The English Premier League (EPL) has recently forged a multimillion-pound deal with Sorare, the blockchain-based fantasy sports game. This agreement is a testament to the EPL’s belief that trading in digital collectibles will remain popular even during the current crypto market slump.
Sorare, which is based in Paris and has the backing of star players such as Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi, announced the four-year licensing contract with the Premier League on Monday. According to people familiar with the agreement, Sorare will pay the EPL tens of millions of pounds a year, with each year’s final payment dependent on performance. The Premier League also has the option to take an equity stake in Sorare. The start-up was last valued at $4.3bn in 2021, when SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Benchmark, Accel, and other investors put in a total of $680mn.
Richard Masters, the chief executive of the Premier League, commented on the deal, saying: “The way that supporters follow their favourite teams and players is evolving and the Premier League is always looking for ways to engage with fans.”
The deal comes after the bankruptcy of crypto platform FTX, which has led to renewed scrutiny of partnerships between sports and the crypto sector. FTX sponsored Major League Baseball and signed endorsements with celebrities in the hope of targeting sports fans. A report by IMG-owned sports consultancy Seven League stated that the decline in crypto prices has had a negative effect on the demand for digital sports collectibles.
Nicolas Julia, Sorare’s co-founder and chief executive, emphasized that his company is different from other crypto start-ups because its tokens have utility beyond mere price speculation. This is evident in its fantasy game, which has attracted more than 3mn sign-ups since the company was founded in 2018.
Julia also shared his opinion on the crypto mania of the past two years, saying: “To be frank, I don’t love the craziness of the last six to 18 months [in crypto]. You get lots of organisations and companies thinking short term and jumping into the new cool tech for the wrong reasons, then leaving fans with a bad taste in their mouth.”
The Premier League is Sorare’s third big new partner in 12 months, after teaming up with the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, several Premier League teams have forged alliances directly with crypto groups, such as Tezos’s sponsorship deal with Manchester United.
Clubs including Manchester City, Arsenal, and Everton have issued their own “fan tokens” with providers such as Socios. Many of these have seen a decline in value alongside the broader crypto market sell-off over recent months.
Sorare’s revenues increased by 50% in 2022 compared with the previous year, as gross merchandise volume rose from €270mn in 2021 to about €500mn last year.
However, Sorare is also facing regulatory scrutiny. Alongside the Premier League announcement, Sorare is launching new features to expand free-to-play access to its games and improve player safety, after reaching an agreement with France’s gaming commission, the ANJ. Julia stated that the company was “maintaining a dialogue” with the UK’s Gambling Commission, which is examining whether the fantasy game constitutes gambling.
The deal between Sorare and the EPL is a significant step in the world of sports and crypto. The fantasy sports game is a great way for fans to engage with their favourite teams and players, and the digital collectibles offer a unique way to show support and be a part of the sports world. Although the crypto market has seen some turbulence in the past year, the EPL’s agreement with Sorare shows that the digital collectibles industry is still going strong. As the sector continues to grow, it will be interesting to see what other partnerships arise between sports and crypto in the future.