Football supporters groups have criticised the Premier League for entering the NFT market in a £120m deal with fantasy gaming and digital collectibles platform Sorare.
After more than a year of deliberations, English football’s top division today announced a four-year contract with the French company, which is backed by sports stars including Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Serena Williams.
It allows Sorare to sell digital trading cards of Premier League players, which can be used in online fantasy football games, for thousands of pounds. They can fetch even more in secondary markets, with some changing hands for more than £500,000.
“Supporters have repeatedly raised concerns about the proliferation of crypto partnerships in the game and the announcement from the Premier League’s is no exception,” a spokesperson for the Football Supporters Association told City A.M.
“Cryptoassets are currently under-regulated and lack protection for the consumer buying them. Clubs, leagues and players promoting such schemes have frequently not undertaken the necessary due diligence, putting their own fans at financial risk.
“We will continue to work with the Government, Parliament and other interested parties to deliver greater protections for football supporters.”
The Premier League declined to comment on the criticism. Sources close to the organisation said Sorare’s gamified element differentiated it from many other NFTs and that the regulation of the industry was a matter for government.
Sorare launched its Premier League cards on Monday, with 1,111 available at auction for each player in the Premier League. The cheapest have a reserve price of £1, rising to £1,000 for unique cards, but typically fetch more.
The company, which also has licences with Spain’s LaLiga, NBA basketball and Major League Baseball, also offers a free version of its fantasy game, which it enhanced after consulting with regulators in France.
The UK Gambling Commission announced in 2021 that it had begun enquiries into the platform “to establish whether Sorare.com requires an operating licence”. The commission told City A.M. last week that there were “no further updates”.
Sorare co-founder and CEO Nicolas Julia said: “The UK has asked questions. We have been engaging with them for a long period of time. We have a good dialogue with them that is ongoing but no major developments.”
The Premier League has the option to take equity in Sorare as well as an estimated £30m in annual fees as part of the deal. It can still sell a separate licence for NFTs of video clips.
“The way that supporters follow their favourite teams and players is evolving and the Premier League is always looking for ways to engage with fans,” said its chief executive Richard Masters.
“Sorare’s digital cards and innovative online game represent a new way for them to feel closer to the Premier League whether they are watching in the stadium or from around the world.
“We believe that Sorare are the ideal partner for the Premier League and we look forward to working closely together.”