After a 2022 that left the NFT scene at a low, with crypto prices way down from the highs of 2021 and previously crypto-enthusiastic celebrities and influencers vanishing, expectations of a full-scale recovery for the digital assets are muted in 2023.

However, there are signs that the market is starting to trend upward as we wrap the first month of the year. According to Cryptoslam, global markets’ NFT sales volume rose 43 percent in January 2023 and the likes of Bored Ape Yacht Club, Azuki, and Art Blocks saw sales rise anywhere from 45 percent (BAYC) to 88.5 percent (Azuki) over the past 30 days.

Yet one thing we noted over the course of 2022 was the ebb and flow of community interest and — perhaps more importantly — the draw of NFTs among those from outside of the scene, the ones the cultural realm is pushing the hardest to attract. These casual collectors, or collectors that have stuck to more traditional cultural products (think items from the museum gift shop), could determine whether the current uptick in NFT sales is a blip or a lasting trend that helps the market thaw out after the crypto winter of 2022.

However, where the basis of this NFT “outsider”-led recovery could come from in 2023 is not necessarily the art world but instead via gaming and sports, two areas that are increasingly intertwined. This month, the fantasy soccer game Sorare signed an agreement with the Premier League that will officially license player cards from the world’s leading soccer league.

Under this multi-year agreement, Sorare players can purchase and use officially sanctioned Premier League NFTs in their fantasy games — which base the user’s success on the real-world performance of the actual soccer stars. According to CNBC, in tandem with the announcement of its tie-up with the Premier League, Sorare announced new gameplay features, namely the ability to compete with league-specific player cards and a so-called “financial fair play” aspect that prevents users from stacking the decks with all-star teams.

Sorare’s deal with the Premier League — estimated to be worth some £30 million ($36.9 million) — is not its first official collaboration with a professional sports organization, having previously inked deals with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States.

The big question is whether this type of collaboration will really pay off, and that hinges on how willing Sorare’s user base is to open their wallets.

According to Sorare, the company has seen a noticeable shift in players choosing to use the game’s free mode, rather than using paid cards. Reportedly, 87 percent of players don’t spend any money on the platform at all, with the company relying on a small number of reliable big spenders to underpin revenue.

Looking ahead at the state of digital assets, NFTs, whatever you choose to call them, 2023 is shaping up to be a complicated year, particularly in the cultural sphere. With NFT demand and prices on a tentative upswing but the market remaining wobbly and uneven after the implosion of FTX and before intensified government regulation, gaming and sports could either throw the market a lifeline or fizzle out — it completely depends on how much the esports enthusiasts in particular are willing to spend.



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