NFTs Are Conquering Soccer


NFTs Are Conquering Soccer

It all began with honest enough intentions. In 2017, before Beeple and the Bored Ape Yacht Club, back when the term NFT meant nothing to most people, French entrepreneur Nicolas Julia founded a company called Sorare. It’s a digital fantasy football game: You can buy cards representing real-world players, and pit them against one another in a variety of ways to win real-world cash—part fantasy sports, part Magic the Gathering, part FIFA Ultimate Team on the blockchain. The words non-fungible token appeared nowhere in Sorare’s promotional material. “I really consider this not a space or a market, but a technology,” says Julia. “My aim is to build the biggest entertainment company in the world of sports, and it just happens that NFTs are the right vehicle.”

Julia says he put Sorare on the blockchain because he wanted to give users ownership over their digital assets: the ability to trade them and sell them, but also to port them to other games if they wanted to. Others have used the blockchain to promise unprecedented access and money-can’t-buy experiences. Like, for example,, which launched in early 2018 and allows clubs to sell “fan tokens” to their supporters.

In exchange for buying in, they’re usually promised a greater say in how their team is run, although in practice this has often meant a vote on trivialities like what music the team runs out to, or which soft drinks are sold at halftime. In July, Crawley Town—an English club owned by a crypto-funded American consortium—signed midfielder Jayden Davis after fans and NFT holders voted that midfield was where they wanted to see the squad strengthened (a victory for decentralized democracy cheapened slightly by the fact the club also signed a defender and a forward at the same time anyway).

Because fan tokens are usually pegged to Bitcoin, their value has fluctuated wildly, and in the race for cash, clubs haven’t always done a good job of educating their supporters about the risks. Arsenal—whose fan token has dropped more than 80 percent in value since launch—was censured by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, which found that the club “trivialized investment in crypto-assets and took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity.”

Everything changed after the success of “profile picture projects” like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. “When you actually look at projects that have been launched across football, most of them are just these PFP images with nothing really behind them,” says Tim Mangnall, CEO of sports-focused NFT agency Capital Block, which has worked with Turkish clubs Galatasaray and Trabzonspor, as well as AS Monaco and Legia Warsaw. “Last year is when it really started to kick off,” he says. “It was just money being pumped in, and it was an unrealistic growth that we saw. Now we’re back to reality and a lot of these projects are cutting budgets and firing people.”

Initially, soccer-based NFT projects at least pretended to be offering something tangible: meet-and-greets with players, match tickets, access to exclusive content. As the market boomed, it became a world of vaporware and rug pulls. “When you bought trading cards or baseball cards back in the day, you didn’t know it was going to rise to the extent it did, but you bought it for the love of it,” says Mangnall. “Too many people now are trying to build their whole campaign around the speculative price, and obviously the world doesn’t really work like that.”

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