Football supporters often feel they don’t get a fair ride when it comes to their clubs.
Whether it is expensive season tickets, kick-off times that suit TV and not travel, or the release of a fourth shirt to milk every last penny from them, it’s easy to feel like supporting a team is a one-way street. Kits are a particular bugbear, and no matter how much Adidas talk about ‘getting creative in the football shirt space’, the fact is this; they’re a method of making money; otherwise, nobody would do one.
Crawley Town’s kit has caused a stir recently, and it’s not even because it’s their fourth one. The English League Two side have released a third kit that fans can only buy as part of an NFT. The Red Devils are owned by Wagmi United, an American investment group and tech firm that want to use cryptocurrency and NFTs to bring in revenue streams to drive the club forward. A typical third shirt will cost upwards of €50, but not Crawley Town’s kit. If fans want to get their hands on the third shirt, they’ll need to spend 0.35 Ethereum, which equates to €373. Even the 35% reduction in season ticket prices isn’t likely to make that a big seller.
Another news story broke earlier this year around kits and digital assets, which feels slightly more positive. Arsenal are one of the Premier League teams that have adopted fan tokens, digital assets that can be bought and sold. Unlike NFTs, fan tokens have a real-world value, much like cryptocurrency. Backed by Chiliz, a typical fan token gives the holder certain voting rights on club matters and rewards them with possible money-can’t-buy experiences. The Arsenal fan token is currently trading at around €1.5, a much more realistic price, and fans were given a chance to pick which kit the team wore for their game at Southampton in March.
The choice was straightforward enough; third kit or away kit, but it represented the sort of decision other fan token holders have offered their supporters. Indeed, Valencia fans recently got to play a game on their home ground, Mestalla Stadium, after winning the chance through their fan token. In Turkey, Trabzonspor gave fans the chance to vote on which colour the team bus should be; all real-world benefits from holding a digital asset.
Crawley’s model is causing some concern among football supporters, and a proposed takeover at Sunderland by a cryptocurrency group known as The Fans Together causes much consternation. However, digital assets are not to blame; instead, those driving them are the ones who should answer questions. Fan tokens are not marketed as an investment but as a new platform for fan engagement, and it seems from the happy fan faces at Valencia and around the world that they have found a niche to operate.
Football fans are not blind fools; they love their clubs but know when they’re being exploited. A €373 third kit in England’s fourth tier is exploitation. A Liverpool-themed NFT with no value other than what you place upon it is exploitation. Indeed, a fourth kit might feel like another wallet-stretching exercise forced upon fans by their clubs.
However, a vote on whether that kit should be worn in an away game or a chance to play on the hallowed turf of your favourite club? They’re real benefits, with tangible outcomes and for an affordable cost, and that is where the future of digital assets within football should be.