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Why Asics is racing to lead the pack on NFTs in sportswear

Can NFTs bridge the gap between physical and digital for brands?

Asics’s upcoming NFT auction is an experiment, both for the brand and for the sportswear and leisure vertical as a whole. As exclusive creators become more central to digital marketing, the need to support them and communicate their worth to audiences will become a bigger part of brands’ efforts.

The commodification of art online has been a thorn in the side of artists for years. From the tiny percentages of pennies musicians see from streams to the ease of theft of digital artwork, the ability of artists to earn a living digitally has been undermined. At the same time creators are becoming a central pillar of how brands choose to communicate with their audiences, so there’s a virtuous circle in brands supporting their chosen creators.

Now Asics, which is gearing up to support its community in digital as much as offline, is launching a collection of NFTs via auction. The idea is that proceeds from the sale will go to Asics’s Digital Goods Artist-in-Residence Program, which aims to provide talent with “a global platform to showcase their creativity and work, feeding into Asics’s founding philosophy of ‘Sound Mind, Sound Body’”.

Joe Pace is head of business development at Asics’s running apps. He says that, while the scheme is not designed to explicitly bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds, the benefits extend to Asics’s community of consumers wherever they choose to spend their time.

He says: “We are building this artists-in-residence program that will be the foundation for creating those physical connections in the future.

“Digital experiences are part of our everyday lives. It’s hard for me to imagine a future where digital goods are relevant in most people’s lives. From a business development standpoint, or more importantly an innovation development standpoint, this is about being innovative, being forward thinking, and honestly having a vision for what the future might look like.

“[It’s about] making sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure that vision is achieved to help people be healthy.”

The benefit for Asics, then, is to be ahead of the pack when it comes to launching new digital products. Noting that the brand is the first sportswear manufacturer to have launched NFTs, Pace believes that the benefit of being an early mover is that it allows Asics to surf the wave of trends that its consumers are interested in.

NFTs are in the midst of a reappraisal in terms of their long-term viability. There have been sky-high valuations of some NFTs, and it’s understandable that brands would wish to get involved with them. Retail and luxury brands including Givenchy have recently launched their own NFT collections which, like Asics’s project, aim to connect with audiences digitally.

Riding the wave

But questions remain about whether the NFT bubble has already burst given that provenance is less secure than has been advertised, and growing awareness about the environmental impact of blockchain technology. Despite that, Pace believes that NFTs’ exclusivity is a natural extension of trends that have existed since long before the rise of the internet – particularly in and around the sports vertical – and will last.

He says: “It’s a very fascinating extension of a market that already exists within the collectible space, whether it’s baseball cards or sports memorabilia. Then in specifically sporting goods, as we see it, every action you take in the world is an opportunity to be for it to be commemorated. It’s an achievement to go out for a run, it’s an achievement to do any form of exercise, and we want to feel like it is worth recording on the blockchain and celebrating.”

The auction on Asics’s NFTs, which takes place this Thursday, is both a trial and an event in itself for the sportwear brand. Regardless, Pace believes that the best measure of success is whether the community comes out to support the artist-in-residency program. “We’d love to raise a good amount of money through the options to fund the program. We’re not expecting or hoping to make as much money with this, honestly, we’re hoping to take the proceeds and invest them in the creators we were talking about previously. So the more we raise, the more we give.”

Brands’ relationships with their audiences is predicated on understanding – both of how they purchase their products and how they choose to spend time away from the brand’s core verticals. If NFTs can ultimately be utilized to support artists that facilitate that understanding, Asics might find itself ahead of the pack of brands fostering schemes like this.

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