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Football NFTs in Europe Are No Fantasy

While in the US, Fantasy Football has been around the block for a while, NFT Football craze in Europe is just getting started and there are some big bucks involved.

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Source: Sorare.com

The football club Spartak from the Russian Premier League took part in a game against FC Tambov in a soccer stadium north of Moscow on the night of December 5th, 2020. It was a chilly night. The few spectators who were present in heavy jackets, encouraged the home team, which ran over Tambov with 5-1. Ezequiel Ponce, a 24-year-old Spaniard who scored two goals, was the hero of the match. It was a game that was forgotten very quickly. This random game, one of many that was played across the globe every day, was ignored by the majority of the world.

Grant Anderson, an IT business analyst from Edinburgh, was not one of those people. 

He tracked the match closely on his phone. He obsessively monitored the score. Anderson has an NFT card attached to Ezequiel Ponce, which is not only a collectible from the cryptocurrency network called Sorare. It’s a radically different way to play football fantasy, which means, of course, what it practically does anywhere on the planet, apart from the USA.

You build fantasy football lines-ups with Sorare, which you own with NFT cards. You win real money as the players score on the pitch. Anderson got 0.25 ETH (currently valued around 500$) plus more NFT player cards, that are now worth more than $2,000. These awards are constantly distributed by Sorare . “I immediately saw the opportunity,” Anderson says.  “Exctiting and engaging, I’m able to win NFTs and [ETH] using my football and sports passion.” Anderson is one of many football fans (120,000 active monthly users) who are crazy about Sorare – mix of fantasy football, collecting and beefing up the digital wallets with crypto trading. He really enjoys it, he even launched The Sorare Podcast, where guests join him and talk strategy.

Sorare, which raised $50 million in February Series One financing, is not the only football obsessed blockchain. Thousands of miles from Moscow, in Torino, Italy, Juventus FC plays its games in Allianz Stadium .When they score a goal, Blur’s “Song 2” starts blasting from the speakers throughout the stadium.

Why Song 2? This decision was made on the blockchain . Via the blockchain Socio ecosystem, Juventus supporters buy “fan tokens” that give them the power to decisions: the more you have, the stronger your vote is.  Alexandre Dreyfus, CEO and Socios founding member states that “sport is global and the customer is global.” Dreyfus says that Socios fans tokens allow teams to communicate with fans everywhere, even in a pandemic. This is what top-class teams such as Juventus, FC Barcelona and AC Milan do.

Very frequently the crypto-world appears to have divorced from the physical world.  (Try to relate, say, yield farming to something that most people heard about.) We got something different here. In the case of Socios and Sorare, the NFT and tokens against the real world of football, fans really use them and the real clubs do. They serve as cases for actual use. Although NBA Top Shot and athlete NFTs are racking the news headlines, a parade of profitable sales (say, $1.2 million haul by Rob Gronkowski) and a surprising position in the Pop culture talk, there’s not much you can really do with NFTs.

Sorare and Socios are different.

More than a card

“Jhod28” is a 40-year-old teacher from the suburbs of Toronto. He was one of the first users of Sorare, adopting it in January 2020. He played it for free, using the “Commons” beginner standard, which does not require the purchase of NFTs. (The more advanced tiers of Sorare are based on the Ethereum blockchain and require payment; the rookie tier is merely a taster.)

He took home some awards. He had a good time. He was soon addicted. He took out a $10,000 line of credit to start playing for real money and purchase Sorare cards, which would give a financial planner a heart attack. “It was a bit of a gamble,” J-Hod admits. “A lot of people will tell you to put it in Apple, but that’s just boring.”

He wisely selected and played his NFT cards, winning prize after prize, and claiming that his $10,000 investment has risen to $100,000. He took $10,000 out to pay off the loan and $10,000 for a parking space for his fiancée (who has since moved into his condo), but the rest is all in Sorare. “I’m playing with house money,” he says.

