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Fans Only? Nostalgia on Top Shot

Two things typically always sell – sex and nostalgia.  They both have a lot in common actually.  You can pay for either, both trigger memories of the past and sometimes it's hit or miss.  NBA Top Shot has had several releases and different forms at cracking nostalgia, but overall it does not seem to be sticking or drawing in new eyes.  It’s 2am at the bar and the lights are coming on as we approach the NBA off-season, which inevitably will lead to our next nostalgia drops to take home with us. 

One of the primary problems is the nostalgia drops feel like a one night stand.  There is a term in product management called “launch and leave.”  That is what it feels like after we collect a nostalgia drop.  There is little to no reference around it all during the season, it is rarely, if ever, re-visited and the moments themselves have little utility.  Like it or not, the platform is being driven on utility more so than true collecting at the moment.  In the world of Fast Break, leaderboards and rookies leading the way; there appears to be little room for the nostalgia moments to shine.  I can’t play my Vince Carter moments (unless he comes out of retirement) in Fast Break, which is the case for the large bulk of the players in the sets.  There are not archive or Run it Back leaderboards really during the year after the drops and they are rarely mixed into the scene of things.

I also think we run into some challenges of an age gap in target demographic.  Nostalgia typically requires some level of age / time.  Within Top Shot there quite honestly is not a ton of old money collectors pumping into a new bag of digital moments right now.  The bulk of older collectors already have a decent physical cardboard bag and are hesitant to changeover.  The nostalgia is targeting the older audiences who largely aren’t the ones coming on board as new users to Top Shot.  A lot of the younger users on the platform don’t have the deep ties to the moments coming out in Archive or Run It Back sets.  Of course this isn’t 100% true across the board, but meant more as a generality.  Let’s look at the 86-87 Archive and Run it Back sets.  The Run it Back set is holding up okay, all things considered, but it also significantly lower in mint count.  That is probably just about the right mint size for nostalgia to hit the older collector base who would be tied to interest in that set.  The Archives set there is absolutely brutal in collation, mint count and isn’t going to pull in new users or drive existing users to really want to collect the full set of common players they have in a shoe box from 91 Skybox.  Yes no matter what  collection, Bird, Magic and the true legends are going to draw interest and sell, but Derek Harper maybe not as much.

I’ll quickly touch on over minting, because I don’t want you to read too much obvious stuff here, but we all know we are way over minted and do not have enough burn challenges or interest to right the ship.  We had 2 drops within a few months last summer and it yielded over 100 new Archive moments, including 2 Nene moments on 2 different teams.  I can tell you from my time in the Wizards Discord, no one was clamoring for a Nene Archive moment.  We were dropped 10,000 new Nene moments, which is about the equivalent of the worst sexual experience of your life.  The nostalgia factor is being watered down with some marginal players and in turn marginal plays.  It is losing that special feeling in general of Top Shot digital nostalgia when we get all of that.  Archives can exist at lower mints, feel special and drive nostalgia to collectors, but more on that later.

Let’s talk about what’s worked recently.  I thought the Run it Back: Origins and Legacies series were incredibly well executed and is the right nostalgia type target.  We had a great collection of big names of today in the NBA at low mint count (/399) and a full set, with rewards being 25 moments, which doesn’t feel too massive.  Add the rookie year badge on this along with the rookie year footage and this was an Instagram model of a drop.  Legacies was done equally as well with incredible moments, the low mint count /75 and a nice sleeper move to include dunk contest footage of Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine.  To me this is the sweet spot of nostalgia Top Shot needs to try to turn to right now until we get more collectors and old money on the platform.  Some sort of not-too-old type nostalgia that hits just the edge of being memorable / nostalgia.  Need more proof?  Check out the Legendary All-Star classics set that is holding up really well 2 seasons later, that is within about 20 years.

This brings me to the what would I do if I could tell Top Shot to improve nostalgia section.  We absolutely, 100%, without a doubt need to bring back nostalgia tiers during All-Star Weekend.  These are some of the biggest memories in the history of the NBA and is also a peak activity period of excitement and people engaging with the platform.  I’d argue you could even put a common set out here with some of the lesser name players each year, but have had such memorable moments; the moment actually outweighs the player name.  It also breaks up the long break between nostalgia drops and would give attention / opportunity to bring back some utility to nostalgia moments during the season.  The history of basketball is woven all throughout the season.

A few other quick hitter suggestions would be to scrap going to a single season for Archives and turn to a focus on building out the player history of the individual teams.  I’ll use my Wizards for an example. I would much rather see the history of the Wizards built out with the impactful guys over the decades and some cult icons like Calbert Cheaney, Chris Webber and Gilbert Arenas (despite his current awful podcast takes) as opposed to guys like Nene and Jeff Malone.  Don’t force yourself into a box for players to meet a year criteria. Tell mini-stories, stories across each team and build out the team history on Top Shot.  That will build the fandom deeper as opposed to some of these random selections.  Along the same lines is why not let the Top Shot team communities vote to bring the players into the Archive sets?  Top Shot can still drive the stories they want to tell with Run it Back, but make Archives the communities’ set.  Let us help shape the story of the history of our team on Top Shot.  It drives engagement, brings out players the true collectors in the team communities want and we tell stories collectively. A last off the wall idea would be to blend Fresh Threads with Run it Back.  Run it Back / nostalgia sets drop in the off-season, which is the busy time of year for players changing teams. How about a Fresh Threads style Run it Back series where we get players who changed teams for a brief period (or significant period either way)?  Something like Paul Pierce on the Wizards, Shaq on the Suns, Allen Iverson on the Nuggets.  Spare me the team set blocker stuff and look at it from the fun that kind of series could bring to collecting.

At the end of the day, we just need nostalgia to feel special and fun again, just like the moments themselves.  It is bound to connect and the Run it Back: Origins and Legacies shows it is very doable when done right.  So this month save a few bucks, skip an Only Fans subscription and pick up a nostalgia moment for the collection. 

Until next time, tell more stories, watch more moments and we ride at dawn…

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