Mick Assaf is the founder of the Irish Players Club (IPC) NFT collection. He joins Cryptogic today to discuss the upcoming mint (on March 1, 2022), as well as the unique benefits that will be available to IPC NFT owners.
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Irish Players Club: “The Irish Players Club (‘IPC’) is a collection of 5,555 unique leprechaun NFTs created by former Domers in an effort to support currently rostered Notre Dame football players. The IPC works directly with 100+ current athletes. With our mission to benefit athletes in mind, 75% of profits from the Irish Players Club will be distributed to the active players involved.” (Official Website)
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Andy: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Cryptogic. I’m your host, Andy Hagans, filling in for Scott Hawksworth. We have a very exciting episode today. I have Jimmy Atkinson, the founder of OpportunityDB and co-founder of Cryptogic with me, as well as Mick Assaf, the former Notre Dame football player as well as founder of the Irish Players Club.
So, Mick, I’m going to start with you. Could you tell us more about the Irish Players Club and the team behind it?
Mick: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you guys having me on today and I’m really excited to talk about the Irish Players Club. The Irish Players Club is launching on March 1st. And the goal behind it is to bridge the gap between college football athletes and their fans. And so the first collection we’re launching is the Irish Players Club and it’ll be 5555 NFTs that will serve as access passes to players on the current Notre Dame football team throughout the coming months and even the coming years.
And so they’ll be minted on March 1st. And we’re really trying to create an opportunity for those fans who really support Notre Dame football and those athletes to kind of take one step closer to getting access to the players, being able to meet with them, being able to connect with them on calls like this. And I think it will make the fan experience that much better for those that are part of the Irish Players Club.
Jimmy: Yeah, there’s a lot of moving parts here with Irish Players Club and I’m really excited about this NFT collection in particular. Andy and I did a brief show previewing this very NFT collection just last week. So, we were able to follow up and get founder, Mick Assaf, on our show right away. Thanks for joining us today, Mick. I want to talk about numbers with your NFT collection in particular in a minute here. But first, can you tell us a little bit more about Irish Players Club?
What is the NFT collection exactly? There’s some sort of leprechaun component to it. Tell us a little more about the artwork.
Mick: Yeah. So, it’s 5555 digitally generated leprechauns. You’ll see… We’re starting to preview some of the artwork across social media right now keeping some of our favorites so that they’ll only be seen when the project reveals. But there’s inspiration from the area of South Bend from some traditions that I think people that have gone here might be familiar with, trying to keep a lot of that under wraps.
But I think that people will be really excited when they…as we reveal more and more artwork. And I think something that makes it really unique is we tried to get the players’ opinion on what looked cool. We brought together a bunch of artists in the beginning and brought a bass character to the players and got their feedback on what spoke to them. And that’s how we ended up with the kind of group of artists that we ended up going with.
And when your project is designed to help the athletes benefit, which ours is 75% of the profits from the project go to the players, we wanted those players to have some sweat equity in the creation, and they all kind of were aligned with these different leprechauns and the different clothing and necklaces and eyewear that you’ll see was in a big piece drawn from the direction that they pushed us in.
Jimmy: I think it’s great. And really, I think this is the intersection of two very brand new Wild West type things, right, one being NCAA athletes able to finally profit off of their name, image, and likeness or NIL, and then it’s the intersection of that with Non-Fungible Tokens, which is also kind of the Wild West right now.
I want to talk about, specifically, you know, how the players are profiting off of this. How much money are you expecting to raise in the initial mint for the players?
Mick: So, I think for the… I was hoping that we sell out and depending…we’re still kind of in flux on what the mint price will be. But we want to hopefully sell out and the mint price will kind of determine the amount of money that we bring to the players.
But we want the amount of cash that comes to players to be over $0.5 million. That’s kind of our goal, which, you know, based on what we’ve seen in the NIL space would be a really, really large chunk of cash compared to what a lot of universities and what a lot of teams are getting on the NIL front. And so I’m not sure if it’ll match all of the NIL earnings at this point at Notre Dame, but I think it’ll be pretty close if it doesn’t.
Jimmy: Ow, that’s impressive. And talk to us a little more about numbers. You’re not sure on the floor price yet, it sounds like. I know, you know, we’re talking on Thursday, February 17th. I believe your roadmap is coming out tomorrow. Is that right?
Mick: Yes. So, the roadmap will come out tomorrow and we’ll use that feedback plus kind of some indicators on the early access list and try to determine what we think makes the most sense. There’s a lot of cool items on the roadmap they’re going to cost, you know, money to put into action.
