Digital assets are slowly becoming a regular part of everyday life.
Whether that is a payment method online to a video game skin you can buy and sell, more and more people are finding digital assets beneficial. For every news story about an expensive piece of NFT artwork, there’s a person who spends far less on their life within the metaverse. For every person like Warren Buffett on television speaking about cryptocurrency being a fad, someone else is ready to explain how it has changed their lives.
The social impact of such assets is debatable, as there are two very strong arguments both for and against digital assets. However, if you take something like fan tokens, a largely positive element of crypto-backed assets, it is easier to ascertain the longer-term social impact they could have on society, particularly sports. Could they have a significant impact on the NFL?
A fan token is a digital asset backed by crypto with intrinsic value. The token shares branding with a popular sports team, and as well as showing loyalty to that team, it offers certain perks, much like an online membership scheme. Those offered by provider Socios deliver benefits that can range from taking part in a vote to deciding club matters to being given special online content.
For instance, in soccer, the fans that bought a Arsenal fan token got to vote on who should start their first pre-season friendly, whilst Turkish side Trabzonspor allowed fans to choose their team bus design. The key difference between this and a Patreon project is the token has a resale value as well as tangible benefits. If a sports supporter tires of being a token holder, they can sell it for whatever the value is at the time. It shares characteristics with both cryptocurrency and an NFT without being either.
The big question here is this; will they have a social impact here in the NFL? To ascertain their potential, we first must look across the Atlantic to Europe, where they were first launched. There are success stories from the teams they represent: AC Milan has made $6m from their fan token release, whilst both Paris St Germain and Manchester City have been high-profile backers. These soccer teams are not short of money, but some smaller clubs, such as Turkish side Trabzonspor, also made decent sums. Their fan token release raised $650,000 in less than five minutes.
Socios are pushing into the US market, and their model does seem to be a better fit for the world of franchise sports. In England, for example, the distance between the most northern team (Newcastle United) and the most southern (Southampton) is 320 miles. If you were a Southampton fan living in Newcastle, there would be 18 other teams closer; you could likely attend a match if you desired and feel connected to your club. In the NFL, one of the sports fan tokens are expected to break into, the distance between the most northern (Seattle Sounders) and most southern (Miami Dolphins) is 3294 miles. That means a likely disconnection for fans, with a difficulty in buying NFL game tickets and attending stadiums, certainly more so than in Europe, which fan tokens can help alleviate.
Imagine also the landscape of US sports, particularly the franchise model, compared to Europe. Barcelona are one of soccer’s biggest names, and they will always play in Barcelona; they will never become ‘London Barcelona’, for instance. Here in the US, we have seen the Raiders go from Oakland to Las Vegas, which may leave fans in one city no longer following the team. Owners of an Oakland Raiders fan token, had they existed at the time, could sell it on easily when their team leaves.
There’s also the social impact further afield; there are plenty of NFL fans worldwide who will never get to a game, nor be in a city where there is a big game, but a fan token makes them feel a part of something. That is the essence of supporting any team: soccer, football, basketball or ice hockey; belonging. Whether watching on TV, reading results on the internet or following a game in the stadium, there is a sense of being a part of something. With fan tokens, that is realized on a deeper level. When the Trabzonspor team bus pulls into Istanbul for their game against Galatasaray next season, fan token owners will know they helped decide the design, even if they live in Timbuktu.
The long-term social impact of fan tokens could be more noticeable. Perhaps instead of digital ownership, they could form part of legitimate fan ownership. They might offer more intimate lines of communication with players and management, perhaps via Discord channels. They could be the modern-day equivalent of the eighties fan clubs, where people paid memberships to get items through the post.
One thing is for sure; Socios are pushing fan tokens in the United States, and there seems to be a tangible market in the NFL for them to flourish.