What Are NFTs and How Are They Impacting Football?

One or two of the Imps players have featured NFTs on their Instagram stories in recent weeks.

There’s nothing wrong with that, NFTs are a craze sweeping the world, driven by sensationalist headlines about huge sums of money changing hands. However, they’re increasingly frowned upon in both video gaming and sports, and for many, they’re completely an utterly baffling. I thought I’d try to help: I’m not a tech-type like Ben, and maybe his description is better than anything I can do (see tweet below), but as they’re becoming more popular I wanted to explain what they are, so if our club ever embraces them, you’ll know why to turn the other way and ignore.

NFT stands for non-fungible token, and it relates to a digital asset that has no physical form. For instance, the artist Beeple sold his artwork online for $69m last year, artwork that you or I can see on screen. It has no physical form, there’s no Beeple hanging in a gallery, but someone out there owns it. How? Because the NFT is connected to blockchain, cryptocurrency, and that identifies the owner. In layman’s terms, it would be like you owning that poster Athena used to sell of the tennis player’s bum; everyone has got it on their wall, but you actually own it, because a little bit of paper stuck to the back of yours tells you that you own it. Simple?

Not really. You see, these digital assets can be anything, from Beeple’s artwork to little icons featuring monkeys or characters from games. Big gaming companies think they’re the future, but gamers do not. Some companies think that you’ll happily play Call of Duty, for example, and but NFT in-game content, such as skins for your character. The benefit, or so they say, is that once you’re done with it, you can sell it on. Oh, you can’t just buy these for money though, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, you have to buy cryptocurrency, which in turn allows you to buy the in-game products. Crypto is notoriously unstable (I should know, I invested £60 last year and it’s not worth £16), and some NFTs have been ‘valuable’, until suddenly they’re not, and you’ve got nothing.

Remember back in the eighties and nineties, when you could have a star named after a loved one? There were loads of companies ‘officially’ registering stars to you, and it was dead romantic? Remember how you didn’t actually own the star, and that the star was only really named after you because a bit of paper in a filing cabinet in a little office above a betting shop said it did? It’s like that, only there’s no actual bits of paper, and at least the star was a physical thing you kinda owned, but didn’t.

Nft, Nfts, Cryptocurrency, Non Fungible Tokens, Token

So, that’s NFTs. How are them coming into football? Fan tokens. These are basically something offered by big clubs, which are like NFTs, but aren’t. Or are they? At this point, I really don’t know.A fan token is a digital asset, bought using crypto, that gets you digital influence over club decisions. You might get some digital content too, like a special video every now and again, and some clubs have let fans vote on vital issues such as ‘what message should be on the captain’s armband, or ‘what should we name training pitch six as?’. These are things that normal clubs would probably do on Twitter and nobody had to pay for the privilege, but in this instance big clubs charge you to own a slice of digital influence, in the form of an NFT.

I know, you thought Lincoln City were squeezing fans by making turnstile operators pay for a ticket. Seriously, they’ve got nothing on the big clubs, who are shamelessly fleecing fans by charging them for digital influence, as if actual digital reach was not enough., Gotta monetise those fans right, so you can sign Adama Traore on loan from Wolves.

Now, before we grab the pitchforks and march on the capital, they’re not the actual devil. They are, to all intents and purposes, a scam in some people’s eyes, in the same way crypto is. For now, in terms of real world application, they’re awful, but in the future, this could be how we live our lives. Think about things like Spotify; you pay for music, but you don’t own the CD like you used to. Even club programmes fit this model, in a way; you ‘buy’ a digital copy of a programme and get what? A file online, something that’s not real. The world has been moving towards NFts for a long while, somewhat blindly in my eyes. I suppose my Patreon system could be seen in the same manner; you lovely people contribute money to the site and get nothing tangible. At least I don’t call it an investment, or try to market it as something other than a way you can support the site and article about football.

John Terry, imagined as an NFT. That’s right, most NFT art is shit, like this

You might see more and more about NFTs soon. John Terry released some, but his had images of the trophies he won in them, and that’s been challenged by UEFA or FIFA or someone, who doubtless wanted to use their imagery for their own shameless assault on people’s wallets. Arsenal advertised their fan tokens in such a way they were told to withdraw the adverts after failing to address the risks. IQONIQ, a fan token provider, has recently gone to the wall, leaving fans of Real Sociedad with tokens worth nothing at all, and Crystal Palace are chasing payments they’re owed from the company as a shirt sponsor. Crypto companies see huge potential (profit) in football, doubtless because fans will gobble up anything they’re told is good. One company even wanted to buy Bradford City, but their recent move was rebuffed.

Personally, I don’t think Lincoln City would ever go down the avenue of a revenue model that was so controversial and unpopular with proper fans, but other clubs will. Other clubs are more shameless, and once legislation comes in around gambling sponsors, which it will, this is probably the next morally questionable industry that will want to dip into your pockets and consciousness by association. Many articles around the internet will tell you NFTs are here to stay, and maybe they are. After all, a wholly unregulated industry involving millions of dollars is perfect for money laundering, hiding of wealth and the like, so why wouldn’t it thrive? It’s cross-borders, unregulated in many parts of the world and masquerades as a step forward for humanity, a threat to the physical banking system, so it appeals to anti-capitalists everywhere. If that’s you, crack on, buy your magic beans and hope for the best.

For me, NFTs have as much place in the game I love as VAR, agents, Steve Evans and words like ‘Tekkerz’.