And so we kind of have a general range of where it will be. And ultimately, the more that we’re able to…the more that we charge, the more money that goes to the players. And so trying to find that sweet spot where fans feel like they’re getting an awesome value for what they’re getting on the roadmap and, you know, we still want to make it affordable so that fans from all different backgrounds can support and join the Irish Players Club.
Jimmy: Sure. And is everybody on the current football team signed up or most of the players? How many players do you have signed up? And then the second part of the question, how about on the user side? How many users have you had sign up for the early access so far?
Mick: Yeah. So, we have more than 70 players on the current roster that have already signed up. There’s a few that were kind of just a little bit slow at responding or took a little bit longer to fill out the form, but trying to get to as close to 100% of the current team as we can. And then on the fan side, I think the feedback has been pretty awesome.
We have almost 1900 people that have signed up for early access so far, which, you know, we didn’t really have a great benchmark for what would be exciting, but to us, that seems like, you know, we’ve done a good job. It’s all been organic growth just from the players themselves and some former players, and then some reporters who’ve picked up on it.
But we’re going to start doing some more pushes through the players, through alumni, Twitter spaces, and stuff like that. So, that’s been pretty exciting to see that number grow.
Jimmy: No, that’s great. Yeah. That’s a pretty impressive start there. I myself first caught wind of this when I saw a former quarterback, Ian Book, tweet it a couple of weeks ago. I signed up as soon as I could. So, I’m excited about…yeah. Full disclosure, by the way, Andy and I both went to Notre Dame, are both big fans, but we are not talking our book here.
The mint date hasn’t occurred yet. We’re hoping to buy some of these NFTs at a future date, hopefully, on March 1, but I just wanted to state that legal disclosure there. Well, let’s talk about the fans now or the users. What kind of utility do they receive from the NFTs beyond just being able to possess a really cool piece of leprechaun art?
Are there fan experiences or benefits, meet and greets with the players? What exactly are we looking at here?
Mick: Yeah. So, this is something that as a former player, I felt like I had a lot of insight into just from understanding, you know, what fans were seeking after the games, we would always meet fans in certain places. And I feel like there’s a huge market opportunity to actually streamline those experiences and make it so you don’t have to wait outside of the stadium for two hours after the game to try to meet a player.
And so we tried to take those experiences. I started with Nick Wisher as well and we just kind of sat down, wrote on a whiteboard, like, what did we feel like fans were seeking out during our time playing? And then kind of baked those into the experience and roadmap for the Irish Players Club. And so we kind of broke it into three sections, spring, summer, and fall. And in each of those, we’ve kind of sprinkled different benefits and events that we think will kind of create the ultimate Notre Dame football fan experience.
So, that’ll include meet and greets with players, that’ll include memorabilia giveaways, game on memorabilia, sign memorabilia, pre-game like tailgate parties for members only, Discord, you know, members-only Discord channels, then also film review, which we’re really excited about doing with some former players, former coaches that’ll happen during the season.
Jimmy: That sounds great. I’m looking forward to seeing your roadmap tomorrow. Why is this needed, though? Why did you go down this road of creating this NFT collection? What is the purpose of it? Is it for recruiting? Is it just to get the current players paid a little bit more?
I mean, tell me about why you did this.
Mick: Yeah. I think the one big thing that stuck out to me about college athletes, in general, is just the tremendous amount of value they’re creating for a place like the University of Notre Dame. And to us, we wanted to find a way… What we’ve been doing since July 1st, 2021 was finding ways to build technology that helped athletes monetize.
And in a lot of cases in history, athletes haven’t been able to monetize what I would call their fair share based on the amount of contributions they make. And I think that NFTs stuck out to us as a way to create, you know, we wanted to create a mechanism where they could monetize without spending an inordinate amount of time managing the community or creating content.
We wanted to create something that people, you know, that a community could build around and that players could put their stamp of approval on, but wouldn’t necessarily become a full-time job because as a former college athlete, I was aware of the fact that they don’t have enough time in their day to go to school, play football, and to have a full-time job. And so we felt like NFTs were a great piece of technology that catered super well to a community would help them monetize and had the scale that, you know, was meaningful to create a difference in their life.
So, the money that they make from the Irish Players Club they can use to fly their parents to away games or even fly them to home games to get them hotels on home and away games. And that’s what NIL is really all about is making it so the players who are giving so much to the university are able to, you know, have their loved ones there supporting them when they’re playing and, you know, being able to support their family back home.
