Over the past two decades, American sports have made great strides to grow their audiences overseas including the inception of the NFL International Series, a series of regular season games that are played outside the U.S., and the continued growth of the NBA League Pass, which allows fans from across the globe – and across time zones – to experience the NBA wherever and whenever. Despite these significant strides, there is still more work to do to deliver American sports the global fanbase of their dreams. At Sorare, we believe that the NFT-based fantasy sports genre that we’ve built is part of the answer.
Paving the Way
Fantasy sports are nothing new, but they’ve reached new heights in popularity in recent years. The most recent data tracked by the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association shows more than 59 million people across the US and Canada play fantasy sports, up from less than 20 million a decade prior. With this, leagues like the NFL have reaped great rewards with studies showing that fans who engage in fantasy football are more motivated to watch the games on TV. And it’s easy to see why. While fantasy football is most popular in the U.S., we’re seeing every sport from baseball to hockey to soccer following suit. In Europe, fantasy soccer is very popular with over 25M users. The one difference being that these are free-to-play fantasy games just like Sorare is.
Simultaneously, we’re also in the midst of a massive sports memorabilia boom, with the market estimated to be worth $5.4 billion, proving that while fantasy sports is an important channel for engagement, fans crave more. While any fan can watch a game, it’s a point of pride to own a unique piece of it. Whether it’s a jersey from a favorite player or a signed ball from the game or a rare trading card, building a collection around the sport builds an emotional connection to the leagues, teams and players that fans are watching and rooting for. In 2021, we also saw collectibles evolve for a new generation, as brands, teams and athletes launched NFTs to meaningfully interact with a global network of fans, independent of nationality and geographic location.
While some may be skeptical about the rise of NFTs, digital collectibles are the key to opening up a whole new paradigm of player and fan interaction. By adding the emotional element of collecting to fantasy sports, there is a clear opportunity to create a new kind of fan experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
At Sorare, we created the first free-to-play NFT-based fantasy game with a first focus around soccer and have seen just how powerful the combination can be. In less than 3 years, we’ve grown to more than 1.5 million users across 180 countries. And one of the most powerful things we’ve seen from our community is how their engagement with teams crosses borders. Our NFTs have begun to dismantle long-standing geographical barriers by delivering for:
- Fans: new ways to connect with their favorite players, teams and leagues across the globe
- Leagues and teams: new revenue streams and increased global visibility
- Athletes: personal brand notoriety and the ability to interact with a global fan network
For example, at Sorare, we’ve seen fans of fantasy baseball joining Sorare because they loved the idea of a free-to-play NFT based fantasy game. They developed a newly found interest for soccer and became fans of teams such as Club Bruges in Belgium. We believe this is just the beginning. Today we’re seeing soccer fans traveling the world to watch the games of new and different teams, and in the future we believe that same enthusiasm will propel them into new and different sports. As we expand our platform into new categories, we believe we’ll see soccer fans around the world explore the fantasy games for American football, basketball and beyond. And because they own a piece of the game through the NFT cards, they won’t be casual consumers, but they’ll become lifelong fans.
Longer-term, the opportunities will be endless, and we believe NFT-based fantasy games will continue to break barriers of all kinds by unlocking real-world experiences: NFTs will offer more than just a digital asset, they will create connections between the digital world and the physical world, providing access to exclusive real-life experiences like meeting athletes or attending limited events. Finally, one topic that is close to my heart is the potential NFTs have to help boost the fanbase for women’s sports, which have historically been, and sadly still are, underrepresented. By giving a direct line of support to the teams and players they care about, NFTs can significantly accelerate the development of women’s sports by bringing in the broader sports and NFT communities who understand the value of these collectible items.