants like Microsoft, Amazon, etc.

That’s the part where it gets a little difficult for me to really see how blockchain technology would ever be allowed to gain a bigger foothold, as those in power are loath to let any of it go. The same can be said for sports leagues and individual team owners, though at least one group is on a mission to change that.

Krause House – named after the former Bulls GM – is a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) with a goal to buy an NBA team. You can read more from Flex Chapman — pseudonyms are big in the DAO world, I guess — in their Hypepaper, but the “long-term vision is to empower fans of every professional franchise to collectively have real ownership of the organization.” The idea is that Web 3.0 – again, via blockchain – will enable the DAO to activate the collective power of individuals who had previously been forced to sit on the sidelines.

In other words, it’s a slightly more sophisticated way to operationalize Danny Rockett’s plan to get 3 billion Cubs fans to pitch in $1 apiece to buy the team. This is where tokens come into play, since that’s how the DAO distributes shares. Rather than some goofy cartoon ape being sold as a means by which to launder money, each member of the DAO would get a digital token of some sort that could be traded or sold. Because the transaction exists on the blockchain and can’t be altered, there’s always a record to prove ownership.

Thinking about it in those terms kind of demystified the whole thing for me, though there’s still the very significant hurdle of getting teams or leagues to accept such a plan. The whole point of a DAO, and of blockchains in general, is that both membership and information are openly available to pretty much anyone. That’s probably not the sort of thing a league with an anti-trust exemption is going to be amenable to.

None of this would happen overnight, though, so it’s possible the landscape could be different in a decade or two. Even more realistic is the idea that the ultimate goal is achieved by reaching several small milestones along the way. Maybe that means purchasing a share of an affiliated minor league team, an independent team, or a portion of a wood-bat summer league. The possibilities are myriad.

On a much smaller and more realistic scale, there’s the potential for Cubs Insider to issue a social token that would serve in a similar capacity to Patreon or other fan-support platforms. Rather than going through a third party, we could set up a group that would allow our most devoted fans to become members and gain access to special perks. That could mean exclusive content like additional podcasts, articles, and/or chats.

To kick things off, we’ve started a public Cubs Insider Discord server that you can join right now. We’re not going to leave or change the way we use more common social media outlets, but this server allows us to host our own community to talk about anything and everything related to the Cubs. For example, you can access channels on Cubs-related topics like player news, game chats, rumors, prospects, blockchain in sports, or just have a general conversation about the state of the team on the “Stadium” channel.

Look, I totally understand how weird all of this might sound to a lot of you because I’m right there with you. The main reason I’m writing this is simply to wrap my own head around it, which, if you’ve been reading my stuff for long enough now, can be said for just about everything I publish.

We’ve been toying around with the idea of having Patreon tiers or some other way to provide paywalled content without making any changes to our existing format, so all this token stuff might provide an avenue for us to do that on our terms. And while the idea of eventually buying the Cubs from the Ricketts family is not something I’d ever be willing to realistically entertain, there are just enough kernels of potential in the journey to compel me forward.

You needn’t worry about this becoming some sort of regular feature here at CI, though I may provide updates from time to time should we decide to move ahead with anything. Now I guess we just hope the lockout doesn’t continue into the season so there’s actually something else to write about.

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