NFTs in the North: How Manchester City and the music industry are tapping into tech
As major football clubs like Manchester City embrace NFTs to engage its growing fanbase and musicians begin to make waves with the technology across the music scene, innovators across the North are keen to demonstrate the transformative impact NFTs could have despite public skepticism.
“At the moment, people want to use NFTs for the wrong reasons,” Jamie Mcmullan, Managing Director at Manchester-based software company Silverchip, told Prolific North.
People want to be involved in NFTs because you can make money out of them, but it's not about that.
“It’s about the use case and how they can change the way the world is operating.”
Early adopters and supporters of NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens - see our explainer here) are keen to battle against the on-going negative narrative.
“One of the biggest barriers to mass adoption of NFTs is the public perception of it,” explained NoFace, the anonymous non-binary founder behind alternative NFT brand Goth Girlfriends.
“I think a lot of people are skeptical and that's people's first reaction to any new technology. I remember them saying the same about DVDs. I remember them saying the same about the internet, Amazon and Netflix.”
According to research by YouGov, 48% of global consumers still have no idea what the term is and 25% of consumers have heard of NFTs but don’t understand what they are.
“They are definitely part of the future of the web,” added Mcmullan. “The current implementation and the current public perception of them is very limited in terms of the use case at the moment with art and pictures.”
As familiarity with NFTs grows, we found out where and how they are being used across the North from music, games, sport and beyond.
“That shows how far we are away from having a serious conversation around NFTs”
Software and app development company Silverchip, which was recently acquired by CTI Group, has been working on a range of NFT projects but there are some more bizarre ones they've had to turn down.
“It’s being used quite heavily in the adult industry,” Mcmullan explained. “We were approached about building a platform for an adult site and we turned it down for ethical reasons.
“The top-selling artist on that platform was a model who wasn't actually a person. They didn't model and they didn't do any shows or anything like that, they just sold NFTs. It was eight NFTs of penises with various ones dressed up.”
Chuckling about what it was like in the office after stumbling upon the odd project request, he said: “When we clicked onto it I was like… oh my god. These eight-bit pictures of penises were selling for like $10,000.
“Someone has literally woken up and gone: ‘I'm just going to draw pixelated versions of penises’. Since the launch of NFTs on that particular platform, it has made something ridiculous like $400,000 in less than two days, just sitting there coloring in pixelated pictures.”
But it’s projects like this that muddy the waters of how NFTs and the technology behind them can actually be used, he explained, and skews public perception of them.
“That's where we are, that shows how far we are away from having a serious conversation around NFTs,” he said. “Where they are really valuable is behind the scenes, the smart contract on the blockchain and proof of ownership.”
Employment records stored as NFTs?
As a fan of crypto and NFTs, he explained smart contract technology could potentially change the structure of traditional parts of society in the future by removing that “middle layer” of paperwork - anything from easing the pressures and delays of a property purchase to how a business, like Silverchip, operates.
“We've talked about this before and I think we're still going to follow through with it, we just need a bit of time to create our own smart contracts and stuff. We've thought about doing it for people who have tenure in the business, so at your one year anniversary, you'll get a one-year Silverchip NFT,” he explained.
“You could essentially have someone's whole employment record stored as NFTs so you share your wallet and you've got the NFTs to prove that you did work there and again, smart contracts can be built in.
Aside from pondering what the future holds, Silverchip has recently worked on an NFT project for Nifty Football alongside blockchain agency Sequence to build an NFT football trading card game.
“The use case here is gamification,” he explained. “The idea and one of the reasons they wanted to do it is it's a play-to-earn game. So every day you'd play, you log in, you pick your team, you play your fixture, your team earns XP, you upgrade your players using XP.”
Users can develop and own their own players, in the same way popular trading card games like Pokemon have seen success but in a digital format.
“It's that sense of ownership over something which creates a connection between the individual and the team or player.”
Manchester City, NFTs and fan engagement
At Manchester City football club, NFTs and collectibles are shaping up to be the future of building and cementing relationships with its global fanbase.
“At Manchester City, we are continually exploring new, authentic and innovative ways to engage with our growing global fanbase,” said Nuria Tarre, Chief Marketing and Fan Experience Officer at City Football Group.
With five NFT 'drops' to date, the football club has tapped into the trend to celebrate title wins or limited edition digital art collaborations.
