The online craze which got an ex-Canaries star in hot water with his fans

NCFC bored ape

The Bored Ape Football Club ape design tweeted by former NCFC captain Grant Holt - Credit: Twitter

Former Canaries skipper Grant Holt is amongst a growing number of ex and current footballers to announce they have signed up to Non Fungible Token companies. However, their promotion has led to some backlash amongst fans. Joel Adams looks at why?

Let’s start with the easy bit: who’s Grant Holt?

Mr Holt is a former captain of Norwich City. As a striker he scored 78 goals for the club between 2009 and 2013 and won its Player of the Season award three times in succession, including when the Canaries were promoted to the Premier League in 2011. He is the sixth-highest scorer in the club's history.

The club legend has more than 80,000 followers on Twitter and another 20,000 on Instagram.

What has he done?

On April 18 Mr Holt posted the following tweet: "Delighted to be part of the @BoredApe_FC give them a follow and see what we are doing and who else is getting created. #NFTCommunity #BOREDAPE #football #metaverse."

The tweet included this cartoon line drawing of an ape wearing an NCFC shirt and a captain’s armband.

Grant Holt's BAFC club

Grant Holt tweeted about his collaboration with Bored Ape on Monday - several replies on Twitter questioned whether he had copyright to use the NCFC logo which sure enough the club have asked him to remove - Credit: Twitter

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Okay… now onto the weird bit - what’s an NFT?

NFT stands for Non Fungible Token.

That doesn’t help.

Let’s break it down. NFTs don’t exist “in the real world”, they only exist digitally. This can be hard to get your head around - but think in terms of a more commonplace item you might spend money on but which only exists digitally: an ebook, a downloaded song, a piece of software, or a “skin” for your character in a computer game.

However unlike these things, NFTs are Non Fungible.

That means they are unique and cannot be replaced. Unlike an ebook which could be downloaded millions of times, a freshly-minted NFT is more like a signed first edition of a printed book: it’s unique - and therefore valuable.

Grant Holt scored in Wroxham's 3-1 win at Woodbridge Town. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Grant in his playing days, pre-NFTs - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

If you own a print of the Mona Lisa and you spill something on it, you can buy another. But there is only one original: and it’s owned by the French government and hanging on the wall of the Louvre. It is irreplaceable, and currently valued at more than $850 million.

How much are NFTs worth then?

Here’s where things get crazy.

Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, has sold an NFT of his first tweet for nearly three million dollars.  

And a piece by American graphic artist Mike Wilkelmann sold last year for $69.4million. 

(And yes, you can get an identical copy by googling the image, right-clicking, and pressing “Save Picture As..”, but that wouldn’t give you bragging rights over "ownership" of the NFT.)

Last year it's estimated that close to than $16bn was spent on NFTs worldwide. 

So what makes an NFT valuable?

The same things that give anything value: scarcity and demand.

NFTs are produced either as one-offs or small limited runs, so there aren’t many of them. And people have started wanting them - probably in anticipation of further increases in value.

Anything becomes valuable if people are willing to spend money on it, and in a volatile market where a product can leap in value, the amounts that people are willing to spend can become distorted.

During one famous speculative bubble, in 1637 in the Dutch Republic, “tulip mania” drove the price of a single flower bulb to as much as ten times the annual salary of a skilled worker. 

But the bottom soon dropped out of the market, and men who could have bought a house with the money they’d spent on flowers found they had nothing left but some tulip bulbs.

In the case of NFTs, no-one knows whether they will become the new standard in digital ownership, or sink without trace leaving investors with worthless JPEGs. The market is certainly already a lot quieter than it was in mid 2021, around the time these recent sales records were set.

Dr Apostolos Kourtis, associate professor of finance at UEA

Dr Apostolos Kourtis, associate professor of finance at UEA, warns that speculative investments in NFTs could lose all their value - Credit: UEA

Apostolos Kourtis, associate professor of finance at the University of East Anglia, said: "To answer why you would buy an NFT - think of why you would buy a painting.

"One reason would be to support the artist, and to support the art. You can’t do that by downloading a jpeg. 

"The other reason has to do with investment and speculations.

"You hope that your genuine NFT will increase in value over time in contrast to a copy.

"I understand why people are sceptical - I can think of many NFTs I’m surprised people buy. But at the same time, I can appreciate the investor-based reasons."

How is the value and ownership tracked?

This bit is also weird and has to do with a relatively new technology called the blockchain, but at the most basic level it’s pretty straightforward.

The blockchain records transactions. It is the tech behind decentralised digital currencies like Bitcoin.

