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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The "non-fungible token" hype sweeping the country has invigorated an appetite for the backbone of the phenomenon.

Driving the news: Investors are pouring big money into the phenomenon's infrastructure — betting it's here to stay.

Catch up quick: The eye-popping amounts spent to own a digital version of art — or newspaper covers, trading cards, memes, you name it — verified via blockchain, have been called a side effect of the broader market frenzy.

What they're saying: The infrastructure behind NFTs "has improved tremendously in recent years. ... Protocols, applications and creators can scale fast to meet demand," says Matt Beck, director of investment at venture capital firm Digital Currency Group.

  • "The interest in NFTs is likely to persist, even if prices were to cool off amid a wider financial downturn."

The company behind virtual trading card site NBA Top Shot said Tuesday it raised $305 million — the biggest ever funding round for an NFT-focused company. (Valuation: $2.6 billion).

  • NFT marketplace SuperRare said today it raised $9 million.
  • OpenSea, another platform to sell and buy NFTs, said last week it raised $23 million.

By the numbers: NFT-related startups raised $35 million last year, according to Pitchbook.

  • The funding rounds listed above (by no means exhaustive) are already more than 9 times that amount — and it's only March.

The bottom line: So long as NFTs are hot, its ecosystem will be too.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Mar 30, 2021 - Technology

NFTs give sports trading cards a digital upgrade

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

To date, much of the craze for NFTs — cryptographically unique tokens tied to creative works — has centered on the art world, where Christie's recently sold one NFT for a whopping $69 million. But NFTs have found a more down-to-earth niche via their use in the world of sports.

What's happening: A collection of investors, professional athletes and sports leagues are betting that the business of fans purchasing and trading NBA Top Shots — NFTs tied to key moments in past NBA games, which have already done hundreds of millions of dollars in business — will keep growing.

NFT mania hits "SNL"

Pete Davidson during the cryptocurrency sketch on "SNL," March 27. Photo: NBC

"Saturday Night Live" took a spin at explaining NFTs over the weekend through a music video parodying Eminem’s “Without Me.” 

Why it matters: Interest in NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, has been building since the start of the year — and peaked when digital artist Beeple sold one of his pieces at auction for $69 million.  

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.