Interview with Alberto Maiorana, Head of Licensing & Partnerships at Sorare, the startup that brought together collectible cards and NFTs
Fantasy games are on the rise and Sorare is at the forefront of the industry. Last September it announced a $680 million Series B round, led by SoftBank and with participation from Atomico Bessemer Ventures, D1 Capital, Eurazeo, IVP and Liontree, bringing together long-standing investors such as Benchmark, one of the world’s largest venture capital firms, Accel and Partech, and leading business angel investors including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and football players Gerard Piqué, Rio Ferdinand, Antoine Griezmann and César Azpilicueta. Since its founding in December 2018, Sorare has raised $739.4 million so far. To understand how the startup has grown and what its future moves will be, we interviewed Alberto Maiorana, Head of Licensing & Partnerships at Sorare.
What are the distinguishing features of Sorare?
It is a global fantasy football game that connects fans with their favorite players and clubs together. Through tradable cards also known as NFTs, Sorare is designing a collective fantasy football experience where users manage their favorite players from over 230 clubs and hone their passion to earn prizes. Anyone, anywhere, can connect with the beautiful game on Sorare.
The users are called managers and start by collecting Sorare cards. They are officially licensed digital cards representing football players. With the cards, they can build and manage their own club. The managers can compete globally twice a week and connect with other managers on the platform. If they perform well, they can earn rewards: new cards, merchandising, tickets etc. There are different types of collectibles in Sorare. For the more than 6000+ footballers available on Sorare, we create a scarce number of cards: 1000 ‘limited’ cards, 100 ‘rare’ cards, 10 ‘super rare’ cards and one final ‘unique’ card.
Why has Sorare grown so much and so fast?
I think that fans do not want to engage with football games passively, they want to participate in the overall experience and connect with the club, the footballer and other fans. As we spend more time online and as world football has shifted from local supporters to global fans, there has never been such a great need for connection through true passion. Sports collectibles have long helped fans celebrate their love of the game and now with NFTs they can store some of their memories, culture and engage with these collectibles in games. Then we have to consider how the pandemic situation has changed the football world: less events in attendance have meant new ways to enjoy football. Sorare is one of these ways.
Let’s talk about numbers: turnover in 2021 and growth margins in recent years?
Since the launch of our open beta in December 2019, we have evolved from an under-the-radar early stage startup to the market leader in the NFT x Fantasy market now valued at $4.3 billion. Over $300 million worth of cards was traded on the platform in 2021 alone
*(Sorare’s 2021 turnover is expected to be between USD 325-350 million).
In some interviews you read 1 million registered players, in others 600,000 users: how many are the monthly active users on Sorare?
When will the Sorare mobile app be ready?
Mobile is a priority for Sorare, we are hard at work on this but don’t have anything to announce at this stage. We will slowly start rolling it out to alpha users, iterating on the app, building it by getting feedback from the community.
Is Sorare’s model replicable for other sports: what will be the first disciplines you aim to broaden the range?
We plan to roll out new sports in 2022. The game that we have created thanks to our technological mastery of NFTs and the blockchain can be replicated on other sports, and in particular US sports. Many leagues have contacted us around the world to explore the possibility of a partnership. We will see who will be the first to actually join us!
2022 is the year in which you will focus your efforts in the United States, going beyond Major League Soccer: based on your analysis and research, which American league do you plan to start from and what are the differences in approach with clubs/franchises compared to Europe?
The setting in the US to partner with sports is different, where you need a partnership with the PA and the League. In football, there are many more actors that we need to talk to, we now have more than 230 clubs with more joining soon.
What differentiates you from American competitors focusing on gaming and blockchain, such as Dapper Labs or DraftKings?
We are focused on building the best fantasy game, leveraging NFTs.
In addition to being on the board of the company, Serena Williams will be your spokesperson and key to scaling the US market: what do you expect from her?
Her experience in building brands, companies and passionate fan bases, both on and off the pitch, will help to further accelerate the company’s growth, while continuing to attract new players and bring new teams and leagues into sports categories and areas geographic. Together we aim to build the future of sports entertainment on the Web3, allowing everyone to own “a piece” of the games they love, whether it’s in football or other sports.
You are also present in Asia: in which leagues are you active and what response have you had from clubs and fans?
We are active with the Korean League and the Japan League. We see a strong adoption there, especially in Japan.
What are Sorare’s priorities for the next three years?
The mobile app is the first. We’re launching a global mobile app to meet our users where they are, on the computer and on the go. Other priorities are the partners, signing the top 20 soccer leagues and launching a new sport; offices, with headquarters in Paris and New York. Other goals are also: moving into US sports and hiring more than 100 employees in our NYC office.
Expanding into new markets and disciplines inevitably means strengthening the team: how many people are you planning to recruit in 2022 and what kind of people are you looking for?
We plan to recruit more than 200 people in the next 12 months. In accordance with our goals, we are hiring software engineers and mobile developers and a product lead with expertise in gaming.
Sorare has focused on Non-fungible tokens since its creation. Given the large-scale spread of this phenomenon, are you planning to find new solutions to further integrate them into your business?
We have been working on ways to include real life experiences as a result of the game.
NFT as a new trend that can establish itself in a short period of time, are you interested in explaining and clarifying to users and clubs the nature, advantages and limitations of the NFT market related to sport?
For users, blockchain creates trust through scarcity, ownership and immutability.
Scarcity: the value of any collectible item, virtual or physical, is largely driven by scarcity. When a central entity can mint more of an item at will, the market must discount that item based on the probability that the supply will increase. The scarcity (or lack thereof) of a NFT is known by inspecting the NFT contract.
True ownership by the user: whereas one’s ownership of a traditional digital card is a row in someone else’s database, ownership of a NFT is immutably captured in a blockchain contract. This means NFTs are fully in the custody of the owner and not the issuer.
Immutability: the properties of a NFT are set in the blockchain contract, not a modifiable database managed by a central entity. This is a strong guarantee that an item today will have the same properties at a later date.
For IP right holders (clubs and leagues), blockchain creates traceability, persistence and authenticity.
Traceability: traditional digital cards are not traceable and the licensee can’t pay royalties to the licensor on the second hand market. NFTs are traceable, and even if they are re-sold outside of sorare.com, you can take a royalty out of it. Persistence: when a game company shuts down its servers, its players cannot take their digital cards with them. The market instantly collapses to zero. NFTs last forever. Authenticity: NFTs are authenticated goods that can’t be tampered with. It is a way for licensors to protect their IP.
For football players, blockchain creates a unique way to connect with users, through authenticated ownership and provenance.
Nicolas Julia, Ceo Sorare, said that intends to support other startups specialised in blockchain and gaming:you want to create an ecosystem under the umbrella of Sorare?
Our founder has accumulated deep knowledge of an industry that’s only just unfolding. Naturally, he’s a mentor, advisor and investor in some younger companies in the space. We’re excited to see that in the last few years, Europe has really emerged as a rich ecosystem, with entrepreneurs giving back to the younger generations of businesses, in cash, expertise and knowhow.
Julia himself said that another interest of Sorare is to support youth sports activities. How, where and when do you plan to intervene?
We are working on our social impact strategy, recruiting the right people to lead it. As soon as it’ll be ready, we’ll communicate on it.
Many former and current sportsmen and women invest in Sorare. Where does their interest come from? Do they give you hints, suggestions or ideas for improvements and new functions?
All Athletes that have invested in Sorare bring something different to the team. Some like Gerard Piqué, bring in their network of athletes and partners. Some like Antoine Griezmann give feedback on the product.