Rather than your bank account keeping track of your money, and each transaction on your debit card flying from the store to your bank to confirm if you've got the funds, blockchain keeps all records of all transaction in one place, publicly, online.

One cryptocurrency, Ethereum, has capacity on its public ledger to hold a record that, for instance, an NFT was sold from Joe to Jane for half an Ethereum coin.

And that is is one reason NFTs have taken off: there is a perfectly reliable record of ownership and the thousands of independent computers (and their users)  which oversee the blockchain would know if someone tried to falsely claim ownership.

BAFC

The Bored Ape Football Club is a DAO - a decentralised autonomous organisation controlled by its members and computerised rules - which is minting its first NFTs. - Credit: witterT

I've heard it's bad for the environment?

Yes. Bitcoin and Ethereum between them consume enough energy to rank 12th on a worldwide list of countries' energy consumption, just behind France and the UK.

Dr Pete Howsen of Northumbria University told Science Focus: "Ethereum uses more energy than the Netherlands. Over 100 TWh per year.

"The blockchain has a carbon footprint larger than Singapore’s, around 50-60 million tonnes of CO2 per year, nearly twice as polluting as Europe’s biggest coal fired power plant.

“If you watched 20,000 hours of YouTube, you would generate less CO2 than if you bought or sold an NFT once. That single transaction would require the same amount of energy as your average UK household uses in two weeks.”

It's so energy intensive because a worldwide network of computers using vast amounts of processing energy are needed both to mine (create) the currency, and to confirm transactions on the blockchain.

So what is Grant selling?

Nothing yet. The graphic which Grant Holt shared on Twitter is a cartoon design of an ape wearing a Norwich shirt and a captain's armband.

(In actual fact the club have since told the designers to remove the club logo from the shirt over a copyright dispute, so the design looks set to change).

It is a version of a design by NFT creators the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC).

Their designs are created by computer and the brand has become the most valuable NFT "avatar" by market share, selling over $180m in one week of February alone and being promoted by footballing legends including former England captain John Terry.

Mr Holt is not working with BAYC but with offshoot the Bored Ape Football Club - although both he and Bored Ape refused to speak to the EDP for this article - which says it creates ape-style NFTs "for the masses".

John Terry tweet

John Terry tweeted his collaboration with Bored Ape NFTs in February - but NFTs he promoted have since plummeted in value - Credit: Twitter

It comes after John Terry's Ape Kids NFTs, which were publicly trading for an average price of £656 after launch on February 2, slumped to £65 by early March - meaning fans who bought NFTs their favourite player endorsed on social media potentially stand to lose significant sums of money.

Asked whether Norwich fans should get in quick or watch out for getting burned, Dr Kourtis told the EDP: "When a new technology comes along and a new market is created, it is not uncommon for the most uninformed - what we call retail, small investors - to be the ones who most feel the impact of a crash or the bubble bursting.

"If someone is interested in starting a speculative investment, a risky investment, in NFT, they must make sure they have a proper financial education around NFTs and blockchain.

"There is a very significant possibility they will lose all their money, all their investment.

“If you’re talking about a football fan putting everything they have on some NFT which represents a footballer they like, well, this is not a good idea.”

So why the backlash?

It's not yet known whether the city skipper's NFT will be on sale, but it would be fair to say that fans did not respond with an outpouring of goodwill to Holt's announcement. A couple of replies read "this is class" and "bloody love this" but the vast majority of the more than 50 reactions were negative.

One fan replied "You're so much better than this", another said "not you too Holty" while a third simply wrote: "This sucks bro".

One of Holt's followers said they would rather see him in an Ipswich shirt and several wondered whether the former star was hard up for cash.

Grant Holt Twitter reaction

Grant's fans on social media did not react well to the announcement - Credit: Twitter

There is a growing sense among football fans that NFTs are a get-rich-quick scheme for stars and owners, which risks leaving actual fans out of pocket.

John Terry has faced criticism over the fall in value of NFTs he marketed and other footballers who have changed their Twitter avatars to Apes in recent weeks have quietly switched them back following backlash from fans.

Now the Premier League looks set to get in on the action, following the success of the NBA's "top shots" NFTs, which package clips of great basketball moments and sell NFTs linked to those short video compositions.  (This despite the fact that, as with NFTs linked to digital artwork, those videos and clips are mainly available to view - if not "own" - online for free.)

But despite the gold rush, many fear that if - or more likely, when - the bubble bursts, millionaire footballers who have promoted NFTs will be okay, while hard-working fans who followed their heroes and believed the hype will lose more than they can afford.

Only time will tell.