For over a decade now, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain have been taking the world by storm. One by one, industries like finance, governance, and even art have capitulated to the strength of these emerging technologies. Only the sports world seemed relatively oblivious — that is, until Lionel Messi decided to change the game.
When the world-renowned footballer signed with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in August last year, he received $PSG Fan Tokens as part of his welcome package. This unprecedented move spurred massive interest in crypto’s latest innovation: the fan token. These currencies are now taking the football world by storm, arguably due to the intrigue fuelled by the legendary Argentinian international.
This begs the question: what exactly are fan tokens? How did Messi popularise them? And more importantly — what does it mean for the future of football?
The fan token
Like regular cryptocurrencies, fan tokens are stored on the blockchain for additional security and decentralisation. However, they’re not used in exchange for products and services. Instead, they’re considered utility tokens — which VentureBeat defines as perfect for holders who want to unlock exclusive promotions.
With a fan token, one can interact with their favourite clubs like never before. You can use it to influence internal decisions like bus and kit designs or even the music played after your team scores a goal. You can earn the opportunity to interact directly with team members or even be invited to team events as a special guest. The more tokens you have, the better chances you have of unlocking these experiences or even being recognised as a super fan.
Messi, crypto and PSG
Looking for new opportunities in the burgeoning crypto market, PSG signed with Socios in 2018 — a Malta-based company that’s currently the world’s largest fan token platform. Two years later, PSG became the world’s first football club to release its own cryptocurrency. Yet it wasn’t until Messi ended his 21-year stint with FC Barcelona to join PSG that the hype around $PSG really began to heat up.
Fortune reports that when news of Messi’s deal broke, $PSG’s value increased by more than double its original amount. Messi’s global appeal then endorsed fan tokens as a means for football clubs to increase fan interaction. Soon after Messi signed with PSG, Socios’ list of football partners grew to include global powerhouses such as Manchester City, Arsenal, and Leeds United.
By December 2021, the BBC found that football fans had spent over £262 million on fan tokens — and the value of tokens held by the top 13 football clubs together amounted to over £1.4 billion. With Messi himself earning a huge part of his signing on fee from PSG’s own tokens, fans began to discover their value for not just accessing exclusive promotions, but also for other perks like permanent 5% discounts on club merchandise.
We at Inside Wales Sport have also reported that regulations for fan token advertisements are now more defined, meaning that even the British government is working to make fan tokens safer and more valuable for buyers. With fan tokens enhancing football clubs’ pandemic-era engagement strategies and fans finding more in these tokens than they bargained for, it’s clear that Messi helped cultivate a win-win situation and a novel, innovative way for sports to evolve in today’s Digital Age.
Prone to fits of apathy. Music specialist. Extreme food enthusiast. Amateur problem solver.