© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: SoftBank Corp logo is pictured at a press conference in Tokyo, Japan on February 4, 2021. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon / File Photo
By Elizabeth Howcroft
LONDON (Reuters) – The blockchain-based fantasy soccer game Sorare has raised $ 680 million in a funding round led by SoftBank, in which players like former England international Rio Ferdinand and Spaniard Gerard Pique are investing, the company said on Tuesday with.
Paris-based Sorare said the investment valued the company at $ 4.3 billion.
Founded in 2018, Sorare is an online game where players buy officially licensed cards that represent soccer players and form teams that play against each other, with the outcome based on the players' performance in real-world games.
The cards are traded in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a type of crypto-asset that records the ownership status of digital goods on the blockchain.
The market for NFTs grew explosively in 2021, with collectible and sports brands being the most popular types of tokens.
"We believe that NFTs represent a new paradigm for collectibility, ease of use, and engagement with assets," said Michel Combes, president of SoftBank Group International, in an email.
"This development from physical assets to digital assets is very powerful and creates many exciting potential business models."
Sorare is the largest sports-based NFT platform by revenue, according to NonFungible.com, a website that tracks NFT market data. It plans to open an office in the United States and expand into sports other than soccer.
"We saw the immense potential that blockchain and NFTs brought with them to provide football clubs, footballers and their fans with a new way to experience a deeper connection," said Nicolas Julia, CEO and co-founder of Sorare.
"We believe this is a huge opportunity to create the next sports entertainment giant."
As of January 2021, Sorare has had sales of $ 150 million, which accept payments by credit card and cryptocurrency Ether. The most expensive single ticket is from Cristiano Ronaldo, which was purchased on March 13 for € 245,072 (US $ 287,420.44).
The fundraising round was SoftBank's first investment in Sorare through its SoftBank Vision Fund 2.
SoftBank's Latin America Fund also contributed, which Combes said was because SoftBank can leverage its relationships with US and Latin American football leagues and its investment in Televisa-Univision to expand Sorare's user base there.
This isn't SoftBank's first foray into NFTs: it also led investments in the NFT marketplace OpenSea in July and invested in the decentralized financial platform Juggernaut in March.
Other investors in Sorare's raise include: venture capital firms Accel and Bessemer Ventures, as well as footballers Pique, Ferdinand, Frenchman Antoine Griezmann and Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta.
($ 1 = 0.8527 euros)
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