A brief history of cryptocurrency in football – and how blockchain technology might shape our experience of the game in future
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency have reimagined finance and money as concepts.
Now more than ever, however, blockchain technology and, more specifically, NFTs and tokens are disrupting everything else. And that includes human culture.
NFTs especially have captivated millions of people around the world. This is because we, as humans, have an innate desire to collect and be part of a community.
It’s in our DNA as hunter gatherers. Whether it’s stones, marbles, Top Trumps in terms of collectibles, or tribes and villages in terms of communities, we’re now seeing a new paradigm of human behaviour – but digitally.
Sports, including football, are part of human culture. So although NFTs have so far been more successful in disrupting art and gaming, Topps selling Bundesliga NFTs, the Dapper Labs-backed SportsIcon NFT drop, and fantasy football game Sorare have shown that the sport is also going to be hugely impacted by this space.
Sorare offers a reimagining of the way that football fans engage with fantasy games. Fantasy football has been part of our internet lives for so long, but now there’s an opportunity to own players and be rewarded with more than bragging rights.
Finally there are ways, with NFTs as the vehicle, for fans, players and football to operate in the same digital space. This is a new paradigm for fan engagement, fantasy football and in-game ownership all rolled into one.
Topps, meanwhile, has created a digital version of the physical trading cards that the company is known for. Those digital Bundesliga collectibles have been relatively popular among football fans.
SportsIcon has gone a slightly different route. Its Lion Club NFT collection sold out in 15 hours, and the tokens do have a use case. The creators have partnered with sporting heroes such as Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo on NFTs that allow fans to be part of Q&As and immersive digital experiences with their idols.
Beyond NFTs, we’ve seen fan token platform Socios become very popular among clubs and fans. There is some scepticism and controversy around its offering, but there’s no doubt that Socios has helped engage global fans in a digital way.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made clubs realise that they have to start connecting beyond the matchday experience in numerous ways in order to maintain fan loyalty.
From an advertising and partnership perspective, we’ve seen Dogecoin sponsor Watford and Crypto.com partner with Serie A in a league-wide deal.
Crypto companies realise that this is the most popular sport in the world, and the demographic of their audiences and customer bases are extremely similar. From a marketing perspective, it makes a ton of sense.
How will cryptocurrency and blockchain technology affect football in the future?
Football is played in stadiums that are often at capacity. The engagement beyond that is through technology.
Crypto is going to have a large part to play in the way that fans are more digitally captivated by games during the 90 minutes, and, maybe more importantly, beyond that.
We now have the possibility to create digital artifacts via a blockchain that stand the test of time. Moments, goals and memories can now be immortalised on a blockchain to live forever.
I see ticketing experiences, for example, becoming NFT native. Imagine if you went to the 2005 Champions League final in which Liverpool came from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan. That ticket stub is important, has sentimental value and if you tried to sell it someone would likely buy it from you.
Now imagine that the ticket itself is an NFT. Something you own, and own in your digital wallet forever. How can clubs think about activating that moment and memory beyond the game?
In six months’ time, could you as the owner of that NFT be airdropped a token which grants you a free pint at Anfield? On the two-year anniversary of the game, could you be airdropped a token which gives you access to a token-gated digital Q&A with Steven Gerrard? The opportunities here alone are endless.
And that’s only thinking about the very thing we buy to be in the stadium. Taking that emotional experience and extrapolating it is something clubs will have to think long and hard about.
Further to this, I can’t see why the entire fantasy, gaming, collectible and media space is not going to be disrupted massively. And football is going to be at the centre of that.
Imagine a situation where the Declan Rice card that you own on Sorare also has the capability to be used in Fantasy Premier League and to play on Fifa the video game’s NFT offering in five years’ time – and grants you yearly access to a West Ham-specific physical-digital hybrid event.
The opportunities here are boundless. Every industry you can imagine, including football, is going to be disrupted by this nascent technology. If you haven’t already thought about how your business model works in the new world – in or out of football – you should start doing so.
Petrit Berisha was recently announced as the newly created Head of Cryptomedia at fan-first football media company COPA90.