A Columbus Startup is Creating Non-Fungible Tokens for Sports Fans

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How a mid-pandemic pivot and an interest in cryptocurrency forged Rare Goods

In early 2020, things were going well for Columbus startup Perk Social. Led by co-founder Joe DiPietro, the forward-thinking loyalty program brand was creating new ways for organizations — particularly sports teams and universities — to engage with fans. And then, like so many other businesses, everything changed.

“This business started by creating fan-engagement programs,” DiPietro said. “Perk Social is a loyalty program that helps get content out and incentivizes people to read the content and share it on social media. That’s where our business started, and it was all about fan engagement. Then the pandemic hit, and not a lot of people were buying marketing software.”

To make ends meet, the company launched FanCutouts.com, which allowed users to upload photos and get a cutout for their favorite sports stadium, which viewers have seen at games over the last 18 months. While that was a successful venture, it was a short-term plan. The site allowed them to fund their next project, a self-funded non-fungible token platform called Rare Goods. The new project works with colleges and pro sports teams to create NFTs for their brand. It can sound like a challenging new concept, but it’s one that DiPietro makes simple.

“Most people have heard of Bitcoin, which is a fungible token — if you have one and I have one, they’re worth the same amount,” he said. “Non-fungible tokens are built on similar technology, but the difference is that each one is unique. If you have one and I have one, they’re not the same thing and they’re worth whatever someone will pay for it. You’re seeing this a lot in sports and in art right now. NFTs are being created essentially as digital trading cards, but they’re digital and don’t have to just be a static image.”

Essentially, Rare Goods is creating a whole new realm for collectors. DiPietro imagines scenarios where fans go to a game and unlock access to a new NFT and meet certain achievements to unlock others. Where will the NFTs lead and what exactly will they be worth? That’s hard to say in the long run, which is part of the appeal.

“Imagine someday when you have an avatar and you’re buying NFT gear for your avatar and you’re watching a live game, but you’re inside a virtual world hanging out with other people,” he said. That’s the big picture, and we’re just at the beginning of it. What’s enticing to the creators — or in this case our teams and players — is that you make money when you sell it the first time and then every time it sells after that, you make a small percentage again. So in ten years, if NFTs are still around, which I think they will be, you have an asset that’s actually worth something and continues to make you money as people trade them.”

If it sounds like Rare Goods is on the cutting edge of a new frontier, it’s because they are. Most sports leagues and teams don’t have any established methods for creating NFTs, which puts Rare Goods at an advantage. The company also has the fortune of entering the market when new NCAA rules allow players to make money from their name, image and likeness rights. As that market develops, Rare Goods will be there.

“NFTs are based around scarcity, so it’s a bit of a land-grab right now,” DiPietro said. “If a school or a conference has too many partners, it dilutes what you’re trying to do. So it’s crucial for us to move fast and to get the contracts done with teams we’re working with so that we can continue to build that vision. But it’s also important that we’ve built our technology in a way that will be compliant with paying players out through the new name-image likeness rules to make sure college athletes are getting their fair share.”

While the company has always had a presence on the west coast, DiPietro emphasized that Rare Goods is a Columbus- and Ohio-based company. The Ohio native graduated from Ohio State and worked for the Columbus Blue Jackets and other Columbus businesses before moving to California and eventually returning for Perk Social. He said there’s nowhere else he’d rather build a company he’s proud of, and is excited by the Columbus tech scene.

“As we grow this company, we’re building it in Columbus,” he said. “Not only is it home — I want to support my city — but the variety of talented people you have access to here is really beneficial. I love the idea that Columbus is putting its stake in the ground as the tech epicenter in the Midwest. If I can help that happen, I’m going to do it; that’s really important for me.”

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