In September, the financial media breathlessly reported the stunning birth of a new tech “unicorn” — a company valued at more than $1 billion — in the unexpected form of an online fantasy football start-up based in Paris.

A $680 million investment from management firm Softbank valued Sorare, a game in which players buy in cryptocurrency, win and manage a virtual team of digital player cards (NFTs, or non-fungible tokens), at $4 billion. French president Emmanuel Macron praised the firm on LinkedIn for breaking the European record for a tech funding round. Subsequent reports suggested $150 million in sales between January and September.

Some of football’s biggest clubs and leagues, including the Bundesliga and La Liga, are giving away rights — allowing the company to feature their players — in exchange for a slice of Sorare’s revenue. The company says it has 216 officially licensed clubs, including Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Liverpool were the only Premier League club to sign up but their deal expired in August. Atletico Madrid said their deal was reached through La Liga, adding they had carried out “a due diligence and verification process”.

These huge footballing institutions promote Sorare to their fans on their social media accounts, as do other high-profile footballers or former players including Antoine Griezmann, Gerard Pique and Rio Ferdinand.

France forward Griezmann was an early investor in Sorare and is also an active player.