J-Hod (who likes to go by his alias due to his private life as a teacher) claims that the Sorare cards have validity even if they aren’t used in fantasy football. (This is also the premise of NBA Top Shot, as well as collectibles in general.) He recalls a period in the early 1990s when there was a “card shop on every corner,” saying, “I’ve been collecting sports cards since I was 10.” These stores sold $1 packs of cards, which you could then resell for $20. It was simple cash. “There was no internet or eBay back then, and no one realized those cards weren’t rare.”

He also collected memorabilia, such as autographed jerseys, which he now keeps in his wardrobe. In his opinion, Sorare cards are superior to their physical counterparts. He compares it to going to the card shop in the 1990s, where the cards were “just a slice of cardboard.”

Then there’s the actual game. Before we get into what makes Sorare so addictive, let’s take a peek at what typical fantasy football looks like.

Fantasy football has been around since1990s, long before it became popular. This was before the internet.   When you said “fantasy football,” people assumed you were talking about the players. There was no access to computers. You could only keep track of scores from the newspapers’ sports sections, and then sum them all up by hand.

Even though fantasy football has been around for a while, the point is that the game is short on strategy. There’s not a whole lot of it. You obsess about the annual draft, tweak your roster, and even spend a few minutes each day scouring the waiver wire. There’s not a whole lot left to do.

Now compare this to Sorare’s situation. There are 128 football clubs in the collaboration (and counting), and they are located all over the world. They play at all hours of the day and night. Some are in Russia, others in the Netherlands, and even others in Japan. It’s easy to keep track of the 32 teams in the National Football League. But, to gain an advantage in Sorare, you’ll need to know about, say, the Dutch Eredivisie’s rising backup goalie. You could get a notification at 4 a.m. that one of your players is injured, and you’ll need to rush out to buy an emergency replacement.

When you first log into Sorare, it’s clear to see why J-Hod, Anderson, and thousands of other frequent players are so addicted. (“After six months, more than 70% of people are still playing the game,” says Nicolas Julia, Sorare’s CEO.) The user interface is well-designed. Most crypto exchanges are opaque and intimidating to newcomers, but Sorare has you up and running in under two minutes. Your players’ avatars are dragged and dropped onto a virtual football pitch. It has the feel of a video game. You field a five-player roster (one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder, one striker, and one flex), and you win points for on-field results such as goals, assists, and penalty saves, just like in NFL fantasy football.

Anderson (the podcast’s host) has nearly 500 player cards in his collection. He must continuously assess all current matchups, decide the cards to join in which leagues (there are several tiers), consider historical data for each player, and determine if he wants to “practice” the cards (playing the NFTs in a match will increase their value). This necessitates a thorough understanding of all the nuances of the real world. “You could have a guy from Japan putting up the same numbers as a guy from Europe,” Anderson says. And is it possible that scoring three goals in Japan is easier than in the MLS? Then you may feel compelled to expand your “portfolio” to include more Japanese players. It’s a lot to keep track of.

Just one example of Anderson’s strategy: the 6’4″ backup goalkeeper for FC Bayern Munich, Alexander Nübel, has long piqued Anderson’s interest. Although Nübel may not see much action as a backup, Anderson recognized his potential as a starter and purchased his card when it was on the market for a low price. According to Anderson, the card is now worth 500 pounds (GBP), and “when he’s a starter, it’s a 3,000-pound card.” Long-term preparation is rewarded, which is mana for fantasy football nerds. If you buy a card for an 18-year-old promising rookie, for example, you might be able to squeeze money out of that card for the next 15 years.

Then there’s the money angle. In standard NFL fantasy football, you put money down at the start of the season in the hopes of winning a small weekly prize pool or a larger reward in the playoffs. It’s different with Sorare. “There’s a lot of ETH out there,” J-Hod notes, and the temptation to win money – possibly a lot of money – is all around.

Anderson knows players who treat it like a full-time job, optimizing their lineups to ensure a steady flow of ETH. It necessitates continuous effort and tinkering. Let’s say you paid $200 for a goalkeeper and now he’s worth $2,000. You must make a decision once more. Do you cash out and sell the card on the market, or do you play him in a match in the hopes of winning more ETH or NFTs?

