By now, Lionel Messi should be settling nicely into his new penthouse in the heart of Paris – nice work if you can get it.
A new chapter begins with fresh surroundings and a rather hefty addition to his bank balance – as well as that reported €1 million a week salary, there was the rumoured €25 million signing on bonus that the Argentine was paid.
That was paid for, in part, by fan tokens – a type of cryptocurrency that enables supporters to take some ownership of their club while investing in its infrastructure.
It’s an interesting innovation and one that we might muse as the future of football transfers – certainly in the way they are funded, anyway.
However, all that glitters isn’t always golden, and media outfit The Athletic has published details of their investigation into Socios, the platform that the PSG fan token and many others are available from.
They revealed that Socios had cashed out some $80 million in profits since March….that is, a cut of the money that fans had invested in their tokens which, in theory at least, should find its way to the club in question.
But it turns out that the firm is taking 50% of all money generated, meaning that somebody, somewhere is getting nice and rich on the back of football fans trying to help out their beloved club.
Socios has deals with some of Europe’s biggest clubs. But are ‘fan tokens’ good for the game?
▪️ Socios has cashed out $80m since March
▪️ Links to cryptocurrency mean it is virtually unregulated
▪️ Criticisms of claims it “improves fan engagement”
— The Athletic UK (@TheAthleticUK) August 18, 2021
The brainchild of internet entrepreneur Alexandre Dreyfus, Socios uses the Chiliz cryptocurrency to power its network – a move that has drawn criticism, with supporters encouraged to engage with what remains an unregulated digital market.
And the backlash has already begun….
The Power of Influence
Supporters of many clubs can already invest in them through traditional share offerings.
But Socios offer ‘enhanced fan engagement’ as one lure of their investment vehicle is coming under increasing scrutiny. A trip to their website reveals the extent of supporters’ voting rights – not polls on potential new signings, tactics or stadium development. No, think picking goal celebration songs, choosing ‘funny challenges’ for the players on Instagram or advising on the design of the team bus. It’s not exactly the input most were expecting.
“These kind of small things, are they gimmicky? Yes, sometimes they are, but it’s still more than what you had the day before,” Dreyfus said in bizarrely cryptic fashion.
“We’re not here to take money from the fans. What we do is not bad; we aren’t worse than Facebook or TikTok.”
The Football Supporters’ Association has already been moved to action, and after sitting down with the UK government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport to discuss ways that fans could be engaged for free, were rather miffed to see a paid-for solution enter the market.
“Socios attempts to monetise fan engagement, which the leagues and clubs have committed to doing for free. There should be no financial barrier to engaging with your football club,” a spokesperson said.
One day saying you’re committed to supporter engagement.
The next day, trying to monetise it. https://t.co/oMeL1jiYH7
— The FSA (@WeAreTheFSA) July 19, 2021
Clubs have taken on board the feelings of their supporters on the matter too. West Ham were set to launch their own token via the Socios network, but after the Hammers’ fan groups launched their ‘Don’t Pay to Have Your Say’ campaign, the decision was taken by the club and Socios to part ways.
So are fan tokens the future of football finance, or anathema to everything the beautiful game stands for?