Jimmy: Yeah, because, unfortunately, and correct me if I’m wrong, I believe, you know, getting the university to foot the bill for, you know, flying in the parents would be an impermissible benefit, but this kind of allows a way around that. I know Andy wants to ask you about, you know, your roadmap for this collection and maybe your future plans as well.
But before I let him get to that, I’m curious about what you guys are doing with secondary sale royalties, you know. NFT collections can charge or NFT creators, I should say, can charge or set a royalty amount that they receive on every subsequent secondary market sale into perpetuity. Do you know what percentage you guys are going to charge?
And how is that going to get funneled to the players who have signed up?
Mick: Yeah. So, that’ll be kind of all part of their agreement. And so each month the players will be distributed 75% of the profits from the collection and it’ll be distributed evenly amongst all the players that are part of the Irish Players Club. And so that will happen in March, at the end of March from all the mints, but also from the secondary sales like you’re talking about.
And we’re still finalizing the percent, but it’ll be somewhere between 5% and 7.5%. And I think that’ll be awesome for them to have that, you know, passive income that they can keep earning outside of the original sale. And so when players that come in the fall can, you know, join the Irish Players Club and, you know, they can continue to earn that income from people that are trading back and forth.
We hope, obviously, that the price goes up because then there will be more money that players can earn in the coming months, which is, you know, why we’re trying to build an awesome roadmap and make sure that the NFTs and the community has to staying power.
Andy: So, Mick, I know the roadmap is being released tomorrow and you have some big announcements tomorrow. But I wondered if you could give our viewers a little bit of a sneak preview or at least, you know, tell us, like, the type of things that will be on the roadmap that we can expect?
Mick: Yeah. So, we kind of took a blended approach where we’re going to split it into like a more traditional roadmap. We’re also going to create minting rewards. And I think as an NFT project that is kind of bridging this gap between sports and kind of the crypto world, the NFT space, we wanted to create some rewards that were really familiar to people that have never bought an NFT before.
So, for people who are going to buy, you know, five-plus NFTs, we’re going to try to create rewards that people can think of as something that they would go out of their way to get whether or not they were in the NFT space. So, the minting rewards will be really exciting. We’re going to even include some signed memorabilia inside of that. So, certain players will be signing memorabilia that you can earn from minting a certain amount of NFTs to kind of reward those who are, you know, making a bigger investment into the players themselves.
And then on the roadmap, I think the thing that we’re most excited about is creating around games both spring and fall. We’re going to try to create in-person events that involve players after games conclude, and then in between those, we’re going to try to create kind of Q&A-type situations where dialogue from player to fan really doesn’t happen much.
Most of the time, it’s going player to beat right at a fan. And I think players’ brands could benefit so much from being able to talk to the fans themselves. And so in order to make sure that there’s some amount of control and it’s not people just trolling the players, I think, kind of gating those conversations to those in the Irish Players Club helps protect the players from dealing with people who don’t necessarily care about them or the team.
And so it can be a really awesome opportunity for us to create meaningful conversation between their biggest supporters and the players.
Andy: So, having a floor price means that we don’t have the angry crank who’s always calling into South Bend sports radio. At least that guy’s going to have to pony up the floor price to get any access, right?
Mick: At least the players will know that even though they’re upset at that moment, at one point they did support them and I think that will make everyone feel a little bit better.
Andy: Skin in the game. Yeah, no, absolutely. And so I wanted to ask, you know, given that you’ve had so many players for, you know, this current roster of players sign up for the IPC, is this just for the upcoming season or, like, is this…is ownership of an NFT in the Irish Players Club is it going to give an owner benefits beyond the season or will there be like a new minting for every season?
Or, like, how is that all going to work going forward or do you not know yet?
Mick: Yeah. We’re looking at a few different options. We’re definitely…there’s zero chance that this NFT won’t have any added benefit over multiple years. So, we’re going to make sure that it’s not…this isn’t like a one-year expiration date, but we are looking at different ways that we can, you know, we want to include more fans because we believe the NFT space is going to grow a ton.
There are millions of Notre Dame fans out in the world. And so we want to make sure that as the fan base is growing and as people who are willing to step into the NFT space, like, when we tweet right now, a lot of people are, immediate reaction is that NFTs are a scam, which, you know, I think, I’m not upset at those people, I think it’s just a knowledge gap.
There’s a knowledge gap that has to be bridged and there’s a lack of exposure that makes people feel that way. And so I think we’re going to make sure that as the seasons go on that we come up with creative ways to allow more and more fans to support the players because, you know, you want to balance the scarcity and kind of your original people who bought in. You don’t want to just print thousands and thousands of more passes, but you also want players to keep getting paid and to keep monetizing and, therefore, kind of you want to create a balancing act, and a lot of that will be community-driven, kind of understanding how fans feel about the Irish Players Club and how it can improve in the future.