Sorare’s chess game makes traditional fantasy football look more like tic-tac-toe than checkers.

Cubes and tokens

Alexandre Dreyfus, a serial entrepreneur originally from Lyon, France, and now based in Malta, founded Socios. The term “serial entrepreneur” is overused, but it suits Dreyfus well. With his bulging shoulders and sleek bald head, he looks like a linebacker, so it’s shocking to hear him say, “I’ve never played sports.” Instead, he was a computer geek. He got his first computer when he was six years old, began writing software as a teenager, offered his friends a new service called “email,” and dropped out of school at the age of 18 to start a web agency.

Source: Google images

Dreyfus went on to found Chilipoker, an online poker business that was popular enough to land him a relationship with the Golden Nugget casino, where he planned a massive expansion into the United States. Then he had a bigger dream: what if he could make poker into a sport? Not just a sport in the sense that it will be broadcast on ESPN2, but a league with players, fans, and franchises. As a result, he founded the GPL, or Global Poker League, which includes teams such as the Las Vegas Money Makers and the New York Rounders.

The Cube was introduced to the world of poker by Dreyfus’ new league. He wanted viewers to be able to watch the poker games up close and personal, as if they were watching a boxing match from ringside. There is only one problem. If spectators are close enough to see the players’ cards, they will say things that help them in their cheating. “So we made, excuse my French, 11 f**king tons of glass cubes in Las Vegas and put players in the cube,” Dreyfus says, his voice in a thick French accent. These massive cubes were sound-proof, allowing fans to yell as loudly as they liked, as if they were watching a boxing match.

The GPL had a promising start, securing a partnership with Twitch and attracting celebrities such as Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad.” (You can watch Paul play poker in The Cube right here.) According to Dreyfus, there were “a few million people watching” in the early days, and “it was f**king nuts.” Although the concept is brilliant, Dreyfus now admits, “We failed as a company.” It struggled to make money because it was almost difficult to create a following from scratch – for a brand-new “sport” that no one had heard of.

The GPL had a promising start, securing a partnership with Twitch and attracting celebrities such as Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad.” (You can watch Paul play poker in The Cube right here.) According to Dreyfus, there were “a few million people watching” in the early days, and “it was f**king nuts.” Although the concept is brilliant, Dreyfus now admits, “We failed as a company.” It struggled to make money because it was almost difficult to create a following from scratch – for a brand-new “sport” that no one had heard of.

Dreyfus had the brilliant idea of using fan tokens to fund his aspiring poker league, but he quickly realized it would be a tall order. If you don’t have any followers, how can you use “fan tokens”? And he had a lightbulb moment. “Rather than attempting to create fan tokens for our own league, which has no audience,” he suggests, “let us attempt to create fan tokens for major brands with millions of fans all over the world.”

The pitch is efficient. Socios tokens are now used by blue-chip teams like Manchester City, AC Milan, and Juventus to engage their fans. When it came to decorating the team bus, Juventus once again delegated the decision to the holders of Socios fan tokens. They went with a bold, eye-catching black and white style with the slogan “LIVE AHEAD.” Fan tokens have been used to assist teams in making decisions on alternate logos, music playlists for player warmups, and limited edition T-shirts.

These decisions are usually made on the outskirts of a club’s activities. However, this isn’t always the case. The club Apollon FC offered its token holders a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in October: they could pick the team’s starting lineup and formation. Granted, this was just a “friendly” game (an exhibition match) with nothing at stake, but it establishes an intriguing precedent and indicates the potential for fans to exert real control over the team, thanks to blockchain technology.

It’s just a matter of time before people are weighing in on roster decisions (do we trade or cut the disappointing midfielder?), coaching decisions (counter attack or wing play?), and whether or not the coach should be fired. Many arguments would ensue about whether this is a positive or bad thing, as well as whether it is fair to conflate “fandom” with the number of tokens purchased, raising questions about income inequality.

