The Professional Fighters League is becoming the first sports league to offer blockchain-based tokens to fans. To help fans become more engaged with the MMA season and individual fighters, the PFL has reached a deal to sell the tokens through Socios.com, a European-based firm that has issued blockchain tokens for teams including soccer’s FC Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
“It’s all about fan engagement. The new partnership will see PFL launch digital assets providing fans with engagement opportunities, including the chance to earn exclusive rewards on blockchain-based votes on Socios.com,” Peter Murray, CEO of the PFL, said in a phone call. “It’s another opportunity to tell great stories and really provide fans access to activate throughout a season model, which we’re unique with in MMA.”
Details on the date, size and price of the offering are still being hammered out with Socios, but tokens will be available to purchase ahead of the PFL’s next mixed martial arts season, which will begin April 2021. Socios’ past offerings with individual teams have tended to sell between $700,000 and $1.5 million’s worth of blockchain-based tokens at around $2.50 a piece. The bulk of the money raised goes to the team with the balance as a fee to Socios.
Like the best-known cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, team and league tokens are currencies that users believe have monetary value and can be traded through the Socios app. However, the real value is in deeper fan engagement, which comes from providing token-owning fans unique access to experiences as well as input on some aspects of the team. For instance, the Cyprus-based Apollon FC allowed token-owning fans to vote on the formation and starting 11 for a recent friendly against its cross-island soccer rival. Owners of Galatasaray, a Turkish soccer team, let fans choose the club’s entrance theme played in its home stadium. Juventus asked fans to vote on how to paint the team bus.
What perks the PFL will offer fans are still being determined, according to Murray. Token-holders will have ways to support a favorite fighter among the PFL women’s lightweight and five men’s divisions, as well as promotions built around the PFL regular season, playoffs and championships. Unlike other martial sports that are event-focused, the PFL is designed around a season model.
“The PFL is a single entity so it allows them to be more creative than a so-called older league. They’re more hungry for innovation and want to grow their business,” said Alexandre Dreyfus, founder and CEO of Socios, in a phone call from the company’s headquarters in Malta. “The question is, how can you innovate using technology to—not necessarily be better—but be different from other [MMA] offerings? What you buy is a voice, a say in it. It’s a way to be recognized as a fan.”
According to Dreyfus, there is a strong base of fans already using cryptocurrency to interact with their favorite teams. More than 335,000 people have downloaded the Socios app and about 20,000 to 30,000 are regular clients. PFL is also the first U.S.-based sports organization to embrace blockchain tokens.
“We are the fastest-growing sport in the world, with 450 million fans and growing. It’s the youngest fanbase and most digitally engaged fanbase, so we thought this was a natural fit for MMA and the PFL,” said Murray. “This platform now represents another opportunity to give fans access and in return see some tangible benefits coming back to them for their loyalty. I think it’s genius.”
(This story has been updated to clarify a distinction between blockchain tokens and cryptocurrency throughout.)