Andy: Right. Yeah. I mean, I was thinking about the financial aspect of, you know, the high proportion of revenue share with the players, which is great. But, you know, if they’re all minted on March 1st of this year, then there’s a conundrum, you know, if it’s going to support players in future years rosters. It sounds like that’s an open question and, you know, you’re looking at a lot of different options?
Mick: Yeah. There’s definitely a lot we can do with, you know. This is a leprechaun-based collection, and so none of the players’ actual name, image, and likeness are used. We’re not creating ones that look like Logan Diggs, or Drew Pyne, or Tyler Buchner. And we made that decision pretty early on, but I think it also gives us a lot of potential down the road to look into, you know, working with players one-on-one and using their own name, image, and likeness in the future.
Andy: And, I see, that’s really appealing, the idea that you could have almost like an NFT, almost like a baseball card or sports card that, you know, is a representation of a player, but probably a little bit more rare than most baseball cards or football cards are so you know that scarcity component. So, that’s a really interesting idea. But I also wanted to ask, you know, is this idea or the startup, this company, is this going to be limited to the University of Notre Dame or do you have plans to roll this out to other schools and universities?
Mick: Yeah. We’re definitely creating with expansion in mind, we want to… Our whole goal from the beginning is being able to help college athletes and using technology to do that. And I think what we’re doing should be scalable to other universities, but we have a lot of confidence coming from Notre Dame, we felt like this is something that we wanted to get right and that we could get right.
And so that’s kind of where we’re starting our journey, but I definitely think if it’s something that we can help students at other universities with, that’d be really interesting. And also being able to compare the different players clubs and see how those floor prices compare, etc., could be, you know, really exciting as well.
Jimmy: I know a lot of universities last year or two have been taking different directions with different NIL strategies. Are there currently any universities other than Notre Dame through the Irish Players Club doing exactly what you’re doing right now with an NFT collection?
Mick: Yeah. I’ve seen there’s a few that are popping up at least, you know, that kind of…all of them have a different ethos. I think our ethos is pretty unique, giving 75% of the profits to players and evenly distributing them amongst players on the team. We’re definitely the only one I’ve seen that’s doing that. But I think there are people, maybe Kentucky Basketball, a few of the bigger programs that are starting to make kind of initial partnerships.
But as far as going to market, I haven’t really seen many collections that have hit the market quite yet, but I think it’s an area that makes a lot of sense, but there’s just, you know, you really have to get the players on board for it to make sense because otherwise, you’re working with the universities and in a lot of states you can’t work with both at the same time.
Jimmy: Yeah, I know. It does. It does. And I recognize you guys are on the leading edge of this and there’s still a lot that needs to be deciphered. Are you partnered officially with the athletics department at Notre Dame? And I’m curious also what kind of feedback you’ve gotten from the administration there and from the coaching staff regarding this project.
Mick: Yeah. So, we’re not officially partnered with the University. We work just directly with the players, but I think we’ve seen positive feedback overall from, you know, the people at the university that, you know, Nick has spoken with and that I’ve spoken with. So, that’s good.
Jimmy: And, you know, ultimately, thinking, in particular, just about this 2022 Irish Players Club, leprechaun NFT collection, what would success look like for you in regards to this project? What do you want to see happen with this?
Mick: Our biggest goal is to create an experience that fans are, you know, beyond proud of their investment that they made into these players. And so creating a medium where fans feel like, “This has been an incredible experience. I’m so glad that I joined the players club,” and where players can turn and be like, “That was a way for me to earn money and I feel like I have a better view of our fans and I’m more thankful for our fans coming out of that.”
Because I think there is that gap where players understand how much fans support them, but most of the monetary, you know, contributions that fans make end up going to tickets and other things that don’t actually directly support the players. And so our goal for the players club is to turn that a little bit and create a way for those fans that are already, you know, spending money and spending time and spending emotional energy supporting this team to be able to do it in a more direct way with the players and for the players to be…and I just know how much players will appreciate that.
And to hopefully be able to see that come together is what we’re most excited about.
Jimmy: And do you also see this as a crucial recruiting tool going forward also?
Mick: Yeah. I think that there’s a lot of, you know, in this space, there’s definitely a lot of promises being made in the NIL space in terms of our alumni base will do this, our alumni base will do that. And I think the players club is a very transparent way for fans to understand that Notre Dame sold X number of NFTs.
