Connect with us


Sports cards have gone virtual, and in a big way

Associated Press



NBA-Digital Trading Cards

Maybe the Luka Doncic rookie basketball card that recently sold at auction for a record $4.6 million was a bit rich for your blood. Perhaps you’d be interested in a more affordable alternative — say, a virtual card of the Dallas Mavericks forward currently listed for a mere $150,000?

Not long ago, there’s no way you’d plunk down even $1.50 for a digital image that could be copied for free. But sports trading cards have gone convincingly digital, complete with rare collector’s items and the adrenaline rush of opening a fresh pack — minus the stale, shattered plank of powdery bubblegum you might remember from childhood.

These digital cards, dubbed “moments,” appear on screen as spinning, floating digital cubes that each feature a video highlight of an NBA player. They sprang into existence just five months ago, after the Canadian tech startup Dapper Labs convinced the NBA that it could not only prevent cheap — well, free — knock-offs, it could help the NBA make a few bucks in the process.

Dapper announced Tuesday that it had secured $305 million in new private funding from a group that includes former NBA great Michael Jordan and more than a dozen current players. The company said the new round of funding will help it expand its NFT and blockchain products to other sports leagues and a wide range of businesses.

What makes all this possible is a clever use of the cryptocurrency technology called blockchain, which allows the creation of permanent certificates of ownership that can’t be copied or deleted. It’s the same technique that recently allowed the artist known as Beeple to sell a digital work for almost $70 million.

Most moments — typically ones in heavy circulation — cost around $20 and often below $10. Of course, the biggest transactions — a LeBron James dunk recently went for $210,000 — get the most attention. Despite some early tech hiccups, the NBA says it is “thrilled” with the response from fans, who bombard the Top Shot website every time new packs of cards drop.

Each such pack drop injects thousands of new cards into the market, offering buyers an affordable way to add to their collections. The cheapest packs have three “common” cards and cost $9. More expensive packs with more and rarer cards can cost almost $1000.

Fans halfway around the world are setting their alarms in the middle of the night just to get in line for a chance to buy a pack. Videos of the flashy pack openings are logging tens of thousands of views all over YouTube. Even NBA players are getting in on the action.

“I’m not going to lie, it makes me feel like I’m a kid again,” Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross said. “At lunch, at school trading NBA cards — it’s fun.”

Since the beta went live in October, Top Shot says it has registered more than 800,000 users and rung up nearly $500 million in sales. March sales should easily surpass February sales of $232 million, which was about five times January turnover.

“It’s happened really quickly,” said Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou. “We’re sort of scrambling to keep up.”

After a year of playing games to empty arenas amid the pandemic, the NBA is ecstatic about the frenzy. Dapper Labs, the NBA and its players share a 5% fee on peer-to-peer transactions; the league also gets a cut of the pack drop sales.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told The Associated Press: “I think we’re just scratching the surface on what the potential is for blockchain to completely transform the digital collectibles industry.”

Yes, he said “blockchain.”

Each Top Shot card comes with a non-fungible token, or NFT, that confirms an item’s ownership by recording the details on a decentralized digital ledger known as the blockchain. NFTs can be used to trace an object’s digital origin, allowing one to prove ownership. It also creates a somewhat artificial scarcity that can juice a product’s value.

Aaron Perzanowski, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and co-author of the book “The End of Ownership,” said the NFT craze is partly a response to consumers’ genuine desire to reclaim a sense of ownership in an increasingly digital, intangible economy.

“Granted, right now, that desire is expressing itself through a seemingly frivolous and exploitative trend that, to most of us, looks irrational,” Perzanowski said.

Gharegozlou insists that Top Shot won’t end up like Dapper’s previous project, CryptoKitties, a digital cat-breeding and trading game that saw virtual cats selling for six figures before crashing. The company said problems that plagued CryptoKitties — skyrocketing blockchain costs and the inability to control its digital inventory — aren’t an issue for Top Shot.

Dapper promotes Top Shot as both a fun hobby for collectors and an opportunity for investors. “It’s like stock market investing reimagined for fans,” according to one promotional email.

Just like anyone starting to invest in stocks, novice Top Shot investors would be wise to learn the vernacular, study the marketplace and listen to more experienced players. Because all minted cards and transactions are openly documented on the blockchain, a growing number of websites crunch that data for users to analyze before buying or selling. There are also free tutorials on the internet.

Cards are valued by several different factors, including some unique measures based on their serial numbers. Unsurprisingly, moments of the league’s best players tend to be more valuable. The rarer a moment is, the more expensive it’s likely to be. The lower the card number is in a series, the more it should fetch on the market. And if your ownership serial number happens to match the jersey number of the player featured? Ka-ching.

