When approaching clubs across Europe looking to launch NFTs, their main concern is money. “The number one thing is, ‘Oh, we want to make millions of pounds overnight,'” Mangnall says. “There’s a real problem in the industry because there’s poor education, and there’s a misunderstanding in the market of what an NFT is. It can be memberships, it can be rewards, it can be something as simple as a ticket, it’s not about those big earnings.
Everything is upside down. NFTs and blockchain are infrastructure, not investments. Buying an expensive digital asset because it’s an NFT is like rushing to buy your team’s new kit because you can pay by Visa or because it’s delivered by DHL. “I think a big misunderstanding has been to define NFTs as a space or a market or a category, and it’s not. It’s just a technology,” says Julia. “When you have booming technology like this attracts people who are here for the wrong reasons, who don’t think long term. It’s bad for the fans.
It’s utility that counts, and it’s something that has unfortunately been overlooked in the rush of speculation. “You don’t get that from football clubs because football clubs don’t realize the level of work that goes into it,” Mangnall says. “It’s a product, ultimately, that you’re selling to your fans. Treat your fans like fans. Don’t treat them like consumers.
Early blockchain-based sports projects like Sorare worked hard to abstract away the complexity of the crypto world: you could pay by credit card, without worrying about secure wallets and gas charges. Some of the more recent projects make little effort to do so, almost as if the only reason they exist is to attract the vast community of football fans into the crypto world, keep cash flowing, to prevent the bottom from falling.
Given the complexity of the crypto market – the extremely fluctuating cost of doing business on Ethereum, the risks of being scammed either by hackers or by the people who are actually selling you the NFT in the first place – you have to ask if it’s worth it. Ask founders of blockchain-based sports projects why the utility they offer couldn’t just be served with a member’s area on a website, accessible via email address and password, and the answers are predictable.
“Blockchain enables true ownership in a way that web2 platforms cannot,” says Jorge Urrutia del Pozo, head of football at Dapper Labs, which manages extremely successful partnerships with the NBA and has signed agreements with the Spanish Liga, the German Bundesliga and Italy. Serie A to launch digital collectibles. “It allows fans to trace and verify the authenticity and rarity of their digital collectibles, and unlock experiences that were previously unreachable in other environments.”
We might get there. There is a world where blockchain enables higher levels of “fan engagement” – where fans happily trade digital assets that unlock authentic experiences that bring them closer to their clubs. “There was a speculative phase. We feel like it’s more organic and healthy now,” says Michael Bouhanna, co-head of digital art sales at Sotheby’s, who helped launch the Barcelona NFT project, as well as that of Liverpool FC.