Preakness Stakes, one of the oldest elite horse races, has stepped into the booming NFT market with 17 auctions for digital assets.
Footage of the 146th running of the race in Baltimore will quickly be turned into a digital collectible, the first such real-time minting for a US major sporting event.
"We've seen a huge appetite for the growing NFT space and we want to be on the forefront of that innovation," said an executive at the company behind Preakness Stakes.
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The dash towards the Triple Crown title in elite Thoroughbred horse racing continues Saturday with the Preakness Stakes, and the contest that traces back more than 100 years is combining with the new and exploding NFT market by becoming the country's first professional sports event to hold a real-time minting of a digital collectible.
This year's Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit is slated to be among the horses at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course competing for the $1 million purse at the 146th Preakness Stakes.
Before the horses line up, an online auction is already underway for 17 individual NFTs that will commemorate the second jewel of the Triple Crown. The title's past winners include Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Justify. Medina Spirit's trainer, Bob Baffert, is one of only two trainers to have two horses win the Triple Crown.
"What we've amassed is an incredible collection of pretty historic and epic sports moments," David Wilson, chief marketing officer at 1/ST, the company that owns and operates The Preakness, told Insider in an interview. "What we've seen is a huge appetite for the growing NFT space and we want to be on the forefront of that innovation."
A key auction item will be the real-time minting of the 2021 race. Immediately after the race, a production team will take the full two-minute clip of the race – from the starting gate to the finish line – along with the post-race celebration with the Woodlawn Vase in the winners' circle and package the edited footage with the official Preakness Stakes NFT seal. The work will be turned around within an hour then posted on the auction's website.
"Effectively we record our own race and we own our own content and that's what makes this special," said Wilson.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital representations of artworks and collectibles that exist on a blockchain ledger, similar to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. NFTs have surged in popularity this year. Among the market's high-profile transactions was the $69 million sale by auction house Christie's of a digital collage by artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple.
The 17 auction items from Preakness Stakes will contribute to the fast-growing NFT market, which in 2020 tripled in value to more than $250 million, according to a study by tech tracking company L'Atelier BNP Paribas and NonFungible.com.
The Preakness auctions are listed on OpenSea, an NFT and crypto-collectibles marketplace. Another big item is a 1-of-1, 3-D animated likeness of the Woodlawn Vase, the silver trophy designed by jeweler Tiffany in 1860 of which a replica is awarded to the Preakness race winner. The bidding using the Wrapped Ethereum currency recently climbed to nearly $50,000.
That auction winner will not only take possession of the NFT but they will also receive a physical replica of the Woodlawn Vase — the only time that a replica will be given to someone outside of the owner, the trainer and the jockey of the horse that prevails at Preakness.
"It's a legacy sport that's been going on for generations and I think more and more, we've got to identify creative ways to really attract that younger consumer," said Wilson. The Preakness' NFT collection "offers some really rare value to our existing fans but also, from what we've seen at Zed Run, is they've done a great job at attracting younger, newer, curious consumers into the sport of thoroughbred horse racing."
Zed Run is a digital racehorse platform that Preakness Stakes worked with on the NFT collection. Preakness also teamed up with Medium Rare, whose work in building entertainment brands includes the recent NFT collection from the Golden State Warriors NBA team. Medium Rare was also behind an NFT collection with four-time Super Bowl champion Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski that raked in more than $2 million in sales.
"There have been a lot of NFTs that have come out over the last couple of months. Obviously, it's a hot sector both in sports and celebrities. Some are doing incredibly well, making millions of dollars, also raising money for charity. Some aren't doing so well. Some are jumping on the fad train," Joe Silberzweig, co-founder of Medium Rare, told Insider. With the Preakness Stakes, "what we worked on together … is creating a campaign that stands out and is first-to-market."
Wilson said the average age of its customers using its betting app and attending races is 60 years old. The average age skews younger for the audience who watches Preakness Stakes through its broadcast partner, NBC.
"I think the sweet spot for our sport is really 45 plus," said Wilson, noting that the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby feature infield music concerts. "We've made huge investments on the entertainment side to make sure there's an experience for everyone."
The auction for the Preakness' digital assets will end Monday and a portion of the proceeds will go to The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.