Crossing over

Socios and Sorare are both “crossover” use cases that carry non-crypto citizens into the blockchain environment. Take, for example, Alfredo Carotenuto, a 34-year-old Naples-based sports nutritionist. He is a big Juventus supporter. He first became aware of Socios through Juventus’ Twitter feed, rather than through the crypto-verse. He received two skybox tickets to a Juventus match as well as a “walkabout” tour of the stadium via a Socios contest. He then met Cristiano Ronaldo and the other players after the game. Carotenuto explains, “I buy fan tokens for my favorite club.” “In order for me to be a part of the decision-making process.”

Much of this has the potential to become addictive. Diego Herrero Espina, a Salamanca resident, from Spain, uses Socios for “at least 30 minutes every day.” He spends the majority of his time testing fan token prices, trading them on Chiliz (the exchange where you can buy and sell fan tokens using the #CHZ coin, close to how you would use $BNB on the Binance exchange), and then looking for tokens in the real world. Socios has a game that lets you scan the streets of your neighborhood, Pokémon GO style, for tokens using your phone and the app’s augmented reality, for an added bit of engagement and to enable everyone to play without spending money.

Without the participation of leagues, neither Socios nor Sorare will work. But now it’s happening, it’s spreading, and it may soon reach the United States. The leagues have a compelling incentive to compete. Hundreds of football clubs have formed deals with Socios and Sorare because they provide something of worth to them beyond the NFT hype. Leander Monbaliu, Chief Business Officer of the Belgian Pro League, one of Sorare’s earliest partners, says, “This is a way of getting new fans, particularly internationally, to learn about our league.”

“Fans no longer consume football in the same way they used to,” he says. “It’s more disjointed. We need a product that is tailored to their needs, which necessitates innovation.” The days of assuming a fan will stay for two hours to watch an entire match are over; they no longer have the attention span. Highlights, data, and feeds from multiple matches are in high demand among younger fans. According to a Variety poll, 48 percent of 18- to 38-year-olds prefer watching NFL highlights to watching the entire game. It was also higher for the National Basketball Association (54%) and Major League Baseball (58%) respectively. Sorare is a way of giving the fans what they want, according to Monbaliu.

Then there’s the effect of a coronavirus pandemic. Due to the inability of fans to attend matches in person, clubs recognize that fan participation is a challenge. AC Milan’s relationship with Socios, according to Casper Stylsvig, chief revenue officer, is “a powerful fan engagement tool,” allowing fans to do more than just watch the game on TV or on their screens. In early March, for example, AC Milan’s fan token holders voted on the official slogan that will be displayed in the club’s locker room: “Succede a chi ci crede,” which translates to “It happens to those who believe.” (It’s also crypto’s unofficial motto.)

Given that Sorare and Socios are both blockchain-based football ventures, you’d think there’d be a lot of similarities in their communities’ Venn diagrams. That seems not to be the case. “I don’t know a single [Sorare] individual who is on Socios,” J-Hod says, despite the fact that he owns some Socios fan tokens and participates in the contests. On the other hand, Espina reports that Sorare is used by “less than 5%” of people in the Socios culture.

The ventures do not see themselves as rivals, but rather as offering distinct value propositions. One is a game, while the other is a way for fans to get involved. “The [Sorare] guys are great,” Dreyfus says. “We collaborate a little with them, and we have no qualms about promoting each other.” Julia concurs. “We share a number of soccer clubs,” says the CEO of Sorare. “We consider them to be friends.”

So, why are both Sorare and Socios more common in other countries than in the United States, at least for the time being? Dreyfus claims that it is possible to form alliances with individual clubs in football leagues due to their legal structures, as opposed to the NBA, NFL, and MLB, which include league-wide contracts. It’s better for a brave startup to pitch one creative club than the whole NFL apparatus.

There’s also the issue of market size to consider. “In terms of football fans around the world, it’s over a billion,” Julia says. As Dreyfus points out, the Chicago Bulls have a Twitter following of 4.3 million, the Los Angeles Lakers have a following of 9.7 million, and the NBA as a whole has a following of 32.8 million. These are not insignificant figures. However, the NBA as a whole has a smaller audience than one of Socios’ partners, FC Barcelona, which tweets news about fan tokens to 36.1 million followers. In the United States, this has mostly gone unnoticed. “My greatest concern as an entrepreneur is the lack of attention in American-based media,” says Dreyfus, who is surprised his business has remained unnoticed.

