NFT tech firm targets college space, launches Miami’s Canes Vault

By Michael Smith

An Atlanta-based blockchain technology firm is making a big bet that non-fungible tokens are here to stay and will be a viable source of new revenue for collegiate athletic programs.

Jon Parise, one of three co-founders of GigLabs in 2017, said the company has put a particular focus on the college space. Its first major client, the University of Miami, launched the Canes Vault last week with the help of GigLabs.

Canes Vault is an online marketplace where fans can bid on collectible NFTs.

Canes Vault’s three initial NFTs are just the start. GigLabs

Miami is the licensee for these NFTs. Canes Vault dropped its first three NFTs last week on the platform, all of which commemorate the Hurricanes’ 1989 national championship game and Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

“We see college athletics as an important vertical for us,” Parise said. “Passionate fans make for a good audience for NFT projects.”

The backgrounds of the three co-founders reflect the emerging nature of the NFT space. Parise, the chief revenue officer, was an English major at Marquette. CEO Douglas Dimola studied electronics engineering at Georgia Tech. Brian Burns, a managing partner, came out of Georgia Tech as a software engineer.

Together, they launched Second Legion Studios in 2019. The studio creates NFT projects for the gaming and esports space. CNN also recently became a client. GigLabs will be creating NFTs for major news events.

Parise expects the college space to be especially busy between now and the end of the year.

He could see anywhere from 10 to 15 more schools launching NFT marketplaces like Miami’s. “And I’d probably take the over,” he said.

The chief challenges for many schools are an aging fan base that might not understand NFTs, and the expense involved with hiring outside agencies to create the digital marketplace and artwork.

Also, what do fans do with NFTs after they’re purchased? How are they displayed? GigLabs has a solution in the works, Parise said.

Jason Layton, the Canes’ deputy athletic director and chief financial officer, took the lead on this leap into the NFT space. He projects that Canes Vault will drop 200 new NFTs this academic year. The first one comes with a physical replica of the ring.

Layton created the business model for Canes Vault, which he predicts will be profitable in its first year. It operates much like a licensing deal, he said, with the Hurricanes serving as the licensee. Within the first three hours of the opening auction, the highest bid had hit $5,000. Auctions last one week.

Miami’s athletic department is working with Sao Paulo-based visual arts and animation studio, Black Madre, to create the artwork that goes on the NFT. The studio also created the digital artwork for Rob Gronkowski’s collectible NFT card.

Miami will use memorable moments and former players on exclusive NFTs in the future. Current players are prohibited by Florida state law from participating. Miami, working with Brandr Group, created a group licensing program for ex-players earlier this summer, which will enable them to opt into NFT products and other licensing initiatives.

Miami is believed to be the first school to launch an NFT program like this.

“The goal is always to grow the fan base and create more ways for them to engage with us,” Layton said.

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