The National Hockey League is constantly looking for a variety of ways to increase interest in its product, and those efforts are inevitably going to include some misses and some hits.
With that qualifier out the way, the league’s launching on a NFT platform called “NHL Breakaway” on Wednesday was the kind of misguided move that cast doubt on its ability to put its product in the best light.
The first hint that this idea wasn’t a winner was the fact the press release about it was misleading and didn’t include the term NFT anywhere. Instead, it opted for the term “digital collectibles highlight community.”
There is no doubt about what NHL Breakaway is, though. The term “NFT” (non-fungible token) is not in the announcement, or most of the website, but a look at the fine print at the bottom of the homepage lays things out clearly.
Trying to shy away from the term NFT might be the smartest part of this whole endeavor from the NHL’s perspective. Interest in non-fungible tokens has been in a free fall for nearly two years according to Google Trends data, after peaking in January 2022.
Not only has interest in NFTs fallen off a cliff, the same can be said for the NBA’s equivalent to NHL Breakaway — NBA Top Shot. Top Shot was a success story for a time, before engagement with the platform waned.
In November, the maker of NBA Top Shot — Dapper Labbs — laid off 22% of its workforce. During a period at the beginning of the 2022-23 season, Top Shot saw a 94% decline in sales on its platform from the previous season.
Even beyond interest issues, there’s also almost no value left in the NFT world, meaning something like NHL Breakaway isn’t going to be sustained by investors, even if it falls flat with fans. A recent report by dappGambl indicates that up to 95% of NFTs may currently be worthless. It’s also noteworthy that the Defiance Digital Revolution — the first ETF targeting NFTs — closed earlier this year after declining precipitously from the moment it began trading.
It opened at $18.40 in December 2021 before finishing its run at $6.39.
To put all of this together it’s clear that the NHL is getting into the NFT game so late that the even the letters “NFT” themselves are toxic. This is something the NBA — an objectively more popular league — hasn’t been able to make work over a long period of time. Both public interest and value for investors is extremely minimal right now. The chances of NHL Breakaway being any kind of success is infinitesimally small.
Clearly, the league is aware of this to some degree itself. The NHL’s official Twitter account didn’t even mention NHL Breakaway on Wednesday, leaving the announcement to its PR account.
The league also shying away from any “NFT” language in its press release is a good indication that it knows this isn’t the time for a project like this. It either naively thinks a rebrand using the “digital collectibles” language can be effective or is aware that this thing will be dead on arrival. Whatever the case may be, it’s not ideal for the league.
While NHL Breakaway isn’t some make-or-break initiative, it’s a pertinent example of the league getting hurt by a lack of creative thinking. The NHL identified a trend and chased it far too late to its detriment. There’s no doubt the time and money spent on this could’ve been used to better advance the game, but the league saw a possible revenue stream and failed to identify a fad.
It’s not an exaggeration to say NHL Breakaway could only have been relevant if it was released at least two years ago. Even in late 2021, it would’ve been catching the tail end of a bubble.
Chances are this is a project that will be soon forgotten, but it ought to be remembered as a classic example of the NHL lacking imagination — and the ability to effectively market its product.