NFTs, which are essentially unhackable codes used as one-of-a-kind "certificates of authenticity" paid for with cryptocurrency Ethereum, have been cropping up in the Austin art scene and worldwide—and they're quickly evolving into a sports fans' paradise as a new way to snag some bragging rights through digital trading cards, tickets and highlight reels.
Here are five Austin-based athletes and sports venues now involved in NFTs:
NiftyHorns—emerging Texas NFT producer
🚨🤘🏽Player Announcement!— Nifty Horns (@NiftyHorns) September 24, 2021
First up to the plate - a man who capped a scorching spring with postseason heroics in Omaha - from El Paso, TX…
Ivan Melendez! @ivanmelendez17_
NFT trading cards for the Hispanic Titanic will be available this fall as part of our first pack drop. pic.twitter.com/2xI3aMd6Tv
College sports' entrance to NFTs originally came from another Austin—a picture of Stephen F. Austin's women's basketball team as they made their first NCAA championship berth was the first to break into the market in March 2020.
Now with NCAA NIL rules in their favor, it's easier than ever for Texas athletes to cash in on their clout. The University of Texas' LEVERAGE Lineup looks to serve as a database to connect even walk-on Longhorn athletes—like Surly Horn's "Burnt Ends" tight ends deal—to lucrative sponsorship contracts.
But there hasn't yet been a database that gives each player their own Robinson-esque NFT trading card—until NiftyHorns stepped in with an NFT business model that they hope to one day have officially linked to the school.
They've already made headway with an NFT for Longhorns baseball player Ivan Melendez using the same blockchain utilized by TopShot.
"(We want to) not make it exclusive to star players or just the big three sports," NiftyHorns co-founder Josh Pitel said. "We feel very fortunate to be in a space where the fan base is large enough and passionate enough to actually support a wide variety of athletes."
Bijan Robinson—Candy.com trading card
With nearly 130,000 followers across Twitter and Instagram, Bijan Robinson is a star on and off the football field. He's used that clout to his advantage and partnered with Raising Cane's, Athletic Brewing and Centre Apparel.
And he's now following in the footsteps of NBA's TopShot with his very own NFT. Trading cards are a growing commodity in the NFT community, with TopShot raking in $700 million on cards, highlight reels and more last year.
Robinson's 100 Rare NFTs currently sit at $250 and feature a hero shot, his jersey number, position and an animated signature with a sleek, high-tech gold finish.
COTA NFTs—360 views and tickets too
Each of the two NFTs feature 360 views of different aspects of the COTA track. (Circuit of the Americas)
Back in October, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein appeared to embody his promise to make the 2021 U.S. Grand Prix the "biggest event on the planet this year" as an estimated 400,000 attendees made it through the gates for the Formula One weekend event.
To commemorate the event, the circuit decided to leap into the trendy NFT scene with two 360-degree panoramas, set at minimum bids of $30,000 each. And like many who look to tack on physical elements to the mystical crypto world, the circuit includes two VIP passes for MotoGP or Formula 1 events this year or next.
"Circuit of The Americas hosts some of the world's most iconic sports and entertainment events," Epstein said in a press release. "Just as visitors realize how unique and special COTA is, we know collectors will appreciate the significance behind our designs as well as the premium hospitality associated with the winning bids."
Campbell-Williams Field NFT Collection—a true UT NFT
Check out this dope project I did for the Campbell-Williams Field NFT Collection!— Bryson Williams (@artofbryson) September 11, 2021
Titled "Longhorn Legacies" Made in collaboration with @VybHouse and @Rickthelaureate
For more info check out https://t.co/XFr5gDSFta pic.twitter.com/SRCyWsjVqM
As the school's two Heisman Trophy winners, UT football legends Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams made sports history at their times as running backs for the Longhorns football team—and they encouraged others to become part of sports history themselves with a rare collection of 100 NFTs in honor of the renaming of the school's historic football stadium.
In collaboration with UT, Campbell and Williams created the collection a year after the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was renamed in their honor. The "Campbell-Williams Field NFT Collection" included:
- The Campbell-Williams Experience NFT, which gives its owner two VIP tickets to the 2022 Super Bowl and Williams' Super Bowl 2022 party in Los Angeles,, dinner with Earl Campbell and friends and a 'UT Legend' memorabilia package.
- The ArtofBryson NFT, which included two tickets to The Red River Showdown (UT vs. Oklahoma) on Oct. 9, a Zoom call with both Williams and Campbell, signed cleats from current running back Robinson, and other care package add-ons.
- The Moon Ticket: six NFTs that grants its owners to an out-of-this-world astrology chat with Williams
- And the 100 trading-card style NFTs featuring artwork and both players' digital signatures.
USMNT—and their NFTs—come to Austin
As the U.S. Men's National Team headed to Austin's brand-new Q2 Stadium to play Jamaica in October, so did its Only Forward Art Series. This edition of the months-long series featured a poster design from Austin artist Phoebe "Feebee" Joynt.
Joynt incorporated her specialties in graphic design, street art and logo work to create the gameday poster, which was featured around town, at Austin FC's downtown store and online as an NFT.
"I was thrilled to work with FootyCon and U.S. Soccer," FeeBee told the USMNT. "I've always had a passion for soccer after being introduced to the sport by my dad as a young child and I'm so excited to create a piece inspired by the game that also references and is in dialogue with the amazing city of Austin that I call home."
The rare free NFT became available to all fans attending the Oct. 7 World Cup Qualifier as well as via purchase on the NTWRK app the day before the game.
