Football and blockchain: It may not be the most obvious of pairings, but stakeholders in the football world are beginning to dip their toes in the water, when it comes to using blockchain technology in their commercial operations.
Readers of Sports Shorts may have fond memories of schooldays spent collecting trading cards or stickers depicting their favourite footballers. The perceived value of these trading cards fluctuated depending on the player, the scarcity of the card and, in some cases, whether it was a “shiny” or “foil” card. The inherently tradeable nature of the cards made playground entrepreneurs out of those skilled enough to judge the value of cards to their classmates as well as providing hours of fun. For many people, that love of collecting trading cards or stickers continued well into adulthood.
Nowadays, however, trading physical cards may seem a bit old hat. With that in mind, the Belgian First Division, which constitutes the top two tiers of Belgian football, is partnering with blockchain firm Sorare (article in French/Dutch) to offer crypto trading cards. The trading cards will depict players from all 24 clubs in Belgium’s top two divisions, with each card fluctuating in value based on the performance of the individual players. Users will be able to trade their cards via an online auction platform in the hopes of making a profit.
While Sorare appear to be in the process of building their platform, the partnership with the Belgian First Division certainly gives some credibility to the crypto-assets Sorare will sell. Unlike some other blockchain-based assets, such as bitcoin, Sorare’s crypto trading cards will be non-fungible tokens, making each one a unique asset. With that in mind, it’s possible that Sorare could ascribe certain characteristics to specific cards to make them more (or less) desirable for collectors. Sorare’s website also states that users can earn rewards for using the cards in-game. The details of this reward-mechanism are not yet clear but it is possible that rewards will accrue to the trading card being used, which would in turn contribute to the uniqueness of each card. In any event, Sorare will hope that the reward-mechanism promotes ongoing fan-engagement with its platform.
The Belgian First Division is not alone in seeking to use blockchain technology to open up new commercial revenue streams. Arsenal have recently entered into a deal with sports-technology firm Fantastec, which will allow fans of the club to find, collect and trade blockchain-authenticated collectibles via a mobile app called ‘Fantastec SWAP’. The app is particularly geared towards engaging Arsenal’s substantial international fan base, allowing supporters to purchase in-app team packs, which they can then trade with other fans across the globe.
It will be interesting to see if these nascent platforms find significant markets, although the essential idea will certainly resonate for those who feel a sense of nostalgia for the trading cards they collected in years gone by. Ultimately, the success or failure of these apps will be judged on the revenues they generate. Other stakeholders in the footballing world who may be considering whether or not to follow the lead of the Belgian First Division and Arsenal will pay close attention to fans’ reception of these novel platforms.