FA under fire for plans to join NFT craze

The Football Association is facing criticism for considering launching a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) amid a rising tide of elite clubs striking deals with cryptocurrency firms as markets swell collapse.

Deals with NFTs, digital assets typically exchanged via crypto, are rising as the government prepares to crack down on gambling advertising, another controversial major revenue stream in sports.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, the director of Clean Up Gambling, said he was shocked the FA was even considering joining a host of sports organizations in potentially creating an NFT in the wake of the recent stock market crashes.

Mark Bullingham, the FA’s chief executive, has insisted his organization will only benefit the sector “in the right way”, but added earlier this week: “NFTs are definitely something we are definitely exploring. It’s a big new revenue stream that everyone is exploring.”

However, Zarb-Cousin – a key lobbyist behind an impending white paper that could ban shirt betting ads – says he is increasingly worried about NFTs, which are driving fans into investing. in unstable markets. “Premier League clubs and footballers have rightly come under scrutiny for flogging glorified jpegs and fan tokens to supporters – the FA should stay away from such volatile sports investment” , did he declare.

According to Forbes, £123m has been spent on NFTs since November 2017. The product is often sold as a single digital image with built-in authentication, which serves as proof of ownership online.

For those in favor of a potential partnership, NFTs are the latest iteration of sports collectibles such as stickers or trading cards.

However, reviews of the scheme say clubs are making deals with NFT style company Socios, which have multi-million partnerships with some of Europe’s top clubs and even Lionel Messi. Martin Calladine, author and fan token campaigner, highlighted how Arsenal, when launching their Socios partnership, claimed that investing in crypto was like “buying foreign currency when you go on vacation.” “At the start of 2021 crypto was at 52p,” Calladine tweeted this week. “Today is 7 p.m. This is what it means for football clubs to sell high-risk unregulated financial products.”

In recent weeks, even as crypto prices have plummeted, Chelsea and Michael Owen have announced new partnerships with the market. Zarb-Cousin urged the FA to rethink any plans to follow suit. “Just as the crypto and NFT markets are collapsing, causing many people to lose their savings, the FA has decided now is the time to jump on the bandwagon,” he said.

On Thursday, as Messi’s lucrative deal with Socios helped make him the richest athlete in the world, crypto markets were rocked after another popular token lost 99% of its value. The Terra Luna token fell from a high of $118 (£96) last month to $0.09.

Yet hours earlier, Chelsea announced they had agreed a £20million sponsorship deal with WhaleFin, a cryptocurrency exchange and lending platform, as the Premier League side prepare to leave the Roman Abramovich era. Manchester United agreed a training kit sponsorship with blockchain company Tezos in February, while Manchester City announced a global partnership with crypto exchange OKX in March.

However, the broader market has suffered this week, as the combined market value of all cryptocurrencies is now $1.12 trillion, about a third of its November value, with over 35% of that loss coming this week.

In recent weeks, Sportemon Go – an NFT and cryptocurrency company sponsoring Rangers and Hibernian and endorsed by Liverpool‘s Andy Robertson – went out of business. Speaking at the last UEFA Congress in Vienna, Bullingham said earlier this week that NFT deals “have to be done in the right way and obviously there is a wider range of commercial options”. “What we do, we will do in the right way and at the right time,” he added.

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