Adidas and Bored Ape Yacht Club 2022 NFT Collection for Sandbox

7 min read

Adidas launched a metaverse project in partnership with Punks Comic NFT, Gmoney and Yuga Lab.

After weeks of planted leaks, Adidas is ready to unveil a broad metaverse strategy that partners with some of the hottest names in the fledgling metaverse community and leans heavily on the hypebeast playbook. The complex project encompasses limited-edition drops and scarcity (NFTs grant access to physical products); logos with cultural currency (including profile pictures, or PFPs, of Bored Apes, whose high-profile owners include Jimmy Fallon and Steph Curry); exclusivity and community (access to metaverse experiences); and zeitgeisty collaborations (Adidas is tapping into existing communities with in-built hype).

Adidas Originals, the fashion and lifestyle subdivision of the German sportswear giant, is launching an NFT collection of both physical and digital products, sold on 17 December and available in 2022. The collection is being revealed through digital and physical comic books, created in collaboration with a host of trending metaverse players: PFP phenomenon Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), NFT influencer Gmoney and comics series Punks Comics.

Adidas NFTs

The Adidas NFTs are available via a metaverse destination on the Adidas website. At press time, the price had yet to be determined, but was expected to be comparable to premium fashion prices (a spokesperson said, “we are still fine-tuning certain elements to ensure that when they drop, it’s the best possible solution for our consumers”.) The people who are already members of the Adidas drop app, called Confirmed, get a special NFT badge (called a POAP, or proof of attendance protocol), to establish their early presence; only 8,000 were issued. This gives them early access to buy the “Into the metaverse” NFT. Owners of the NFTs, of which an undisclosed amount will be issued, receive digital items to wear in metaverse world The Sandbox (with other platforms in the works), the exclusive ability to purchase physical products to wear in real life, and access to special digital and physical experiences. Adidas also purchased 144 parcels of virtual land in The Sandbox, to which it will add content and experiences.

“It’s a flip of the normal business model where we make stuff and hope people will buy it,” says Adidas senior director of digital growth Tareq Nazlawy. “You’re not just buying the product. You’re becoming a member of this community.”

Adidas Metaverse journey

The metaverse is considered integral to the next phase of the internet, often called Web3, or Web 3.0. It is closely associated with the concept of the “open web”, whose principles include decentralised information and the same type of anti-establishment sentiment that bred blockchain and cryptocurrencies. However, already, exclusive clubs and NFT influencers reign supreme, and communities often try to sniff out imposters taking advantage of the cryptorich. To that end, Adidas tapped into a zeitgeisty group of partners to help shape its journey into the metaverse.

Perhaps most recognisable is the Bored Ape Yacht Club, in which membership is granted by owning one of 10,000 ape profile picture NFTs, which now cost at least $200,000 each. The profile picture of the unique Ape isn’t the only value; ownership perks include access to product drops and events. Adidas also purchased an Adidas-clad ape named Indigo Herz. Gmoney, meanwhile, is a widely followed crypto investor who only uses that alias and uses a Cryptopunk avatar with an orange beanie that he bought in January for about $170,000. And finally, the Punks Comics is an NFT comic book series that features Ape and Punk characters; Adidas collaborated on a new edition, which will feature co-created products, as well as classic sneaker styles Campus, Forum and Superstar, to promote the collaboration, in addition to a video.

Gmoney’s signature orange beanie will be featured digitally in the comic and will also be sold as a physical item of clothing. Other items, including a tracksuit and hoodie, will follow, in both digital and physical form.

Partners like Gmoney, Punks Comic and BAYC play an important role in helping Adidas enter the metaverse “in a credible way”, says Erika Sneyd-Wykes, vice president of brand communications at Adidas Originals. Punks founder Sean Gearin has an ability to create intellectual property around crypto-native projects, while Gmoney is likely to attract a larger audience, Sneyd-Wykes says, as he is known for advocating for an open and inclusive metaverse, accessible to everyone. “There’s definitely a gold rush right now,” she acknowledges. “But we want to be super-thoughtful on how we do it and hold the gate open for folks who are adding value.” Sneyd-Wykes adds that the chosen partners will help Adidas “add to the shared community values” of Web3. They’re also a way for brands like Adidas and Nike to remain “cool”. 

Nike vis-à-vis Adidas

Nike announced that it had acquired buzzy metaverse-centric startup Rtkft, on the heels of opening a virtual Nikeland in metaverse platform Roblox. In less than two years, Rtfkt has become known as the “Supreme of digital fashion,” including $90,000 digital sneakers last October and $3 million worth of NFTs selling out in seven minutes this spring. A recent avatar partnership with artist Takashi Murakami has garnered nearly $65 million in transaction volume. Acquiring Rtfkt “signals Nike’s desire to continue to be leaders in the Web3 era,” Cathy Hackl, chief metaverse officer of the Futures Intelligence Group, recently told Vogue Business.

By partnering with existing players, legacy sportswear giants are piggybacking on existing communities, rather than creating their own PFP projects or standalone virtual worlds. Even winning over high-profile collaborators is a bit of a flex; Gmoney, for example, often turns down collaboration requests from brands.