This could change in the near future. Socios is growing, ready to break into the American market. It already has a deal with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), and Dreyfus pledged $50 million to potential deals with American leagues in early March. He intends to use the funds as a “minimum guarantee” of income for these leagues, in order to entice the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA to join the group. Socios currently has 100 staff and is planning to open a Manhattan branch.

Is there any limit on how high this can get? Dreyfus envisions a day when the media reports fan tokens in the same way as they report sports wins and losses, explaining that the fan token’s price (which fluctuates on the market) could be used as a gauge of fan sentiment. So, if the NBA’s Houston Rockets go on a 19-game losing streak, but the price of the Rockets token remains high, it means that fans are willing to overlook the slump in order to rebound and gain higher draft picks. “You have the token price in addition to the scoreboard of what happened the day before,” Dreyfus says.

He isn’t the only one who is optimistic about the future. On Feb. 9, when I first spoke with Dreyfus, each Chiliz coin, which is used to buy and sell fan tokens on the Chiliz exchange, was worth 2.7 cents. It has increased by 1,785 percent in the last two months, and is now worth 50 cents with a market cap of $2.9 billion, making it one of the top 50 crypto ventures (by market cap). If Dreyfus is effective in looping in the NFL, NBA, and others, what happens next? Keep an eye out.

Sorare may point to similar signs of growth. Sorare is the third-most active NFT project, behind CryptoPunks and SuperRare. In February, 20,000 soccer fans attended, and by March, the number had risen to 120,000. Sorare had a $70,000 trading volume when it first opened in January 2020. It surpassed $27 million last month.

Too much of blockchain’s hyped-up “potential” necessitates huge leaps of faith. This is a unique experience. Because if a single random football match on a cold Moscow night can get fans excited and interested in the sport, imagine what a Sorare-style fantasy experience might do in, say, Game 7 of the NBA Finals? I magine if you could swap cards, not only for football teams’ backup goalies, but also for cards of LeBron James, Zion Williamson, and James Harden, and win a steady stream of prizes?

I would not bet against it.

Projects

The NFT Sale of the ‘Kia Sedona’ Goes Sour as the Contractor Allegedly Steals $3 Million

A sale of tokens that could be swapped for “Kia Sedona” NFTs raised $3.1 million. But a contractor for the token sale platform Miso allegedly disappeared with all of the funds.

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In the fast-growing market for NFTs, there have been several swindles, frauds, and rug pulls. However, this one strikes out as a little odd.

To begin with, the NFT sale itself was unusual. The entire concept was inspired by a recent meme on crypto Twitter about the Kia Sedona automobile brand (the joke being that the Kia Sedona is a type of hard money). As a result, ten unknown persons built a funky website called “Jay Pegs Auto Mart.” (It was unrelated to the automobile maker in any way.)

DONA reservation tokens were available for purchase. These could be acquired on SushiSwap’s Miso token sale platform, which is run by a decentralized exchange. Out of 10,000 DONA tokens available, each could be exchanged for one 2007 Kia Sedona NFT.

And the token sale went off without a hitch. It raised $3.1 million in ether (ETH), worth 864.8. When the mysterious team of shadowy super coders (another joke) decided to use Miso, they didn’t expect all of their finances to be taken away.

An unidentified contractor placed malicious code into the Miso platform, according to SushiSwap CTO Joseph Delong, changing the destination address for all incoming monies in the token sale to their address. According to Delong, the Jay Pegs Auto Mart sale was the only one affected, and all of the cash raised was stolen.

SushiSwap has urged Binance and FTX to identify the hacker by revealing their KYC information, but they have not done so, according to Delong. He added the platform had directed Stephen Palley, a partner at law firm Anderson Kill, to file a complaint with the FBI if the funds aren’t recovered by 8 a.m. ET.

On the good side, the Jay Pegs Auto Mart Twitter account promised consumers that the Kia Sedona NFTs would still be distributed despite the lack of funds.

