Cristiano Ronaldo is the website's most expensive player

Credit: Reuters

The Premier League could join the NFT craze by selling rights to players to be traded as digital football stickers.

Sorare, a French technology start-up that allows users to trade virtual cards representing players on the blockchain, has raised $680m (£498m) from investors including SoftBank, the Japanese investment giant.

Nicolas Julia, its chief executive, said the company was hoping to build on a recent rights deal with Spain’s La Liga by forging deals with major leagues including the English top flight.

"We have had conversations, we have been in touch for a while, and hopefully we will have something to announce with the Premier League," he said. The company is believed to have expressed an interest with the league, although discussions are not at an advanced stage.

NFTs, pieces of code linked to unique digital collectibles, have exploded in the last year, with billions in transactions in the first half of the year alone.

Licensing the rights to players and teams could produce much-needed revenue for leagues after revenues suffered during the pandemic. Mr Julia said it would involve a one-off payment and then royalties when player cards are bought and sold.

Sorare encourages users to purchase players to take part in fantasy football-esque competitions by purchasing teams of players. There are a limited number of NFTs for each player, and some have traded for hundreds of thousands.

What are NFTs?

The most expensive card, for Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, traded hands for €245,072 (£210,482).

A deal with the Premier League would follow in the footsteps of the NBA, which has made millions from Top Shots, NFT replicas of moments in basketball games.

Sorare, set up three years ago, has around half a million users and has sold $150m (£110m) worth of cards this year. The fundraising from SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and its Latin America Fund, values the company at $4.3bn. Other investors include Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark and footballers Gerard Piqué, Antoine Griezmann and Rio Ferdinand.

"It’s new and fresh money for the clubs and the leagues, we are creating a new market, it’s not competing with existing partnerships," Mr Julia said. He said the company was also seeking deals with other sports leagues.

Several football clubs have embraced NFTs to date, with Man City, Arsenal and Real Madrid selling the collectibles.