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NFTs Find New Licensing Footing

The NFT trend that swept the licensing industry may be showing signs of slowing, but these virtual tokens are finding new life through licensing and marketing strategies that many companies are banking on.

Board of Directors’ Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs are regarded as a gold standard for the business, with a network of 11 global agents—headed by Brand Central—that has landed more than 50 licensing deals across a range of categories including apparel, toys and games, and food and beverage. And for Bored of Directors, a collective of 12 NFT owners, it has been a business that commands $1 million in minimum guarantees and 10-15% royalty rates on 2-4-year contracts as apparel licensees gain distribution through Walmart, Target, and other retailers.

As consumers’ relationships with NFTs evolve, many in the industry—including Bored of Directors—are transitioning to a more design-driven business that extends well beyond the investment value of the token itself. Bored Ape has 11 different characters

“It is the design that has the market value and that, as a piece of art, allows you to go into licensing,” said Rob Corney, Group Managing Director at Bulldog Licensing, which represents the Bored of Directors in the U.K. “When there is a new media, we should think about what the currency is and what is being bought and sold. If it has brand equity and integrity as a concept, then it’s made for licensing.”

Funko, for example, has released 38 NFTs since buying a majority stake in developer TokenWave and its TokenHead platform, according to Funko CEO Brian Mariotti.

Yet not all IP owners are convinced. King Features launched a series of deals for Popeye (with NFT developers Totem and Undone), but has since “stepped back” from the business, said Beth Nock, Brand Marketing Director at King. MGM met “limited success” in developing NFTs with VeVe tied to the James Bond film No Time to Die, said Robert Marick, EVP of Global Consumer Products at MGM. Recur, which launched in 2021 as a partnership between co-founders Zach Bruch and Trevco CEO Trevor George, has licenses for Cloudco’s Care Bears, Paramount’s Star Trek, and Nickelodeon. It moved to the Ava Labs’ Avalanche Blockchain platform in 2022, though George has declined to comment on Recur’s progress.

“The [NFTs] we put out we were happy with for the most part,” Nock said. “We didn’t want to put something out there and saturate the market and we are just waiting for the next opportunity that makes sense. We are still interested in the Metaverse and are figuring out how our brands make sense for these platforms.”

For those brands that have extensive licensing programs, the focus on NFTs is shifting to follow a more familiar path. For example, the  Ripley S.A. department store chain in Peru  has  Bored Ape  as part of a apparel DTR in 30 stores. And Nike has generated more than $200 million from NFTs, representing them as virtual collectible sneakers (Cryptokicks) that are sold as part of heavily promoted drops. Tiffany & Co. created 250 “NFTiffs” that were available to anyone who has purchased CryptoPunks. Tiffany also agreed to create jewelry reflecting the CryptoPunk owned by NFTiff buyers, including a pendant that retails for $50,000.

“The success for any NFT brand is interest, value, and appeal,” said Alexander Locke, Co-Founder and Managing Member of the Bored of Directors. “It doesn’t matter that it started as an NFT or that it was selling for millions of dollars on the OpenSea [platform]. It has to be a distinctive, character-driven brand and the success will always depend on the price consumers are willing to pay for them.”

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