When he talks to clubs across Europe looking to launch NFTs, their primary concern is money. “The number one thing is, ‘Oh, we’ll make millions of pounds overnight,'” says Mangnall. “It’s a real problem in the industry because there’s miseducation and there’s a misunderstanding in the market about what an NFT is. It could be membership, it could be rewards, it could be something as simple as a ticket. It’s not about these large revenues.”
Everything is backwards. NFTs and the 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 with Visa, or because it’s delivered by DHL. “I think a big misconception has been to frame NFTs as a space, a market or a category, and it’s not. It’s just a technology,” says Julia. “When you have a booming technology like this, it attracts people who are here for the wrong reasons, who don’t think long term. It’s bad for the fans.”
It’s the utility that matters, and that’s something that has unfortunately been forgotten in the race to speculate. “You don’t get that from the football clubs because the football clubs don’t realize the level of work that goes into it,” Mangnall says. “It’s a product, at the end of the day, 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 complexities of the crypto world: You could pay by credit card, without worrying about secure wallets and gas fees. Some of the newer projects make little effort to do that – almost as if the only reason they exist is to draw the huge community of football fans into the crypto world, to keep liquidity flowing, to stop the bottom from falling out.
Given the complexity of the crypto market – the wildly fluctuating costs of doing business on Ethereum, the risk of being scammed either by hackers or by the people actually selling you NFT in the first place – you have to wonder if it’s worth the headache. Ask the founders of blockchain-based sports projects why the tool they offer couldn’t just be served with a member’s area on a website, accessible via an email address and password, and the answers are predictable.
“Blockchain enables real ownership in ways that the Web2 platforms cannot,” says Jorge Urrutia del Pozo, head of soccer at Dapper Labs, which runs highly successful partnerships with the NBA and has signed deals with Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A launches digital collectibles. “It enables fans to track and verify the authenticity and scarcity of their digital collectibles, and to unlock experiences previously unattainable in other environments.”
Maybe we’ll get there. It’s a world where blockchain enables greater levels of “fan engagement” – where supporters happily trade digital assets that unlock authentic experiences that bring them closer to their clubs. “It was a speculative phase. We feel 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 one for Liverpool FC.