Football fans have had to put up with a lot recently. Ticket costs have risen to unaffordable levels in several of Europe’s top leagues, putting match-goers at a disadvantage. Many supporters find it difficult, if not impossible, to attend away games due to the spread of matches throughout weekdays and constant growth in fixture congestion. For those who are stuck at home, things aren’t much better. Television and internet streaming rights are frequently divided among three or more firms, requiring fans to pay hundreds of dollars per season. At a time when all three appear to be in short supply, fans are sacrificing time, money, and attention. So, how should these devoted supporters be rewarded? Of course, selling snake oil in 55-gallon barrels is a viable option.
A wave of initiatives aimed at marketing bitcoin and other blockchain-based products is the latest football rip-off. We’ve already witnessed an uptick in crypto club partnerships, “fan tokens,” and players and coaches disregarding NFTs, and it looks that this is only the start. While the Web3, which is being lauded as the internet’s future, may seem an odd fit for a 150-year-old sport, it’s no surprise that it’s found a home in football. For years, the sport has functioned as a proving ground for egregiously immoral financialization, as well as a dump for oligarchic investors looking to wash their hands of money and reputations.
In many respects, the evolution of football from a sport dominated by democratically controlled fan-run teams to a teetering structure of interconnected pyramid schemes mirrors wider economic developments. It’s bad enough that clubs are willing to use their influence to impose speculative gimmicks on the people who rely on and support them, but it’s even worse because it’s undermining other requests for fan ownership. The enticing rhetoric of membership and influence used by Web3 companies distorts such goals, repeating some of the most hollow and damaging parts of their promises of decentralization and empowerment across the economy.
You’re in luck if you’ve ever thought football was too financially secure due to the nearly $50 billion in transfer fees paid in the preceding decade ($3.5 billion to agents) or the rising, often arbitrary valuations of teams with billions in debt. Football has discovered exciting, uncontrolled new methods to grow even more speculative and grind out even more riches without actually delivering anything new by leveraging cryptocurrencies and other blockchain technologies. The disastrous attempt by WAGMI United and a twenty-two-year-old TikTok star to acquire English fourth-tier team Bradford City late last year reached a crescendo of comedy. WAGMI wanted to make NFTs a critical financial source for the club. It attempted one of the first purchases of a significant sports team using cryptocurrency as a substantial finance source. That offer was immediately rejected, but cryptocurrency is here to stay. The recent sponsorship agreement between cryptocurrency broker Voyager and the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States is one of the league’s largest ever. Sports betting and cryptocurrency are increasingly crossing paths, and many sports betting companies are entering into partnerships with crypto exchanges and platforms.