Dean Brostek, who runs a sports consultancy and data intelligence business in Melbourne, Australia, considers himself both a collector and investor. The 43-year-old’s interest in the NBA had waned until his teenage son picked up basketball a few years ago. Then he read about Top Shot and decided to give it a whirl.

After a few misses, some related to dealing with the 18-hour time difference in the wee hours, Brostek finally got his pack, opened it with his kids and posted the video online. “It was really cool,” he said. “They’ve done a really nice job of creating a bit of theater.”




Consumer confidence hitting record high, but with hangovers left from pandemic

TK Maloy



Consumer confidence

Global consumer confidence soared to record heights in the first quarter of 2021, according to The Conference Board: Global Consumer Confidence Survey, as vaccination campaigns broadened, travel restrictions loosened, and governments and central banks continued to provide robust economic stimulus.

These factors are contributing to various geographic regions returning to a “state of normalcy sooner” including increased spending across the spectrum, but some economic hangovers persist from the global pandemic crisis.

The Conference Board is a member-driven think tank that has delivered economic insights since 1916. It released this recent global consumer confidence survey on Wednesday. Their methodology for what is comparably a business cycle index is based on a point system where a figure above 100 is considered positive, or below 100 representing decline. This survey also employs opinion polling which is expressed as percentages.

“The lightening of consumer moods globally bodes well for spending throughout the remainder of the year as economies continue to emerge from the 2020 pandemic-induced economic downturn and work toward arresting the spread of the virus,” said Dana Peterson, Chief Economist of The Conference Board.

“Nonetheless, the global economic recovery – and, consequently, consumer sentiment – is likely to continue to vary notably from region to region. Economies with greater access to vaccines are likely to achieve herd immunity, and thus will return to a state of normalcy sooner,” Peterson added.

The survey found that overall global consumer confidence shot up from 98 in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 108 points in the first quarter of 2021. That figure exceeded the reading of 106 registered in pre-pandemic 2020 Q1. Reminder, a figure above 100 is considered positive and the 108-point score is the highest recorded since the survey began in 2005.

Confidence rose in 49 of 65 markets surveyed, as economic activity resumed, COVID-19 cases peaked in many economies, and vaccine development and distribution expanded.

The vaccines contributed to that revival, so individual economies’ level of access to them will greatly affect the timing of their recoveries and boosts in consumer confidence. (For 2020 Q4 indexes, results exclude China due to data collection constraints.)

Confidence still varied across regions: Latin America (up 13 points, from 86 to 99) and Europe (up 11 points, from 76 to 87) enjoyed the biggest gains in consumer confidence. But both regions started from low bases, and Europe remains the least confident region. North America, by contrast, slipped six points, from 116 to 110, while Africa and the Middle East dropped from 101 to 97.

Growing confidence in personal finances, especially, propelled the stronger global sentiment: Consumers were significantly more optimistic about their finances in Q1 2021, with the gap between positive and negative responses standing at +29 percentage points, up substantially from +15 percentage points in Q4 2020.

Of the three key drivers of global confidence, personal finances made the largest impact, although the other two drivers also trended upward: Sentiment about job prospects were up overall around the globe and spending intentions flipped from negative (-7 ppts) in Q4 2020 to positive (+6 ppts) in Q1 2021.

Consumers are gearing up for a return to normalcy: Consumers spent more on entertainment outside of the home, clothing, and vacations. Taken together, these trends indicate that consumers are increasingly looking forward to returning to normal activities at some point this year.

Given that consumption levels significantly contribute to growth in many mature economies, such activity in anticipation of greater freedom later on supports The Conference Board’s upwardly revised projection of 5 percent real GDP growth globally this year.

However, around the world, consumers also ramped up their protective savings: 57 percent of global consumers indicated that they are putting money into savings, an increase of 9 ppts from the previous quarter. Their efforts to economize primarily reflected savings on hospitality and entertainment services.

Consumers planned to eliminate annual vacations, delay upgrading technology, and cut meals away from home. They also switched to cheaper grocery brands and drove their cars less.

The scars of the recession lingered, with health and economic concerns still looming large.

The world is not quite buzzing yet.

A strong majority of consumers (64 percent) said that their market was still in recession during the first quarter of 2021. While that figure dropped sharply from the end of 2020 (down 17 percentage points, from 81 percent) recession concerns remained elevated.

Globally, only 41 percent of consumers expected that their economy would be out of recession in 12 months, virtually unchanged from the previous quarter.

Consumers’ worries about their own health (22 percent) and economic performance (20 percent) dominated their top concerns. This trend will likely hold through mid-2021 given the continued crisis, and the time it will take to arrest the coronavirus and establish herd immunity.

“With uncertainty around jobs and health prompting consumers to continue economizing, it seems clear that GDP returning to pre-pandemic levels will not in itself mark a return to the old normal,” said board chief economist Peterson. “Healing in labor markets may take longer, with greater potential for scarring among industries that are vulnerable to automation and digital transformation.”

