Liverpool, as a club, have always meant more. Or at least that’s what fans like to tell ourselves. And it’s what the club rather like to tell us, too, creating slick videos that lean into the sentiment in an effort to strengthen those feelings of attachment between supporter and club.
None of which is done with altruistic intentions, of course. Because every casual fan that becomes a dedicated follower that becomes a rabid supporter is also a potential source of income for the club, increasing shirt sales and hospitality tickets sold and leading to more lucrative commercial partnerships.
More fans, more followers, more supporters equals more sales, more revenue, and more brand value. It’s the ugly side of the beautiful game, and to look too closely at that side of things risks a shattering of the illusions that help one to stay a fan, a follower, a supporter.
Look too closely, and you can begin to see that you don’t really matter to the club in the same way the way the club matters to you. Look too closely, and it becomes clear you’re nothing more than a data point on a spreadsheet, a customer whose only worth is to be separated from your Pounds or Dollars or Euros.
In the recent history of the club, there have been times when those ugly underpinnings to the relationship between fan and club have been made clear. Past attempts to raise ticket prices beyond the means of local supporters. Staff furloughs. The attempt by John Henry and Fenway Sports Group to join in the founding of a European Super League.
Today, we have another with the announcement that Liverpool Football Club are launching a line of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. In laymen’s terms, it’s a digital receipt stored on the blockchain. Or, even simpler, it’s a digital note that says that you, a fan of crudely drawn pixelated apes or a football club, are the true and final owner of a certain image.
That you have a receipt is of little genuine use to the average person. All it does it point to a high quality version of the image on a server. Meanwhile, the information on the receipt is too large to store within the image itself, and holding it can’t stop anyone with a high quality copy of the image from duplicating it.
In the end, there is no genuine scarcity of product. There is only, arguably, scarcity of the receipt that says that you are the rightful owner of said product, a receipt that you can then sell for a profit if you’re lucky—or hold on to as a status symbol. Any utility beyond that is dubious at best.
Meanwhile, the energy it takes to create these blockchain-backed digital receipts, receipts that would take a millennium to crack, is massive. Each time an NFT is first minted, sold, or re-sold a there is an energy cost, a carbon cost, and a computer hardware cost.
For some things, there is an argument that blockchain-backed encryption is worthwhile. It can offer a level of digital authentication and security to transactions that has an appeal in some use cases. To produce a digital receipt for a reproducible digital image with no end-user utility beyond being able to say you hold that receipt is not one of those cases.
With companies and individuals seeing an opportunity to make money, though, that there’s no strong case for NFTs to exist in the first place and that their creation does environmental harm is of little concern, so it has become common for celebrities and corporations to embrace them as a source of revenue.
There have also been criticisms that they are little more than a pyramid scheme, with many in football pointing to the case of ex-Chelsea star John Terry’s NFT line that saw Terry and friends mint and sell their their digital receipts, leveraging his personal brand and leading to a speculation bubble which has now crashed and left those who bought in with little.
Liverpool today are offering fans a chance at the same. A chance to buy an environmentally expensive digital receipt with no genuine end-user utility. The club will happily take your money, letting you gamble on a future when you might be able to re-sell that receipt for more—as there is nothing else one can actually do with an NFT.
It’s crass, it’s exploitative, and for many long-time fans and followers and supporters it will seem an undertaking in fundamental opposition to what the club is meant to stand for. It’s a stark reminder, then, that at the end of the day those who run the club see you as nothing more than a wallet to be drained.
For many of us—including those who write for this site—and as in the wake of the Super League, furloughing, and ticket price fiascoes, this will make it far harder no to justify spending money on merchandise, on shirts and souvenirs, and on subscription services moving forward. Shame on Liverpool Football Club.