Soc­cer us­ing vir­tual ‘to­kens’ to en­gage fans, raise money

Orlando Sentinel - - Sports - By Tales Az­zoni

MADRID — Soc­cer clubs around Europe are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to vir­tual “fan to­kens” to raise money and en­hance fan en­gage­ment.

And the money can pile up fast.

The lat­est club to en­ter the world of blockchain, Span­ish cham­pion Barcelona, gen­er­ated $1.3 mil­lion in less than two hours on Mon­day.

The 600,000 Barcelona cryp­tocur­rency-based to­kens, which sold for $2.20 each, give fans ex­clu­sive vot­ing rights in club-spe­cific polls and can give them a chance to win re­wards that could in­clude watch­ing games as VIP guests or meet­ing with play­ers.

Block-chains are “blocks” of in­for­ma­tion or trans­ac­tions that are se­cure and trans­par­ent. They are stored on a net­work of com­put­ers around the world with­out the need of a cen­tral­ized party or author­ity to con­trol the data. The in­for­ma­tion can’t be al­tered, and the blocks are “chained” to­gether us­ing cryp­tog­ra­phy to form a pro­tected and pub­lic dig­i­tal ledger.

“Thirty years ago peo­ple thought that this in­ter­net thing was just about send­ing email, but to­day thanks to the in­ter­net you can do a mil­lion things,” said Alexan­dre Drey­fus, the CEO of the So­cios.com plat­form where fans can buy to­kens and vote on club sur­veys. “And it’s a bit the same with blockchain. We still don’t know how to use the tech­nol­ogy to in­no­vate and do some­thing that not nec­es­sar­ily ex­isted be­fore.”

Barcelona joined Paris Saint-Ger­main, Ju­ven­tus, Roma, Atletico Madrid and oth­ers us­ing blockchain.

To­ken buy­ers can also make money in re­turn by trad­ing the dig­i­tal as­sets at a price de­ter­mined by the mar­ket’s sup­ply and de­mand, and ul­ti­mately by the team’s per­for­mances and ac­tions.

A team sign­ing Ney­mar, for in­stance, could see the price of its to­kens go up. A club fac­ing rel­e­ga­tion could see the price of its vir­tual as­set go down.

An­other batch of Barcelona to­kens was put on sale on Wed­nes­day, with the price ris­ing 200% in the first five min­utes of trad­ing, So­cios.com said. The trad­ing vol­ume hit $1 mil­lion in the first six min­utes.

Own­ers can sell and trade their to­kens us­ing Chiliz, one of the many cryp­tocur­ren­cies based on blockchain tech­nol­ogy. The trad­ing is done on Chiliz.net.

For now, most clubs are high­light­ing “fan en­gage­ment” as the main ad­van­tage of their blockchain-based fan to­kens.

“For the big­gest clubs in the world, 99.9% of sports fans are not ac­tu­ally in the sta­di­ums, or even in the same city or coun­try of the club that they are sup­port­ing,” Drey­fus told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“There is a lack of en­gage­ment and mon­e­ti­za­tion to­wards this global fan base,” he added. “All these fans have no sig­nif­i­cant way to have a voice and have an in­flu­ence. By own­ing one of these fan to­kens, sud­denly you are be­ing rec­og­nized, and more im­por­tantly, you have a voice and a right to vote on a de­ci­sion that the club is ask­ing you.”

Barcelona said the fan to­kens are part of the club’s world-wide ex­pan­sion strat­egy as it looks for new dig­i­tal chan­nels and for­mats to gen­er­ate greater en­gage­ment with its in­ter­na­tional fan base. They have been in­cor­po­rated as the club tries to de­velop “new streams for the gen­er­a­tion of re­sources” and to be­come a “bench­mark both on and off the field.”

The first sur­vey in which Barcelona to­ken own­ers can vote on is re­lated to the art­work of a mu­ral that will dec­o­rate the dress­ing room at the Camp Nou.

Ju­ven­tus was the first club to launch its fan to­kens about six months ago, with its sup­port­ers choos­ing the cel­e­bra­tion song that is now played when the team scores a goal.

The first PSG poll in Fe­bru­ary al­lowed fans to choose an in­spi­ra­tional mes­sage to go on the cap­tain’s arm­band, and Galatasara­y’s sup­port­ers picked the song played when the team en­ters the field. Roma fans voted on the name of a field at the club’s train­ing cen­ter, and Atlético Madrid’s sup­port­ers chose player Ál­varo Mo­rata to give ex­clu­sive in­sight into the club’s daily life.

The to­kens be­came a more sig­nif­i­cant en­gage­ment tool dur­ing the coron­avirus pan­demic. PSG play­ers Edi­son Ca­vani and Thi­ago Silva sent per­sonal mes­sages to fans, and Galatasara­y to­ken own­ers gained life­sized card­board pho­tos of them­selves in the team’s sta­dium.

“The pan­demic forced the clubs to look at the other 99% of fans that can gen­er­ate rev­enue,” Drey­fus said. “It forced them to re­con­sider and to try to mon­e­tize their global fan base.”

Other blockchain-based ac­tions mak­ing their way into soc­cer in­clude of­fi­cially li­censed dig­i­tal cards of play­ers, which can be used in vir­tual fan­tasy games. Plat­form So­rare has deals with sev­eral clubs and leagues, in­clud­ing the Se­rie A. It said it has more than 1,800 of­fi­cially li­censed soc­cer play­ers on the plat­form, with 3,000 ac­tive users who gen­er­ated about $200,000 in sales in May.

Por­tuguese club Ben­fica last year was a pi­o­neer in al­low­ing the use of cryp­tocur­ren­cies for the pur­chase of tick­ets and mer­chan­dis­ing. Some clubs also re­sorted to blockchain to track the au­then­tic­ity of some of their of­fi­cial prod­ucts. There were an­nounce­ments of clubs pos­si­bly us­ing cryp­tocur­ren­cies for salaries and other pay­ments, though noth­ing has ma­te­ri­al­ized so far.

LLUIS GENE/GETTY-AFP

Packed sta­di­ums like Barcelona’s Camp Nou, above in 2019, are nowhere to be found as Euro­pean soc­cer leagues re­sume with­out spec­ta­tors amid the coron­avirus pan­demic.

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