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Arsenal Ready To Enter NFT Industry

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Arsenal are one of the first clubs in the Premier League to enter the NFT industry on the back of a successful fan token initiative.

It’s recently been announced that the Gunners will team up with Unagi, the makers of an NFT fantasy football game called Ultimate Champions. The deal sees the club license their players and branding to the game and promote the developer with pitch-side advertising and a logo presence on backboards for interviews.

Ultimate Champions allows players to build a team that wins (or loses) matches based on real-life performance. It claims to use an ecosystem that rewards every area no the field, so even holding midfielders such as Mohamed Elneny will finally get the points, they deserve despite not accruing clean sheets or goals and assists. It’s an interesting model, perhaps more so because of the presence of NFTs.

“Unagi’s Ultimate Champions represents the next generation of fantasy football gaming,” said Arsenal’s Chief Commercial Officer, Juliet Slot. “We’re privileged to be the only Premier League club to join the free to play game and bring this brilliant concept to our supporters around the world, giving them the opportunity to apply their global football knowledge and test themselves as a football manager.”

NFTs are non-fungible tokens, and they’ve been a debating point among football fans. On the one hand, we saw Liverpool’s recent NFT release fail miserably, with only 5% of their offering sold to fans. On the other hand, fan tokens have been a success in the UK and beyond. The Arsenal fan token is one of the most valuable among Socios’ offering, and it’s been relatively well-received by fans. Putting the advertising controversy aside, the token offers fans a portion of digital influence, with polls taking place for different aspects. Other clubs have seen the design of the team bus and goal song decided by supporters who own a fan token.

They’ve been such a success that Socios are opening an office in the United States and are looking to penetrate that lucrative market, both in MLS and their other sporting franchises. Fan tokens are not strictly NFTs; they are digital assets which often get lazily dumped in the same bracket. Liverpool’s release was an out-and-out NFT, a digital product with no discernable benefit. Fan tokens, backed by the cryptocurrency Chiliz, do have benefits that make them more valued by supporters.

That’s why Ultimate Champions is an interesting prospect for the future. In the main, video game fans have rejected NFTs, particularly when the offering doesn’t improve their current titles. EA Sports appears to have abandoned plans to introduce digital assets into their FIFA range, which will soon be rebranded as EA Sports FC. However, Sorare is an NFT-based gaming platform that allows users to build a small-sided team using digital assets that can be bought or sold. No such controversy has raged around that title, and that’s perhaps because the cards can be developed, collected and traded, but were not previously offered in other game modes, as with FIFA’s FUT mode.

“The value of these cards will evolve over time in line with the real performances of each Arsenal player – just like in any fantasy game,” said Remi Pellerin, CEO of Unagi. “Except in Ultimate Champions, you get to keep the cards you collect and play with them season after season.”

Therein lies the interesting concept for Arsenal fans with a passing interest in digital assets. Rather than just getting a cartoon mage of Jürgen Klopp that you can’t do anything with, Ultimate Champions presents an opportunity to build a team to compete, something Mikel Arteta will be hoping to do over the summer. Long term, that is perhaps the blueprint to NFT’s success within the football sector, and Arsenal are right at the front of it.

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