A French company created three years ago, Sorare has just completed the largest fundraising ever recorded by a French start-up ($680 million). Specialist in digital football cards, Sorare has already established partnerships with major championships, federations and intends to revolutionize virtual football leagues, as detailed by Brian O’Hagan, in charge of the company’s growth.
Interview by Victor Launay
Sorare is a kind of digital Panini. The principle of collecting player cards is not new, but we have updated it with technology using NFTs – unforgeable digital objects – which allow us to create digital player cards that can be exchanged in complete safety, with different levels of rarity and can be used in a game. The game can recall an MPG or a Fantasy Premier League, but the difference is that we play with 5 cards that can come from any championship, against players from all over the world. For example, we can line up José Fonte in defense, Ronaldo in attack and a J-League player as goalkeeper. If our players performed well in their real matches, we can win new cards.
You have just achieved a record fundraising ($680M), the largest ever by a French start-up. What is your objective ? Why such an amount?
If we do this fundraiser, it’s because we want to create the next giant of theamusement jock. Our goal is to create connection between players, footballers and clubs, via our cards. Afterwards, we think about new uses every day. For example, we recently hosted a tournament on the platform where the winner got a Gerard Pique NFT card with an all-expenses-paid weekend in Barcelona to watch a match at Camp Nou. We build an experience that is backed by a map, the idea is to create a link between the digital and the physical world. Soon, our goal is to integrate the twenty largest football leagues in the world and the fifty main federations (the FFF signed a partnership in June 2021, Ed) and why not open up to other sports. As for the amount, I think investors wanted to bet on the future and the team: there is potential to develop a giant in the sports ecosystem through NFT technology.
“An American user made a return trip to Russia to see a Zenith match, because he had acquired 3 club player cards! » Brian O’Hagan, Sorare
There is a large dimension of scouting in the game, Jonathan David was also well known on the platform even before the season when he exploded at La Gantoise. Are apprentice scouts a profile that you find among your players?
Sure. Griezmann is an investor in Sorare and he really liked finding the logic of Soccer Manager, which he was already playing. FM players love Sorare, because there is the goal of finding unknown players in the Japanese, Peruvian, Argentinian leagues… This dimension of scouting is very strong. This helps to develop interest in little-known leagues, small clubs to develop an audience and highlight their players. Afterwards, unlike an FM, where we will watch the simulations, Sorare is based on the real performance of the player in the game, and this allows a club in Linz or Tokyo to create a new fan base. We’ve had plenty of stories of users who have become fans of a club thanks to the game: an American user traveled to Russia and back to see a Zenith match, because he had acquired 3 club player cards!
Sorare is a great way for clubs to reach new audiences or grow their brand. But doesn’t this further reinforce the logic of speculation and the pressure surrounding young players?
I do not think so. The same debate could rage over Soccer Manager. The game created a whole bunch of “nuggets”, I don’t know if that influenced their performance… To break through when you’re a player, there are plenty of other steps to take.
Perhaps there will be Sorare “nuggets” that will have disappointed in a few years, such as those of Soccer Manager…
That may be what will happen, and that’s the logic that goes with the scouting, but that’s not so bad in itself: when someone chooses a young player on this type of game, I think he identifies with it in a certain way! Every football fan has in him this part of an unfinished footballer.
Players’ cards are also sometimes very expensive – several hundred thousand euros for players like Mbappé or Ronaldo. Why are the amounts reached so high and is it not yet going in the direction of all-payment for football fans, who must constantly pay to watch their team and show their membership?
With the NFTs and the different card draws on Sorare, there has always been this logic of scarcity. Depending on the supply and demand on the players, the price may therefore vary. Afterwards, our objective is to make a game accessible to all. We are careful that the game is as accessible as possible and we are developing a 100% free game mode. Regarding the logic of all-paying football, it is not at all our idea. We are much more focused on usage, and NFTs are above all a way to develop a game more than to speculate. Currently, of course, we mainly appeal to people who are very attracted to the statistical aspect of football, but we always try to ignore as much as possible the layer of complexity that can be generated by NFTs and their technology. Afterwards, the game is still new, and we hope to gradually attract a wider audience. It’s a job for years to come, and fundraising will help us.
So it is the possibility of using the cards in a game that guarantees their financial value, when they are ultimately 100% virtual?
There is indeed a use value, because the cards are used to play in leagues, but there is also a collection value. We sell Legend cards that have no use value, and they also go for several hundred euros: there are many people who collect, including virtual objects. It’s not surprising, the collection makes it possible to develop an identity, to mark one’s identification with something. The logic is the same with a work of art: by acquiring a work, the owner will want to identify himself as an amateur of such a movement or such a painter, even if this may seem like an outward sign of wealth. Sorare is a bit of a digital passport on football: if a player wants to show that he is a fan ofAlbiceleste or Naples, he can buy a Maradona card for example.
Some speak of a bubble of NFTs or cryptocurrencies, both of which use the blockchain. Are there any risks for Sorare?
As for speculation around NFTs, the ability to use the card in leagues diminishes it, and we are much less exposed than other projects. We see ourselves more as a football game than as a platform that sells NFTs. The cards are now mainly designed in euros, you can buy them in real currency, even if you can always buy them in Ethereum (one of the main cryptocurrencies, Editor’s note). Ultimately, our project is to switch to a stablecoina stable, dollar-pegged cryptocurrency that is immune to crypto fluctuations.
You count as investors Griezmann, Pique, Bierhoff or Rio Ferdinand. Who has the best team in the game?
(Laughs.) It’s Griezmann! He has Maarten Vandevoordt from Genk, a big nugget and a handsome Hall of Fame with Mbappe. He also has his own menu!
Interview by Victor Launay