Uefa has been accused of exposing supporters to “crypto-mercenaries” after becoming the latest football organisation to sign a deal with the fan token company Socios.com.
The European governing body has agreed a licensing and sponsorship arrangement with Socios.com, which produces tokens for 53 football clubs across the world, including Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Manchester City, Everton and Aston Villa.
Fan tokens allow supporters to vote on certain matters decided by a club and to enter competitions. They must be bought, using Socios.com’s cryptocurrency Chiliz, and can be traded on cryptocurrency markets.
Football Supporters Europe was highly critical of the three-year agreement. “We are appalled by Uefa’s decision to team up with Socios, a company that monetises fan engagement at the expense of match-going fans,” it said in a statement. “This is an incomprehensible move at a time when football needs protection from crypto-mercenaries.”
FSE, who receive funding from Uefa, continued: “Uefa’s partnership with Socios legitimises risky investments in highly volatile and largely unregulated financial assets.”
Another respected fan organisation, SD Europe, was also critical of the deal, which it said came in “stark contrast” to Uefa’s decision on Monday to give 30,000 free tickets to match-going fans for the finals of this year’s continental club competitions.
“Meaningful fan engagement should be democratic, inclusive and transparent via formal mechanisms such as supporter involvement in governance structures, share ownership, voting rights and representative supporter groups,” SD Europe said.
Uefa was approached by the Guardian for comment. In a press release its marketing director, Guy-Laurent Epstein, said: “We are always looking for innovative partnerships, including with the growing cryptocurrency and blockchain-based fan engagement market. With rich experience working with some of the top sports organisations around the world, it is clear that partnering with Socios.com is an ideal fit.”
As part of the arrangement with Uefa, Socios.com will produce “add-on fan tokens” with Uefa branding which will be awarded to customers currently holding tokens in clubs. A Socios.com spokesperson said uses for the add-on tokens would be disclosed soon but that they would not be sold to customers nor available for trade.
Socios.com was founded by the former poker entrepreneur Alexandre Dreyfus and has become the market leader in linking sport to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
Dreyfus says that fan tokens enable clubs to better interact with the digital aspects of their fanbase. “The value that is provided is not financial and will never be financial,” he told Sky News last month, “The value is about the experience and the connection that is provided between the fan and the club.”
The link between fan tokens and speculative trading has been part of the Socios.com offering since its launch in 2019. Some tokens have seen substantial falls in value, with the Arsenal token losing 60% since its launch in November last year. In December the Advertising Standards Authority called the club “irresponsible” and “misleading” for the way they had marketed their token, saying they had “failed to illustrate the risk of the investment”.