This sets Adidas apart, says Punks Comic’s Gearin. “I’ve seen other companies come into the space in more of a traditional corporate format, and that’s not embraced by communities in the Web3 environment — [which] is about curiosity and wanting to create unique things and doing it in a way that creates value not just for yourself but the broader community,” he says.

Nike’s metaverse projects share a similar sentiment, but the differences in execution illustrate just how unchartered this virtual terrain still is: as of publication, Nike has yet to mint its own NFT, but in its free “Nikeland” on metaverse platform Roblox, visitors can compete in games and try on iconic Nike, Jordan Brand and Converse pieces in a digital showroom. Nike has also recently indicated its intent to sell virtual branded sneakers and apparel through several recent trademark applications.

Progress has been far faster than precedent would suggest, leading to a hype quotient in which sneakers and streetwear thrive. The Adidas project took nine months to develop, meaning conversations were in progress by March. The first luxury NFT — an art film from Gucci — was announced in May. Since then, momentum is gathering pace across the broader fashion and beauty industries. Louis VuittonBurberryNarsGivenchy and Clinique have all issued NFTs. Balmain has launched three NFT projects in just a few months.

Money and market value

The metaverse represents an attractive space for future growth for brands, with metaverse gaming and NFTs forecast to constitute 10 per cent of the luxury goods market by 2030 — a €50 billion revenue opportunity, according to investment banking firm Morgan Stanley.

Pricing digital items, including NFTs, can be tricky: over-pricing them risks alienating an eager audience. Under-pricing them, or leaving them to auction, risks the appearance of devaluing the brand. That’s partly why Clinqiue and Louis Vuitton elected to give away, rather than sell, their NFT collections; why Gucci and Ralph Lauren price digital items in Roblox far less than they might command. (Nike adopts a similar strategy in its physical sneaker drops.)

Even at this late stage, Adidas is still finalising a pricing structure. “If you benchmark it against a Bored Ape NFT, for example, you might be spending tens of thousands of dollars to gain access,” says Nazlawy of Adidas. “Our NFT will be priced a bit more inclusively than that; it’s closer to premium fashion price points.”

Once someone acquires an Adidas NFT, they can price and sell it at whatever price the market commands; access would then transfer to the new owner. This can be a clever way for brands to gauge interest and build hype; Gucci’s Roblox bags, now famously, ultimately resold for more than their physical counterparts, while Burberry’s NFT characters for Blankos Block Party were being sold at eight times their original value. Nazlawy points out the crypto market’s similarities to streetwear, with an interest in “collecting, trading and flexing”.

NFTs evolve in utility

NFTs first emerged in the form of static digital art and collectibles, and quickly drew fatigue and confusion as to one one does with a digital certificate of ownership. “From the collectibles side, the market is already collapsing,” warns Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor for market research firm NPD Group. “From the authentication side, there are simpler and less costly — to the environment — methods to verify products. Collecting things that have no intrinsic value, beyond speculation, seems dangerous. The avatar space would also appeal to a very small segment of the market, just like collectible sneakers, which also appears to be waning.”

“Everybody wants to jump on the [NFT] train, but nobody understands where it’s going. Don’t be in it for the sake of being in it,” advises KPMG’s blockchain leader Arun Ghosh.

The next wave of brand NFTs, therefore, are dynamic — owning them offers an ongoing set of perks, both specified and promised. Clinique and Balmain’s recent NFTs, for example, offer perks that are introduced over time. Gmoney says many brands make the mistake of viewing NFTs as just static digital collectibles. “NFTs are more than just art,” he says. “They will be pervasive throughout culture in the near to long-term future.” Adidas wants its NFTs to have utility, which helps build a sense of community with the brand — at least, as long as that community holds on to the access-granting NFT.

Through the metaverse and virtual spaces, brands can lean further into gamification, says Chris Twining, global digital account director at Dentsu, who points to Nike’s recent Roblox space. There’s also an opportunity for brands to drop exclusive products that won’t be snapped up by bots. It’s an approach that fashion designer Telfar Clemens has already taken with his new channel, Telfar TV. Brands can reevaluate what their membership models look like through token or NFT ownership, Twining says. “When you think about how important Adidas is to the culture of streetwear, I can see them building it out around users with a POAP to exclusively access events in both the physical and digital world.”

Adidas plans to build out the utility of its NFT to offer perks for its community over time. “One of the amazing things about this technology is that you don’t have to decide all at once. This is having a ticket that grants you entry,” Nazlawy says.

Even without clear perks, Adidas stans are all-in. Adidas first signalled its intention to enter the metaverse with the POAPs on its app on 17 November; 8,000 free Adidas digital tokens of unspecified value were offered as a reward. “Nobody knew what it was for, yet people were already speculating on its value. There’s a lot of trading going on already in the secondary market, even though nobody knows what it does. That blew us away completely,” says Nazlawy.

Expect many of those experiences on The Sandbox. “It’s going to be a space that will sit at the cross-section of culture where people can come together over sport, entertainment or music,” says Andrea Nieto of the Design Futures team at Adidas. “It’s going to be our playground to test and be creative with our community.”

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