Continue Reading


Unbound by geography, CFOs look to capitalize on global talent pool

Inside Telecom Staff



global talent pool

A large majority of CFOs around the world are planning to expand operations into new countries in 2021 to achieve their long-term growth strategies, according to a recent survey by CFO Research and Globalization Partners.

The survey also uncovered changing perceptions about hiring and remote work because of their pandemic experiences, with respondents saying they want to attract from the global talent pool that is unbound by the geographic restrictions of their company’s operating model.

The February 2021 survey of chief financial officers, chief executive officers and other senior finance executives also cites a common theme that they are prioritizing the need to build resiliency and although optimistic, disclose that their businesses are still stabilizing and in recovery.

Optimism towards organizational performance in 2021 varies across the regions. Asia-Pacific (APAC) CFOs are more optimistic about success in 2021 than their counterparts in the UK and North America. Since 65 percent of APAC respondents indicated that they expect to exceed goals and expectations in 2021, compared to 46 percent for UK and 47 percent for North America.

“The ongoing rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, investments flowing into the region, and momentum gained as companies accelerated their digital investments during the pandemic – all these are contributing to positive sentiments toward business in 2021,” said Charles Ferguson, General Manager, Asia Pacific, Globalization Partners. “With the ongoing shift in the global supply chain and a renewed focus of the US, UK and EU to grow alliances with APAC markets, there is an abundance of opportunity to expect from this region.”

CFOs’ global view within their hiring approaches

When asked to describe their hiring strategy over the next 12 to 18 months as, 48 percent of APAC respondents say they will attract new talent where they are based while 43 percent say they want to attract new talent that is unbounded by the geographic restrictions of their company’s operating model.

APAC CFOs have a high degree of interest in tapping into a more cost-effective, global talent pool—a concept favored by half of those surveyed –and capturing market share through global expansion, which is favored by 61 percent.

CFOs’ altered workforce management strategies

Seventy-four percent of the survey respondents in APAC anticipate operating remote and/or hybrid workforce models in the next 12 to 18 months.

Eighty-three percent of executives also say the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally altered the way they think about hiring and workforce management and 89 percent say it altered how they consider remote employees or the work-from-anywhere model.

In parallel, CFOs are deeming global expansion as a top priority in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Implementing a strategy for global expansion and presence” was deemed a top priority in the next 12 to 18 months for 52 percent of APAC executives, compared to 38 percent of the EMEA executives and 36 percent of the North American executives.

With that in mind, 55 percent of the APAC CFOs that are expecting to achieve their goals in 2021 are already engaging a global (Professional Employer Organization) PEO, while 25 percent plan to use a global PEO within one year to support their international business strategy and 17 percent plan to engage a global PEO within three years.

Continue Reading


Drivers wanted: Record demand at Uber as vaccinations rise

Associated Press



Drivers wanted Record demand at Uber as vaccinations rise

Uber is offering sign-up bonuses and other incentives for drivers as it faces record demand for rides and meal delivery.

The San Francisco ride-hailing company said Monday that total monthly bookings, including food delivery and passenger service, reached an all-time high in March.

In a government filing, the company said demand for ride-hailing, which plunged during coronavirus lockdowns last year, has recovered more quickly than expected as daily COVID-19 vaccinations exceed 3 million per day in the U.S.

Some people are still avoiding public transportation out of infection fears, potentially boosting demand for services like Uber and Lyft further.

Passenger bookings last month reached the highest level since last March, when spiking infection rates began to shut the country down. Bookings last month hit an annual run rate of $30 billion. Last year, Uber’s passenger business recorded $26.4 billion in gross bookings.

Food delivery, of course, has surged over the past year and in March Uber Eats deliveries hit an all-time high. With more regions opening restaurants to at least partial capacity, that could be a positive sign for Uber as it could signal that some habits acquired during the pandemic may stick.

Food delivery jumped 150% from last March to an annualized run rate of $52 billion, the company said.

Last week, Uber announced $250 million in sign-up bonuses and other perks to lure more drivers. Many drivers gave up last year when demand dried up, the company said. But demand now exceeds the supply of Uber drivers on call, the company said.

In another perk, Uber has partnered with Walgreens to make it easier for drivers to get vaccinated.

Driving professionally, however, may still be considered too risky by some. Last month, a woman was arrested on suspicion of pepper-spraying an Uber driver in San Francisco who was coughed at and insulted after he demanded a passenger wear a mask.

Drivers may still be holding out to see if Uber will sweeten pay and benefits. Uber was forced to classify its drivers in the United Kingdom as workers last month — not self-employed — after a Supreme Court ruling there.

The company said Monday it has begun a historical claims settlement for its U.K. drivers.

Shares of Uber Technologies Inc. rose nearly 5% to $60.40 Monday.


Continue Reading