Camaraderie — and the spirit of friendly good fellowship — has arguably always found its home most prominently on the sporting field since the dawn of sport itself. Just when you thought that the ancient phenomena couldn’t get any stronger, NFTs have begun changing this — offering new ways to boost fan engagement and loyalty.
Proving NFTs go beyond just art or music, all manner of sports have entered the fray. From rugby union to mixed martial arts — to the AFL. The Australian Open even managed to scoop up a Cannes Lions award — the most prestigious international creative marketing award — for their “innovative use of tech and platforms in sport”.
In anticipation of the world’s most beloved football event, FIFA, football’s international governing federation, revealed this week that they will soon launch FIFA+ Collect — a marketplace of digital collectibles including iconic moments of this year’s FIFA World Cup.
This is similar to the wildly successful NBA Top Shot, which saw an all-time high trading volume of nearly US$50 million at its peak in March 2021. The FIFA drop will enable sports fans to trade history with their fellow football fanatics.
A strategic play from FIFA?
The FIFA+ Collects marketplace is a part of the federation’s strategy to innovate in its offerings while expanding its digital footprint and building new communities. Assets will feature the game’s greatest moments through art and imagery within both the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup. Tradeable items will include goals, assists, saves, celebrations and on-field incidents.
Speaking to The Chainsaw, FIFA+ Collect Lead Abby Barsky stated that “Web3 and metaverse experiences can give fans of all ages a new way to engage with their passions online”, adding:
On FIFA+ Collect, fans can actually own part of the FIFA World Cup and its decades-long history, including spectacular moments some fans’ grandparents won’t even remember. Our platform will bring fans of all ages closer to our events, players and history through exclusive content, games and IRL and digital experiences.Abby Barsky, FIFA+ Collect Lead
Commenting further, Barsky added, “Particularly for our younger generations, we aim to focus on community and encourage fans to use their voice to influence how FIFA+ Collect evolves. We’re inspired by the strength of this generation’s voice in culture, sports and entertainment, for example, increasingly becoming creators themselves”.
Speculation on possible inclusions may feature the seemingly impossible goalkeeping feat from the legendary Gordon Banks in the 1970 Mexico World Cup final to claw Pele’s precise header from the mouth of the goal.
Others expect Carli Lloyd’s audaciously sublime 50-yard hat-trick strike against Japan in the 2015 final. And then of course, who could forget Zinedine Zidane’s infamous red card headbutt against Italy in the 2006 final?
FIFA NFTs ‘sustainable’
FIFA penned an agreement with Algorand back in May to become the sponsorship and technical partner for the 2022 Men’s World Cup and 2023 Women’s World Cup.
Algorand, which uses a Proof-of-Stake blockchain, has developed its infrastructure with sustainability in mind — with each transaction using 0.0000004kg of CO2 in contrast to Bitcoin’s 338 (or the equivalent of powering seven houses for a year).
The move signifies that major organisations are increasingly looking to shift their virtual-world developments in the direction of greener pastures. FIFA President Gianni Infantino stated, “The collaboration is a clear indication of FIFA’s commitment to continually seeking innovative channels for sustainable revenue growth for further reinvestment back into football”.
Making strides towards a level playing field
Beyond sustainability, FIFA has committed to advancing equality through a considerable effort to champion the game’s female counterparts. In the footballing world, social awareness campaigns such as the English Premier League’s No Room for Racism and mental health campaign Heads Together are an attempt by the league to improve diversity, inclusion and equality across the sport.
Equally, a concerted effort has been made to improve fan engagement and grassroots opportunities in women’s football. FIFA+ Collect said:
We are so proud to include Women’s World Cup collectibles in the debut drop. We will continue to celebrate Women’s football’s already monumental past and its exciting future as we lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia/ New Zealand 2023™ and beyond.Abby Barsky, FIFA+ Collect Lead
Additionally, the NFT project aims to lower the entry barrier for collectors, promising supporters the “chance to affordably own unique digital collectibles” for “less than a few US dollars”.
In comparison, the NBA Top Shot marketplace has lower-tier assets, like US$2 for the common rarity of 1-of-60,000 Isaiah Roby dunk shot, all the way up to the collection record of US$230,023 for the legendary 2020 NBA Finals LeBron James dunk shot from August last year.
Qatar FIFA World Cup goes on despite blowback
The upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has been met with hesitation among a large cohort of the football community to say the least. FIFA has been lambasted over the last few years for selecting Qatar as host, similar to the prelude of the 2018 Russia World Cup, which was said to attract as many as 3.5 billion viewers.
Concerns pertain to the country’s abysmal human rights record, slave labour and anti-LGBTQI+ laws, as well as scorching summer temperatures, resulting in a winter tournament that will disrupt the scheduling of European domestic competitions. Many have argued Qatar is engaging in ‘sport-washing’ — the attempt of individuals, groups, corporations or governments to use sports as a means to improve a poor reputation.
Oil and gas remain Qatar’s primary source of revenue and its human rights record stands in direct opposition to virtually all liberal democracies. Since FIFA has marketed itself as being a leader in sustainability and champion of equality, difficult questions remain as to how one can reconcile such claims given its choice of host.
But the game will go on — the quadrennial tournament will enjoy a first across several dimensions, some of which are indisputable, others less so. No doubt, it is the first tournament in the Middle East region, the first with female referees and the first to incorporate NFTs. Its other claim, alleged to be a first, is that it is carbon neutral, although doubts have been raised that Qatar’s promises have been met. Irrespective, the show goes on, with the first fixture kicking off November 20.