The French Open NFT Is a $1 Million Big Deal

Aron Solomon

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WTF

The “RG Game, Seat & Match NFT” caught the attention of many tennis fans around the world this week. With qualifying rounds for the French Open (more commonly referred to as Roland-Garros, the name of the stadium in which it’s held) wrapping up today, the second Grand Slam of 2022 begins in earnest this weekend.

This year, the tournament has a brand new offering, and it’s not the French equivalent of strawberries and champagne. The French Open is selling an NFT.

Yes, an NFT.

5000 NFT “seats” are being offered at €200 per seat; If they all sell, this will generate €1 million in revenue for the tournament.

In the tournament’s own words:

“For the 2022 edition of the tournament, Roland-Garros is making a first foray into the universe of NFTs with the release of a unique collection of seats located in the lower stand of a virtual Court Philippe-Chatrier. Fans can now be part of a whole new community and enjoy exclusive benefits!”

The French Open has developed its NFT on Polygon, which the tournament touts as “an energy-efficient blockchain with low gas fees.”

Word about professional tennis leaping into web3 is being spread through the French Open’s robust social media presence and tournament app. Even though this is a men’s and women’s tournament, the four Grand Slams are unique in that they're independently run. So tennis fanatics like yours truly have to rely on the tournament apps rather than the WTA or ATP apps (or the new combined app) for the latest information and scores.

So what does paying €200 get you for your “NFT experience?”

You get your virtual seat at the Philippe Chatrier Court showcase court (which is simply the digital version of the tournament’s real show court).

You have the chance to win one of 55 virtual match-used tennis balls that will be mailed to your home anywhere in the world.

You have access to a private Discord channel only for fellow NFT holders. Trust me. This is a big selling point as tennis fans are the absolute worst armchair quarterbacks in sports. They love to take to social media, including Reddit, and the like, to deconstruct every performance of their favorite player. We tennis fans are really engaged when it comes to stuff like this. The private Discord here could be a huge perk for NFT buyers.

It is critically important to understand that this NFT money is net new money for the tournament. And it’s brilliant because of the kind of game tennis is. Tennis has millions of rabid fans from around the world. Tournament season begins with a January Australia swing and doesn’t end until November with the WTA (women) and ATP (men) tour finals. Tennis has a much longer season than any other professional sport.

If NFT engagement can work in a Grand Slam, it might work even better in smaller tournaments.

A great case in point would be the WTA’s Transylvania Open. In its debut on the women’s tour last year, it quickly became a tremendous player and fan favorite because of a young Romanian player entering the court as Countess Dracula.

While very few fans can travel to Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania, Romania, to attend the tournament, many watch on streaming channels that carry tennis, and even more follow live scores in the WTA or unofficial app. An NFT experience could be designed around the event itself and create a fun Dracula-themed experience fans would love.

The French Open NFT offering is also a great fit for other sports.

Imagine the NFL, which is expanding its international games and has a massive fan base outside the U.S. An NFT offering is a fantastic and entirely de-risked way to test a new market for the NFL.

The league should be transparent about it. Say that they are testing 12 NFL markets by offering an NFT season ticket experience. The four regions with the most significant measured engagement will be considered for an NFL international regular-season game.

As Charlie Cartwright, a South Florida lawyer, points out:

“As NFTs become more common in sports, they can be used to engage a team’s fan base around the region and world. Our Miami Dolphins have a large fan base distributed throughout Latin America. NFTs are one way to bring these fans closer to Miami and a unique game experience.”

Again, this can’t be overstated - NFT revenue for a professional sports league or tournament is all net new revenue. Leagues absolutely adore new revenue streams; there are only so many $250 football jerseys you can sell.

Ultimately, here’s how I see the value proposition for the French Open this year:

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While admittedly a “first foray” into the NFT space, Roland Garros seems to have done everything really well here.

As someone who speaks several languages - with French and English my daily mother tongues - I noticed that finding information on this in French and English was equally easy. That’s a big deal if your target markets are France (where the tournament is), the US and England (where a huge number of tennis fans live), and the rest of the world (who are used to getting WTA and ATP tournament information in English).

I also think the level of dialogue they used was inclusive to the general tennis population in an attempt to move as many people as possible into that point of intersection on the circle. Far too often, NFT offerings are, understandably, focused on a fairly narrow group of experienced NFT users/owners. That’s fine if the offering is a new BAYC, but not so great if you’re trying to get sports fans into the NFT space.

My last thought is that this is just exciting. At the risk of being too much of a fanboi, while my favorite sports are women’s WTA tennis and the NFL, it’s hard to imagine being more excited about the events than I am now. Being able to partake in a shared virtual experience for events I can’t attend in person is something that can take my fandom to the next level. Like many tennis fans, I’m really excited to see how the French Open plays out over the next two weeks, but now I’m also really intrigued to see how this NFT drop goes.

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Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, who has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world.

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