“The digital world is an important part of the future - whether that be through NFTs, the metaverse or other activity - as it provides an opportunity to bring people closer to the club through new touchpoints and experiences, allows fans to express their support and fandom in a different way and enhances a sense of community between our global fans that may be unable to travel to the Etihad Stadium.
“Our work within the NFT space over the last year has also allowed us to connect with new audiences away from traditional sports fans, providing them with an authentic connection via a different avenue.”
Tom Rodgers, Head of Research at ETC Group, who recently outlined for us what NFTs are, said: “Instead of being physical objects, they are digital: who owns them is recorded on whichever blockchain the NFT is created on.
“Sports collectibles, like the ones issued by Manchester City, are a massive business. One report puts the market size at $26bn. But the clubs themselves often don’t profit from secondary markets - in secondhand or used collectibles, purchase prices only go to the person selling the item, not the company who created it. That can change with NFTs.
“I might be making some enemies here but I think with the introduction of Erling Haaland, Manchester City are going to win the 2022/23 Premier League. If the club mints (creates) a limited edition Erling Haaland NFT, I’d imagine a lot of younger fans are going to want that. It’s a type of engagement the club can’t get any other way.”
The music industry, too, has always embraced memorabilia as a means of connecting fans.
As piles of band merchandise continue to line the entrances of gig venues, a more digital approach might be on the horizon.
NoFace, the Manchester born and bred founder behind the alternative NFT project Goth Girlfriends, is using NFTs to connect music fans with access to gigs alongside creating a ‘safe space’ for those in the alternative community.
“I decided to start Goth Girlfriends as something to represent me and the people that I identify with in the real world. I think that was one of the obstacles to get what we'd say ‘normies’ involved, people who aren't crypto weirdos like us, show them that there actually is stuff you can do and there are real life benefits.”
Spotting a gap in the NFT market for fans of alternative music or culture, NoFace had a vision to create a community away from the stereotypical “crypto bros” dominating the space.
“The way we brought [NFTs] into the real world was to do this real-life incentive. So partnering with the alternative music community and events space with bands like Creeper and Nova twins to provide free tickets to their shows for our holders,” they said. “NFTs don't necessarily have to be a revenue stream, they can be a form of marketing.”
The Goth Girlfriends project, which is built on the ‘carbon neutral’ blockchain Solana where one transaction is “less than three Google searches”, has also partnered with music festivals and awards shows including Slam Dunk Festival and rock award event Heavy Music Awards.
But it could be the future of how the music industry operates, too.
“I'd say the actual future of music, if it goes that way, is royalties where the masters will be on the blockchain. Everyone streams from that file, artists can see exactly how many streams they have and where the money is going. So you have a subscription service, exactly like Spotify, but everything is public. You know where the money goes in.
“That's the huge thing about blockchain technology. You can see where all these transactions go. People say ‘oh, it's all anonymous and it's all private’ but every transaction that's on the blockchain is public, everyone can see it and can see exactly where money goes."
“If we get over that hurdle on it, and it's a big if, then NFTs can become the future of the music and entertainment industry, especially ticketing. Tickets basically are already NFTs, they're just not tokens, they are non fungible tickets.”
Jamie Mcmullan at Silverchip agrees: “You can use it in ticket sales to prove the ownership of a ticket. Instead of having to take ID with you, it could go into a wallet and can show that you own that ticket.”
Addressing public skepticism and adoption of NFTs in the future
Engaging the public on “what NFTs actually are and what they’re about” remains the biggest obstacle, explained NoFace.
“The speculation wave of NFTs has gone. If you look at the stats and the number of users, it has remained steady which is extremely healthy. I think that number will only continue to grow over time as more people kind of get used to the idea of crypto.”
In the background, a number of big brands and platforms like Reddit are already embracing NFTs with blockchain-based avatars but opting to use the term ‘digital collectibles’ instead.
“I think they've tried to steer themselves away from using the NFT hype to promote their collectibles because they've already got a community of people who are probably willing to buy them to try and avoid the negative connotations of the phrase NFT,” explained Mcmullan.
In no other aspect of life do the public get “so zoned in” on technology and in future the term might fizzle out as processes change in the background.
“Ultimately, the adoption will happen in the background. Systems will be replaced, processes will change and the phrase NFT or the technology behind it, people won't really know about it. It'll just be a system that works.
“It's hard for us to deal with, nevermind people who aren't in the industry and who haven't been following it for the last 10 years.”