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MLB hops on NFT bandwagon with 1939 Lou Gehrig video clip

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Major League Baseball plans to auction off a Lou Gehrig non-fungible token next month, marking the latest professional sports league to dive into the NFT craze.

MLB's first NFT, as the technology is known, will consist of a video clip of Gehrig's famous "Luckiest Man" speech, which he delivered in July 4, 1939, after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, now known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Bidding on the NFT will take place on July 4, and proceeds from the sale will go toward charities that focus on ALS. One sports auction expert believes the video clip could sell for millions of dollars. 

To launch the NFT the sports league is teaming with digital collectible company Candy Digital, a new venture created by Fanatics chairman Michael Rubin, Galaxy Digital CEO Mike Novogratz and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Candy Digital will be the official platform for fans who want to buy and trade baseball NFTs. The company did not specify a starting bid or reserve price for the Gehrig NFT auction. 

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NFTs are created from unique pieces of computer code that are stored and verified on a digital ledger known as a blockchain. Linked to everything from news articles to digital photos to works of art, the virtual assets are being sold for tens of thousands — sometimes millions — of dollars.

It's difficult to determine exactly how much the Gehrig NFT will sell for, but it could easily be in the seven figures, said sports memorabilia expert David Kohler.  

"They're not going to start it at $1 and they won't start it at $1 million, either," he said. "But that doesn't matter as much. I think this is going to bring a lot of money."

Telling sports fans about the upcoming auction a month in advance was a clever move on MLB's part because that's "going to create a lot of buzz" around one of the game's most celebrated players, Kohler added.

"That speech is very, very important in the history of baseball," said Kohler, who owns SCP Auctions, a California-based sports memorabilia private auctioneer. "There's going to be a lot of interest in this, that I know. 

NFTs mark a new era for MLB fans, who until now have only been accustomed to tangible memorabilia, like player cards or signed home-run balls, that they could store in a shoe box or display on a shelf. 

NFTs are "fundamentally changing how we think about owning cultural artifacts," Candy Digital's co-chairman Mike Novogratz, who is also a prominent investor in cryptocurrencies, said in a statement. 

This year, sports fans have paid big bucks to own NFTs tied to their favorite players. Tampa Bay Buccaneer and NFL star Rob Gronkowski sold an NFT video clip of his Super Bowl highlights this spring for a reported $1.8 million. 

Climate concerns

An NFT of a video clip of NBA star LeBron James dunking sold for $200,000 in February, while an NFT video of a blocked shot from fellow baller Zion Williamson sold for $55,000. The NBA launched its own NFT marketplace in 2019, partnering with Canadian blockchain company Dapper Labs. 

Blockchain, the technology behind NFTs, has come under scrutiny because of its impact on the environment. To obtain an NFT from blockchain, a computer must expend lots of energy to solve complex puzzles in a process known as mining. That process generates a massive amount of greenhouse gases. 

Candy Digital said it plans to release other MLB digital collectibles but didn't offer specifics. More details will be released in coming weeks, the company said.

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