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Austin homebuyers have been through the wringer in the past year—tales of offers well over asking price, sales in under an hour, and months-long supply chain shortages have become commonplace in the city's cutthroat housing market. So it's perhaps no surprise that many homebuyers are looking for greener pastures as they stake out large empty lots along the city's outskirts.
After casually searching for a home for years, Austin influencer and blogger Jane Ko experienced the pandemic housing surge firsthand when she found an empty lot near the airport in the summer of 2020. Stretched thin by high demand and limited supply, Austin's median home prices had already reached a then-record of $435,000 in August of that year, while new inventory grew by just 0.1% in that month.
Due to seemingly ever-increasing demand, Austin's homebuilding market has been busy—if not strained. New listings were up 6% in November 2021, while median home prices had cooled ever-so-slightly to $470,000. The area was ranked the fifth-busiest metro in the country for single-family homebuilding permits in August 2021, according to a National Association of Homebuilders report.
Austin influencer Jane Ko build a semi-custom home on an empty lot near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"I think for those of us that have been here, we've seen prices rise in the last five years and I kind of figured if I don't buy now, then I probably won't be able to," Ko said. "I kind of stumbled upon it and I think for a lot of people that's been really the only way to find real estate since the market is so hot."
Austin's inventory has remained somewhat low, especially in the center of town, leading some to believe that homebuyers are being "priced out" by the city's limited options. Area suburbs are reflecting that—the Kyle-Buda-San Marcos region saw 2,900 new home starts from September 2020-21, more than any other Austin submarket.
But with new developments working to keep pace with demand, 2021 Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton told Austonia the trend just reflects customer desires.
"I don't think that folks are being pushed by any means," Horton said. "Folks that want to buy out in the rural areas are buying for personal reasons and they're buying because they want the land and privacy. Folks really, truly want to be out. If you want a big lot, it's there."
Like many homebuyers during the pandemic, Ko was happy to scrap Austin's downtown for more space. Because she works from home, she said she and many of her friends are looking for bigger homes and bigger lots in hot areas like Dripping Springs.
Ko had the option of moving into already-built homes within the neighborhood but opted for a custom-built home instead—something that Horton said is another draw for prospective homebuyers.
Austin influencer Jane Ko remodeled her kitchen after building her semi-custom home. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
Ko's kitchen remodel took months due to supply chain delays/ (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"The desire to be away from the person next door is really most of the time the deciding factor," Horton said. "And then there are those that want to have a house simply because they want to design it themselves, and so those are the aspects that make buying that raw land and building a house really important."
But building a custom home has its drawbacks. Horton said construction loans, land surveying, zoning restrictions and road access are all hoops that can be jumped through with an experienced realtor.
But even through the tedious and stalled homebuilding process, Ko said it's been worth it to create a home made just for her.
"This is a place that I'm hopefully going to stay in for a very long time," Ko said. "And I think because I do a lot of entertaining at home and shoot photos at home, it's really important that my space looks the way I want it to."
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In earlier phases of the pandemic, people took it as the perfect moment to uproot their lives to the newest boomtown. Many, particularly Californians, found a fit with Austin, enjoying the Texas weather and lower cost of living. But for some, it may only be a pitstop.
Melaku Mihret, who works remotely in Austin for a Meta office in the Bay Area, thinks some of the Californians who have moved to Texas in the pandemic may just move here temporarily, save money and then head back. Others have also speculated a possible reverse migration, but it may be too early to tell.
According to the Kinder Institute at Rice University, Texan migration to California has remained steady for years. And when it comes to Californians leaving, the institute says it's less about a pull into Texas and more of a push out of California driven by home prices.
But they're not all staying in Austin. U-Haul data shows departures from Austin were up 18% even as one-way arrivals were up 22% in 2021.
Melaku Mihret, a remote worker a Meta office in the Bay Area, is now living in Austin. (Andrea Guzman)
For Mihret, the biggest driver behind his move was the squeeze of costs in Northern California. If the cost of living wasn’t an issue, Mihret said he’d live in the Bay Area. So if Austin continues to become less and less affordable, would Californians go back?
For Mihret, not many places come close to what California offers. He points to the nature, such as the mountains and lakes, in California and the massive tech hub it is. Austin is “not even nearly close to California,” Mihret said, after acknowledging Austin's growth as an emerging tech hub.
Meanwhile others like Ian Davies, who grew up in Austin and left in 2011 when he was in high school, much prefer living in Austin.
His family had moved to Philadelphia, years passed and he eventually landed a job in financial operations at NBC Universal in Los Angeles, California. When the option of remote work during the pandemic came around, he longed to return home.
“I couldn’t wait to move back to Austin,” Davies said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in LA. But LA is just a whole other beast than Austin.”
Ian Davies does remote work for NBC Universal in Downtown Austin in early January. (Andrea Guzman)
But a downside he says is it's become more expensive in the past year and half since he returned. The Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown metro area had the 12th highest change in a recent study on cost of living increases across the country. And among the nation’s top 10 tech hubs, Austin saw the largest year-over-year increase in average rent this past September, with an average of $1,647.
It's a cost of a growing city. Davies sees a positive in all the growth, as he enjoys living in a city with a diverse population, like when he was in LA.
“There’s a group of Austinites who are very against people moving here, and I’m definitely not part of that crowd. I want to share this city with other people. I think it’s awesome.”
He says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I hope that Austin can keep its soul and keep its weirdness. Like blues and rock and live music,” Davies said. “I haven’t seen much of that change. I hope people that move here can adapt the spirit of the past and carry that.”
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