The history of professional sports is littered with baffling and comically bad signings, from Bobby Bonilla’s seemingly immortal contract to Josh Smith’s dire stay in Detroit to the entirety of the mid-2000s New York Knicks. But Major League Soccer just topped them all.
America’s top male soccer league announced the signing of a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT to a “professional contract” in an official press release on Friday. Dubbed “Striker,” MLS hyped up the signing as “the first digital athlete to sign with a professional sports organization” and promoted the NFT’s debut on the “virtual pitch” during Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game.
The press release even included quotes from the algorithmically formed eyesore likely written by some poor PR intern:
“I’m extremely excited to join Major League Soccer, the fastest growing sports league in North America. In a league with players from more than 82 countries, it is an honor to be the first digital athlete. I can’t wait to get on the virtual pitch.”
This “signing” appears to amount to little more than a licensing deal and/or marketing campaign aimed at hyping up MLS and its forthcoming All-Star Game. MLS stated that Striker’s introduction was done in collaboration with ge3, a division of online marketing firm Get Engaged, but ownership of BAYC #6045, the NFT representing Striker, is currently held by Get Engaged. Well, kind of.
According to blockchain records, BAYC #6045 does currently reside in a wallet owned by Get Engaged, but the actual purchase of the NFT was completed by MoonPay. Yes, the same cryptocurrency payment platform responsible for the bullrush of celebrity NFT “purchases” and wince-inducing promotion of NFT ownership perfectly encapsulated by Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon’s stilted exchange about their Bored Apes on The Tonight Show in Jan. 2022.
MoonPay bought the NFT for 100 Eth (roughly $250,000) on March 13, 2022 and transferred the digital asset to a wallet controlled by Get Engaged four days later and sat on it until Friday’s announcement of the partnership with MLS. The press release even gives Bored Ape Yacht Club creator Yuga Labs’ proposed Web3 MMORPG Otherside a little shoutout in its “Fast Facts” about Striker.
All of this information points to this “signing” representing little more than another clout-grasping attempt to promote NFT ownership through a widely-known name, but this one comes as the NFT market, like major crypto markets, are steeply declining. And that’s before you factor in the expected backlash to MLS “signing” a thing that literally amounts to little more than a smart contract.
“Really putting the L in mLs,” wrote one Twitter user on the Twitter account setup for Striker. “Major league scam,” wrote another.
MLS “signing” an NFT also screams of not reading the room when placed against the current financial crisis being experienced by the National Women’s Soccer League thanks to crypto brokerage Voyager Digital filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July.
Voyager Digital became one of the league’s major sponsors in Dec. 2021, with part of the sponsorship deal being set aside for NWSL players to invest in cryptocurrencies traded on Voyager’s platform. The deal was boilerplate sportswashing of crypto brokers and NFT developers via sizable sponsorship deals that has risen in recent years. But Voyager’s deal with the NWSL and its subsequent bankruptcy filing presented an additional issue; NWSL players had crypto accounts that were never funded due to the bankruptcy.
The situation forced NWSL Players’ Association executive director Meghann Burke to publicly reassure that no NWSL players would miss a paycheck.
MLS will have its fun with their virtual player, but doing so at the same time that another major Web3 player is causing the top U.S. women’s soccer league to experience financial duress to the point that players could lose money is distasteful at best.