Messi’s Fan Tokens
How Far Can Sports Fans Go with Socios?
Lionel Messi received a large number of PSG Fan Tokens as a part of his deal with Paris Saint-Germain. These cryptocurrency tokens are issued in partnership with many major sports franchises and could have real appeal for fans and clubs in the future. Although the story was picked up by news outlets worldwide, their coverage was the equivalent of a quizzical expression.
The company behind the project will be satisfied enough with that reaction though. Chiliz have been careful not to step on anyone’s toes while they go about building global infrastructure. Getting fan tokens into the hands of football’s greatest player amid mild curiosity from the press might be enough for now, but the concept has plenty of room to run.
What Are Socios Fan Tokens?
Fan tokens are cryptocurrencies that run on Chiliz’ blockchain — a modified version of Ethereum. Users interact using an app called Socios. Each club partner issues their own tokens, which can be bought and traded. Token holders have opportunities to win prizes and experiences, but crucially they are granted voting rights on club decisions. The network has gone from 20 to 48 sporting partners in the past seven months. They count some of Europe’s elite among them: Juventus, Barcelona, Manchester City, PSG, Inter Milan, as well as national sides like Argentina and Portugal. On top of that, a couple of football’s GOATs are now hodlers (Cristiano Ronaldo was gifted JUV tokens for breaking Pele’s scoring record in May).
Can Socios Really Offer a Share of Influence to Fans?
The Chiliz blockchain facilitates secure voting on its Socios app and fans who own tokens can have an impact on team decisions: The songs the players hear in the dressing room before the game, the message on the side of the team bus, and picking the team in friendly matches are about the extent of the decision-making right now. True, these may be matters that only hardcore fan could get excited about, never mind pay for, but the technology works and token holders can have an impact, however minor, on their team.
For many fans, that thought alone is exciting enough. The 1.2 million downloads and 900,000 active users, since launching in 2019, are evidence of that. But could we ever see Socios at the point where token holders pick the team for a competitive game or can that notion be dismissed out of hand?
The furore over the Super League, earlier this year, saw renewed bitterness towards club owners who conspired to break away from their domestic leagues. There were protests around European stadia and demands for recrimination from fans who had been made painfully aware of their powerlessness. Pundits and politicians all weighed in, with the general rhetoric that fans should have more say in how their clubs are run.
Considering Sheik Mansour bought Manchester City as a public relations exercise for his family’s rule in Abu Dhabi, the Super League escapade was damaging. Tamim bin Hamed Al Thani, ruler of Qatar and owner of Paris Saint Germain, did not make the same mistake. PSG refused their invitation to the Super League, minimising the potential for revolt. For these two owners, at least, a football club is a bit of status and publicity; the financial consequences are an irrelevance. With that perspective, they might be comfortable ceding more power to fans and truly confound the naysayers. Fan tokens could be a way to do that.
The Gamification of the Beautiful Game
If the network effect continues and it reaches the point that thousands of clubs are involved there is the possibility for Socios’ user influence to expand. Chiliz has so far been building a network by incentivising all parties. Clubs share a 50/50 split of the revenue of token sales with Chiliz and they have a new way to monetise their fans around the world.
Fans are incentivised by prizes and voting rights, sure; but they are also motivated by a token’s potential to go up in value. Fans who have paid for the tokens promote Socios because they want to see the value rise. The real world trading element of Socios reflects the fact that Chiliz CEO, Alexandre Dreyfus, made his name in the online gambling industry.
As clubs and fans become more comfortable with the concept the likelihood increases for more meaningful voting to take place. The first clubs to play around with the concept in the most exciting ways are likely to make waves and attract new supporters and token holders. If, as Dreyfus has suggested, Chiliz’ partner clubs came together to for a summer tournament in the off-season and allowed fan token holders to pick the teams, and in-game substitutions it would cause a wave of interest and publicity. There may be a sense of envy from football fans whose teams are not involved, contrasted with a sense of shared influence between fans and owners who are.
Like non-fungible tokens, Socios is an idea that doesn’t quite make sense — yet. Blockchain technology throws out ideas that are not fully formed. If the network expands to club partnerships and users across the globe and establish itself as an accepted element of the sporting world, there is a good chance that every permutation of voting will eventually occur. More so than NBA Topshots, Socios has the potential to bring blockchain to mainstream sports fans. At night, Dreyfus must surely dream of the day when fans are voting on the team for the Champions’ League final. For the time being though, Lionel Messi shows no sign of shilling fan tokens to his supporters. It may be that due to the fanfare of signing for Le Rouge et Bleu, that he hasn’t even given the fan tokens a thought. In the grander scheme of things, not many people have.
As a permissioned blockchain, between Chiliz and the clubs (who run validating nodes), there is a limit to the democratisation of power. This centralisation allows the system to run smoothly but it also misses the publicly distributed aspect of an open network like Bitcoin. Chiliz and the affiliated sports franchises control the Socios blockchain.
Furthermore, Socios enables voting on a one token, one vote basis, meaning the influence of a fan with a handful of tokens is outweighed by a fan with thousands.
Chiliz Chain Explorer (all blocks can be seen being added to the chain in real time)