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Football fan platform Copa90 has hired Petrit Berisha in the newly-created role of head of cryptomedia to sniff out opportunities in the burgeoning world of crypto, NFTs and the blockchain. The Drum explores whether it is a position other publishers should look to fill.

This past year, football clubs have taken on crypto sponsors, and Lionel Messi’s move to PSG included payment of fan tokens. Football’s already in bed with crypto, although what happens next in the bed is open to much debate. Petrit Berisha has been brought into Copa90 to understand this ‘new paradigm for media’ and football after a few conversations with chief executive Tom Thirlwall made it clear this needed a long-term focus, not just a quick stunt. 

Berisha describes crypto as a “blank canvas” – the applications remain cryptic to all but those at the cutting edge. Despite us seeing clear examples of how it can be used, doesn’t mean we yet know how it will be used in sport and publishing. “A lot of people, especially in the sporting space, haven’t really done much when it comes to crypto and blockchain technology yet.”

He’s excluding huge crypto projects from the likes of NBA Topshots (officially-licensed collectibles), Sorare (blockchain-based fantasy football) and Socios (the fan-token firm working with PSG).

He has strong expertise in the NFT creator economy space and creating itself, and thinks that “every single aspect of our lives is going to be impacted by crypto in some nature”.

Every industry has to prepare for this, he adds, in which case expect more cryptomedia heads to be announced.

What will happen?

Crypto has already disrupted art, gaming and naturally finance, he says. But it is still in its formative years. “From an art perspective we’ve seen people sell digital pieces online and then receive perpetual royalties for every secondary sale, which is a really awesome concept that means artists can retire a lot earlier if their fan base is big and if their content is really good.”

In media, there are implications of token-gated content and newsletters, or special bits of audio and video made exclusively available to NFT owners.

Friends With Benefits, for example, is a token-gated company. Membership requires users to be invested in the system, and it’s this take on token gating that Copa90 reckons it could emulate – to a degree.

Berisha says: “We want to create the biggest community of football fans in the world via Discord or some other means. Eventually, we will look at how we hand over the ownership and the running and governance of that community to the fans itself, and that’s when we can start looking at things like token gating and creating a circular economy where the revenue derived is generated for the whole community and not just for Copa90.”

He admits that he’s currently “spitballing” – he’s not long in the role, after all – but his appointment shows how the fan platform is about building a better base for its football communities.

Football and collecting

The rise of NFTs is going to have a big impact on football. Fans already collect ticket stubs, scarves, shirts, match programs, Panini stickers and autographed anything.

What are the implications when this fervor can be moved online?

Berisha talks of Liverpool’s historic Champions League win in 2005 in Istanbul. Imagine that ticket had an online NFT to prove its authenticity. Someone would perhaps try to buy it. “Maybe five years on, a token is air-dropped into my digital wallet, which can be used to buy some digital merchandise from the Liverpool shop, or I can use it to buy a pint at Anfield from the bar.”

Perhaps it is used to reward fans on the five-year anniversary, with the option to enter the token in a raffle in exchange for a trip to Istanbul. Through Socios, for example, PSG fans can ‘earn rewards for interacting with your club ... find your voice, get club rewards and compete for once-in-a-lifetime experiences’.

In online communities, having members staked in could add some legitimacy and weight of voice that’s sorely missed. In football where fan/ownership balance is often questioned, fans could own and hold more of their clubs than they ever have – if the technology is properly implemented.

Berisha thinks the governance of clubs could be tokenized in five to 10 years, and he’s certain that crypto will “change the landscape of fans in general”.

Revenue and brand competition

At Copa90, Berisha’s going to have to prove that the technology can improve the fan experience and deliver at least some revenue. The paths to profit aren’t quite “cut and dried” yet, but history has shown us that “the biggest areas of disruption are where there are the biggest margins”. 

In the gaming industry, some games are allowing people to play and earn tokens that actually have a monetary value. This is reducing margins for the developers, at the expense of retention. At one million daily active users, that margin starts to become massive, says Berisha. So for the publisher, it needs to “add as much value to football and NFTs” as it can.

“We don’t want to approach the NFT perspective, with the sole ambition of making money, because that is not the kind of ethos and the kind of values that are behind the NFT industry. It’s about creating a new frontier and a new paradigm for media, and that is going to be the first and foremost aim, with money being secondary to that.”

In the future, he sees more being given back to the creator, and those who back the creators as part of a circular economy, and crypto will be central to that. 

He points to how decentralized music streaming platform Audius could give Spotify a run for its money, and asks what the equivalent services in podcasting and video would look like – especially at a time when creators are arguing about pay with platforms, and in OnlyFans’s case, their right to earn. 

“There’s going to be a lot of really interesting things happening in the future. The one thing is that this is also kind of contingent on how Google, Apple and the big tech players allow NFTs especially to become a lot more accessible through a kind of infrastructure but also hardware.”

Brands are coming along for the ride too. Some say these are stunts, others think it’s an early move. Budweiser purchased the ETH address Beer.eth for $100,000, and Visa bought a crypto bank for $150,000.

“A lot of people claim it’s a marketing play, but this is actually to integrate them into the NFT space and make it seem that they care about digital collectibles, which I think they actually do because I know some of the people who are at the company,” says Berisha.

“We’re going to see brands really go into the space hard and think about how they can really redefine the way that they market, and redefine the way that they interact with their customers through digital experiences, and I think this is going to be underpinned by blockchain, so don’t be surprised if you see household names doing things with NFTs from a football perspective, especially over the next two to three years.”