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What is blockchain technology for? OK, at this point, I realize that many of you will already have come up with a number of compelling use cases. You can, of course, use blockchain to underpin a virtual currency or to tokenize investment. Or you might see blockchain as the key to creating a system of smart contracts. And those of you are really ambitious could already be working on a blockchain-based solution to the apparently intractable problem of ensuring that goods move seamlessly across the Irish border when the U.K. leaves the E.U..
But did anyone raise a hand and quietly suggest that blockchain tech has the potential to help football clubs engage with a global fan base?
No? Well, perhaps that’s not surprising. Football – along with other major sports – has not been slow to embrace digital technology for marketing purposes but, by and large, most of us don’t associate the cut and thrust of sporting action with a somewhat esoteric digital ledger system that, frankly, relatively few people understand.
Engaging With Fans
But last week, London-based Premier League football club, West Ham United announced a partnership with tech startup, Socios.com that will – if all goes according to plan – enable fans to engage directly with the club through the purchase of digitized tokens.
The core concept is relatively simple. As Alexandre Dreyfus, founder and CEO of Socios.com, points out, football clubs have become global brands. In addition to the faithful thousands who buy season tickets and turn up for games, millions more watch them on TV in their home countries and around the world. “Ninety-seven percent of fans are outside the stadium. It is very difficult to engage and monetize those fans,” he says.
Yes, a club can sell merchandise, but very often fans – especially those living overseas – will buy unofficial goods, such as team shirts. And if the merchandise is pirated, the club gets nothing.
So the Socios.com product - and it has also been taken up by Italy’s Juventus and Paris Saint Germain of France – enables clubs to sell tokens to fans anywhere in the world. In return, the fans get the opportunity to vote on matters such as the club’s colors, while also being eligible for special offers.
All well and good, but is it really necessary to deploy blockchain technology? Why not simply sell voting rights online via tools that are already available?
Dreyfus says the blockchain ledger system underpins the voting but it also enables another kind of activity. “The fans can not only buy tokens, they can also trade them. The value will depend on how well the club is doing.” Thus, the tokens are digital assets.
To facilitate this, the Socios.com app includes an online community function that enables fans to carry out trades. This is where things begin to get a bit more complicated. The platform is underpinned by Chiliz’ native cryptocurrency $CHZ, an ERC20 utility token on the Ethereum blockchain. In order to take part in votes or trade tokens, football fans must first buy $CHZ through a cryptocurrency exchange ( or on the app itself). Once armed with a virtual currency they will be free to buy tokens.
A Leap Of Faith
So will West Ham fans warm to the prospect of getting up close and personal with virtual currencies and tokens? We won’t know until the start of the 2019/2020 season, but there is some evidence that they might. Dreyfus cites a CoinMarketCap survey, which found that 46 percent of respondents would buy fan tokens from major sports teams. However, Dreyfus says that aside from any research, he is prepared to follow his own instincts. “I am an entrepreneur and sometimes when you are an entrepreneur you have to be prepared to take a leap of faith,” he says.
Looking ahead, he expects more clubs from England’s Premier League and elsewhere in the world to partner with Socios and he is also targeting other sports and says more announcements are in the pipeline. It’s a numbers game. Socios will take a commission on token transactions, so success will depend on whether fans buy in. He is reluctant to put a number on what success actually means, but getting to above one million users relatively quickly would be a good start. Clubs are expected to play their part, with partners offering tokens to season ticket holders to get the ball rolling.
It’s often said that blockchain will be a key technology for the coming years, affecting all our lives in one way and another. Will it affect the lives of fans of British football clubs? The next football season may provide an answer.
May 16, 2019 at 11:11AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs