The tattered, child-sized AC Milan jersey from South Sudan was handled with blue latex gloves, placed delicately on a hanger and readied in just the lighting for the Lidar scanners.
Years earlier, the jersey had been on the back of a boy navigating floods in his home country. Danish photojournalist Jan Grarup captured an image of the shirt, then asked to swap the item for a brand new one. The kid agreed.
In this moment, the shirt was being digitised in 3D and turned into a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) by a company AC Milan hired called Fansea.
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An NFT is a unique digital collectible that is tracked on a blockchain to prove its one-of-a-kind authenticity.
The data underlying NFTs are bought and sold for very high prices, and can represent anything found online – including art, photos, match highlights, and in this case, a 3D rendering of the AC Milan jersey from Sudan that can be inspected up close and rotated.
On Friday, the club announced it would sell 75,817 versions of the digitised shirt for €45, with the proceeds going to Fondazione Milan, which is involved in assisting children in need around the world. The number of items on sale represents the capacity of San Siro.
AC Milan’s first foray into the NFT business - a booming industry in the football world - offers a look at the complicated process that turns real-world items into digital collectibles owned by thousands of fans.
So, what does it take to turn a physical object into something that can be inspected in 3D online as a work of art? Lidar and photogrammetry technology, as well as a splash of creativity.
“You have to be an engineer in order to do that,” Fansea founder Alexander Schlicher told GOAL. “Because you have to know how to set the light, how to set the dust level in the room, how to set the reflections in the room, how to use the scanner, and how to process the pictures that you produce. We always have to get the real object, and we put it in our studio.”
That level of effort, Fansea and AC Milan hope, will translate to interest from fans. For now, interest means money for charity. Later, in future endeavors, it could translate to revenue.
That’s what a number of other clubs and leagues, including in Italy, have seen as NFTs and cryptocurrency take hold.
While there are certainly detractors of NFTs as people question the value of collectibles stored online, Fansea believes the level of detail in projects such as this one elevate them to be important works.
“We definitely look at the objects we produce as as digital art pieces, 100%” Schlicher said. “People buy it because it embodies a story of a boy in Sudan who wore that exact jersey, suffered with that jersey kept it on his body while he was wet while he was sleeping, crying, you know.
“So you would know that you are actually buying a digital original of something that really happened. We make it as realistic as possible, because it embodies all that and it's more an art piece than anything else. It's not just a picture.”
BitMEX, a cryptocurrency exchange that is an official partner of AC Milan, has pledged to buy a large number of the NFTs to support AC Milan’s Fondazione charity missions. In all, more than €3 million could be raised.
“We are delighted to join this innovative project in collaboration with BitMEX and Fansea,” Fondazione Milan Secretary General Rocco Giorgianni told GOAL.
“Fondazione Milan gives many children the opportunity to access sports as a tool for inclusion. This project will allow many young people, who live in difficult conditions and might not necessarily have the opportunity to play sports, to get involved and be included in sports projects and develop their talent.”
The NFT will first be launched through the Fansea website and then on the Fansea app.
"This is AC Milan’s first NFT venture, a step that highlights the club’s innovative nature, combined with the desire to always drive positive change through the power of the AC Milan brand," wrote the club.