They sold 5000 NFTs within 48 hours and the players all split that evenly. And so it’s a way to kind of show the nation how much Notre Dame fans really do care about the players and their success and their well-being which is pretty cool.
Jimmy: And it’s provable too, right? You have the record on the blockchain.
Mick: Yeah, exactly.
Jimmy: You’re able to take a look at it. So it’s all in the open there, which I think is the benefit of doing this through an NFT collection as opposed to just maybe a more traditional booster club or something like that. Well, I want to…
Andy: Jimmy, the only thing, though, that blockchain is immutable, though, so, you could have a bunch of Michigan fans speculating on these NFT. That’s the downside of the blockchain, right?
Jimmy: I suppose so, Andy. I suppose so. Well, don’t derail the conversation too much. I want to get to the good stuff here. I want to tell our viewers where they can go to learn more about Irish Players Club. I know, Mick, correct me if I’m wrong, but mint date on March 1st, I think you’re going to be selling directly through Irish Players Club. And if I understand correctly, you know, one of the biggest hurdles to getting in in NFT collection for somebody who’s not already big into crypto, maybe doesn’t already have a crypto wallet, there’s a bit of a learning curve or a hurdle you have to get past to set up a MetaMask wallet or get on OpenSea or, you know, get a particular type of cryptocurrency, but you’ve kind of eliminated all that with your tech stack.
You’re allowing fans to buy directly in, in the initial mint at least with just a simple credit or debit card. Can you tell us a little more about that and how they can access the initial March 1st mint?
Mick: Yeah, definitely. So, the initial sale will occur on irishplayersclub.com. And I think our team sat at a table and thought about what were the challenges for us starting our own NFT journey. And almost every conversation started with the wallet and then connecting the wallet to where you were buying and then funding the wallet and getting through all the fees that were associated with funding the wallet.
And by the time we got all the money in the wallet and we are ready to make the purchase we had lost enough money from all of the fees that we couldn’t make the purchase anymore. And so we set out to simplify the process as much as possible, understanding that we were bringing a lot of people, Notre Dame fans, into a space where it might be their first time buying an NFT, a digital collectible, maybe their first one.
And so from a tech standpoint, we invest a lot of time and a lot of resources into building a flow on our website where you can come on our website, select how many NFTs you want to buy, create your wallet, mint those NFT…buy those NFTs with your credit or debit card. And by the time you have done all that you would have a wallet, you would have successfully charged your credit or debit card and you could open your wallet in an OpenSea and see your NFTs and start trading them on the secondary market if that’s what you’re ready to do.
And so that’s been…that was a process that took a lot of research, that took a lot of going back and forth, but now that you can go on there, you can connect an existing wallet, but if you don’t have one, which we assume a lot of people will not, you can create one using your email address or your phone number through Formatic and that makes the process really smooth.
And then you go right into the credit or debit card purchase and you’re able to make the purchase and smooth sailing from there.
Jimmy: That’s great. So, I want to talk just a little bit more about…because I think it’s interesting. I think our listeners think it’s interesting just that tech stacks. So, you’re using Formatic. I know credit card processing. I think you said before we hit Record you’re using Stripe. But are there any other parts that you’ve kind of stitched together here?
Mick: Most of the other stuff has been kind of done on our teams and kind of building out the tech ourselves with our developers, but those are kind of the two main parties that we’re using, Stripe and Formatic. We still have MetaMask and all those other partners on there and minting on Polygon helps reduce the fees and increase the profitability for the players.
So, that’s kind of a decision we made. And still being able to trade on OpenSea using Ethereum was attractive to us because I think most people who are trading NFTs, you know, have some form of Ethereum holdings in order to do.
Jimmy: That makes perfect sense. I like how you’ve simplified that customer user or user interface flow for them. The credit/debit card I think is beautiful for the initial mint and then, yeah, you can be able to trade and buy and sell on the secondary market at OpenSea after that. So, I think that just about wraps us up for today. Mick, I want to thank you for joining us today and giving us your insight into the world of NIL and NFTs, and giving us much more to chew on with this Irish Players Club collection for our viewers and listeners out there today.
For more information on today’s episode, you can check out our show notes at cryptogic.com/podcast. And please do check out Irish Players Club. You can sign up for early access and get an invitation to the Discord channel at…or the Discord server, I should say, at irishplayersclub.com. Mick, thanks for joining us.
And Andy, thanks for helping me out as always.
Andy: Thanks, Jimmy.
Mick: Appreciate it.