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Projects

SLAM, a Basketball Brand, Joins the NFT Platform Autograph

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Autograph has taken over the world of sports NFTs. Autograph, co-founded by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, has signed deals with renowned athletes from various sports. In addition, the platform is teaming up with SLAM this week on the hardwood.

SLAM has streamlined its company into a new digital era and is known for its classic vintage magazine covers dating to 1994. Basketball enthusiasts may get news, unique features, digital material, and apparel through the portal. Without dipping into NFTs, it wouldn’t be complete.

Autograph and Its High-End Partners

Autograph has signed deals with Naomi Osaka, Derek Jeter, Simone Biles, and Tony Hawk in a short period. Top-tier athletes from many sports verticals make up the increasing advisory board. Additionally, autograph just partnered with DraftKings to give the sports betting platform access to NFTs.

According to a press statement issued this week, autograph will be a launch partner for SLAM’s NFT collection of classic magazine covers. Additionally, this will be Autograph’s first foray into basketball, with SLAM serving as a cornerstone for the platform’s introduction into the sport.

SLAM archives of the 300-plus covers that graced the front of SLAM for decades will be featured at NFTs. In addition, the NFTs will be available for purchase on the DraftKings Marketplace, which Autograph powers.

Blockchain Technology Meets Sports Media

Sports and technology are becoming increasingly entwined.

“We’ve been building a portfolio of companies focused on the convergence of sports media and blockchain technology, and this deal sits firmly at that crossroads,” said Matt Aronson, President of SLAM parent company JDS Sports. SLAM’s digital presence has grown to include over twenty social media channels with over 16 million followers. JDS Sports was also an early supporter of Autograph.

Through established partners, Autograph continues to push the fold on sports NFTs. The two have already issued NFTs for Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Simone Biles, and others through DraftKings Marketplace. Autograph, on the other hand, isn’t content to stop at sports. The platform also announced a relationship with Lionsgate in July. In addition, Autograph will develop digital collectibles for the new flagship movie series later this year due to the agreement.

It appears that SLAM isn’t starting or stopping here, either. In April, SLAM teamed up with rising basketball phenom Zion Williamson. This collaboration resulted in four limited-edition NFTs based on two of Zion’s SLAM cover appearances.

As brands, companies, teams, leagues, and individuals from practically every sport imaginable get involved, the convergence of sports and crypto continues to increase.

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Projects

Following Allegations of NFT Insider Trading, OpenSea’s Head of Product has Resigned

After being accused of NFT flipping using insider knowledge, Nate Chastain, Head of Product at prominent NFT marketplace OpenSea, appears to have left the company.

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The Product Manager has resigned

Chastain’s Twitter profile has been altered to add the term “Past: @opensea” since he was called out two days ago, implying that the marketplace no longer employs him.

Though there isn’t proof that he was fired from OpenSea because of the allegations, it’s a strong possibility.

OpenSea CEO Devin Finzer has already updated his previous blog post about the event with the news that one of their employees “asked and accepted” his resignation just yesterday for violating their “duty to the community.”

According to the CEO’s update, OpenSea promptly commissioned a third-party investigation after learning of the event and is aggressively adopting its recommendations while the inquiry is ongoing.

Despite growing evidence against him, Nate Chastain has yet to issue a public statement. Meanwhile, the general belief on Twitter seems to be that he is guilty, with some even ‘celebrating his death’ with a fresh CryptoPhunk giveaway. However, despite Chastain’s misconduct, others express gratitude for his work for the NFT community and wish him the best in the future.

The Allegations and the Proof

Nate Chastain was accused of buying OpenSea NFTs with insider information before they were released on the platform’s site, then selling them for a much higher profit.

Chastain purchased the NFTs using burner accounts to conceal his identity; nevertheless, he was detected utilizing blockchain data, which proved that all of his winnings were being transmitted to his public address. Later, OpenSea published a blog post indicating that this “insider trade” had occurred.

Chastain made a profit of 19 ETH, which is worth more than $65k at press time.

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