BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and head football coach Kalani Sitake answer questions during BYU football media day in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Jon Cheney graduated from BYU and says he hasn’t missed a Cougars football game, on television or in person, where possible, since he learned how to flip on a TV.
So when the CEO of Ocavu, a Web3 developer and technology company based in Lehi, was approached by BYU Athletics about a partnership the school says will greatly benefit its student-athletes in the relatively new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) space, he was all ears.
“We jumped into this Web3 space as a company a while ago, so when BYU stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Hey, we want our own NFT platform, we want to be able to help our athletes,’ I was given the opportunity and couldn’t say no,” Cheney told the Deseret News last week.
On Tuesday, Ocavu and BYU jointly announced they have partnered to launch the website CougsRise.com, which they are billing as the “world’s largest fan engagement platform that allows fans to support athletes through NFT experiences.”
According to a news release, the website and Web3 community will provide digital and physical experiences for all BYU sports fans and every NFT experience purchased “will directly benefit BYU student-athletes and the BYU athletic department.”
According to its website, Ocavu is a tech company that “helps brands and influencers create dynamic, immersive experiences that build community with users.” Cheney said the company continues to evolve, and doesn’t plan to just sign deals with BYU. Immediately, they are focusing on fall sports at BYU, but hope to eventually be available to all BYU student-athletes as well as other colleges around the country if they are interested.
“The reality is BYU pulled us even deeper into the Web3 space than we were even planning on doing. But I saw the potential, especially in reference to this NIL side, to be able to help the players and (for) fans to have better ways to be able to support players and engage with players and have experiences (with players),” Cheney said. “We started throwing around (ideas) in the brainstorming sessions with BYU and I said, ‘Yeah, this is an easy decision. I can’t say no to this.’ And we have dedicated a huge amount of resources and people to make it possible.”
BYU Athletics’ point man on the project is Casey Stauffer, associate athletic director for corporate sponsorships.
“The launch of CougsRise.com allows unprecedented access for the most loyal fans in the country and creates the opportunity for Cougar student-athletes to earn money in an NCAA-compliant and easy way (and) is game-changing,” Stauffer said in the release. “With the fall season starting shortly, we’re excited for fans to earn amazing experiences and continue to deepen their connection with BYU Athletics.”
What are NFTs?
Cheney explained that they are non-fungible tokens — basically a financial security, an asset, of digital data stored in a blockchain.
For purposes of this NIL marketplace, fans should consider them like basketball, football or baseball trading cards from their younger days.
“A digital collectible is probably the easiest way to say it,” he said, noting they can be traded electronically, just as trading cards can be traded physically.
“Every single time an NFT is purchased, a percentage of that is going to go to the player associated with that moment in history, or with a current player, and a percentage is going to go to the school, to BYU Athletics,” Cheney said.
Yes, digital moments in BYU sports history, such as the famous John Beck to Jonny Harline touchdown pass to beat Utah, will be available for purchase. And NFTs of former BYU greats such as Steve Young, Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon will be available, with proceeds going to those legends or to the athletic department if that is what they request.
“It really is a fan experience site, for sure,” Cheney said. “And the primary experience revolves around collecting digital moments of BYU history.”
The CEO said that BYU fans who want to specifically support a current player, such as quarterback Jaren Hall, or a current team, like the gymnastics team or the Cougarettes, can do so by purchasing tradable NFTs. For instance, experiences like being on the sidelines during games, or in the tunnel before the team runs out on the field, could be made available.
“Many of these things bring with them unique experiences that will allow the fans to engage with the teams, with the players, with the athletics department in ways that (they) haven’t personally experienced in other ways before, but (are) typically reserved for the highest level of donors,” he said.
One of the “experiences” might allow fans to play golf with members of the BYU men’s and women’s golf teams. Or hit tennis balls with members of the tennis teams.
“You could be the person that wins the golden ticket that goes on the field for the football game, with the players. And that is really exciting for the people that are going to get opportunities to do that.”
According to the release, Blockchain will be used to manage the capabilities of CougsRise.com, but the “user experience” will feel comfortable to people of all ages because of Ocavu’s UI innovations “that bring a familiar feel to newer technology that powers the internet.”
There will also be opportunities for fans to earn and improve upon their “Cougar Score,” which brings more benefits the more NFTs are purchased.
Cheney said beta testing has already happened with positive reviews.
“From the beginning, our discussions with BYU made it clear that Web3 can be a game-changer for NIL deals,” Cheney said. “Both organizations recognized the value of creating real-world utility with Web3, as opposed to just using Web3 for the sake of Web3. This is now transforming how universities can approach NIL deals. BYU is showing that a university can put student-athletes and fans first and create an even deeper connection within its community in the NIL era.”
Cheney said more than 250 BYU student-athletes have signed deals already — mostly from the fall sports, which has been a focus. As winter approaches, the focus will shift to those athletes.
“The cool thing for someone like Jaren Hall or any other athlete at BYU is they don’t have to do anything other than do their job,” Cheney said. “Go win us a national championship, right? That’s all he has got to do.”
The plan is to have BYU’s cadre of photographers and videographers, along with possibly some from Ocavu, capture those moments and eventually turn them into NFTs available for purchase.
“Maybe it is just a cool digital collectible (fans) want to remember and say, … ‘Man, I want to remember that moment, I was at that game, I want to buy that and put it in my collection.’ And Jaren Hall just receives a check for doing his job,” Cheney said.
Asked what BYU fans should do on their first visit to CougsRise.com, Cheney suggested the following:
“Dive in, buy a kickoff pack (for roughly $25) and if you are a big BYU fan, you are going to like the experience. It is going to be really fun,” he said.
A kickoff pack might include three random NFT moments from BYU sports history, or a 3D model of a piece of memorabilia in the Student-Athlete Building on campus.
“So every time you buy a moment, that builds up your Cougar Score,” Cheney said.
The more tiers that are reached, the more benefits are unblocked.
“The cool thing is, let’s say you live in Tennessee, and you win that BYU locker room tour. You can fly out and do it, and it is yours,” he said. “Or maybe you say, ‘I just want to sell this.’ And so you can then list that on the marketplace, and it will be on the website as well, and see what it goes for. Maybe you got it for eight bucks, roughly, … and maybe it is worth 75 bucks to someone else. Maybe it is worth 200 bucks to someone else. You kinda let the marketplace dictate what is going to happen.”
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