Premier League 2022-2023 Season Topics | When Will An Official NFT Partner Be Announced? Will Crypto Sponsors Replace Betting Brands?

18 min read

With all of the excitement surrounding the start of the new Premier League season, some off the pitch storylines such as new ownership groups, NFT partners and possible crypto sponsorships will be interesting to watch as the season unfolds.

There have been various difficulties for its main European competitors in recent years, ranging from declining media rights values to losing elite, attention-grabbing players, but English soccer’s top flight continues on its merry way, increasing revenues and attracting star players and managers who continue to fuel the machine’s relentless content creation.

In fact, the failed European Super League provided perhaps the clearest evidence yet that everyone else wants what the Premier League has.

Its clubs occupy ten of the top 20 places in Deloitte’s most recent Football Money League and revenues are steadily returning to pre-pandemic levels. But perhaps the best measure of the Premier League’s enduring appeal is the continued growth of its broadcast rights, which are set to generate more than UK£10 billion (US$12.1 billion) during the next three-year cycle, with international deals forecast to bring in more than the competition’s domestic agreements for the first time.

There have been some challenges, however. The Premier League’s growing influence has led to greater scrutiny over how the money it generates is distributed, the way in which wealthy states leverage the competition as a geopolitical tool to cleanse their image, and how all that can be reconciled with the responsibility the league has to use its status to impact society for the better.

Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain & Bayern Munich supremacy

There may also be growing concerns over the continued supremacy of Manchester City, who have won four of the last five Premier League titles. The past decade has seen similar dominance from Bayern Munich in Germany, Paris Saint-Germain in France and, until recently, Juventus in Italy, which has made the leagues in those countries less appealing for casual followers.

As the season gets underway, SportsPro picked out five storylines off the pitch that will be worth keeping an eye on during the 2022/23 season.

The widening gap between the Premier League and second-tier clubs

At the end of last season, a joke started to circulate about the last time newly promoted Fulham and recently relegated Norwich City played each other in a league fixture. The two sides haven’t met since the West Londoners beat the Canaries 2-0 at Carrow Road in 2018. Since then, the two yo-yo clubs have been trading places in the Premier League and second-tier Championship.

But their struggles to pin down a place in the top flight are indicative of a growing problem in English soccer. Or, to be more specific, a widening gap between the Premier League and the rest. For years the focus has been on the inflated wealth of the so-called ‘big six’ and the divide it has created from ‘the other 14’ sides in the competition. But now it is becoming apparent that reaching the Premier League and staying there is an increasingly formidable task.

Over a period when the Premier League’s revenues have grown to enormous levels, those that have been able to stick around are reaping the benefits. It means that some of the perceived smaller sides – by stadium size, at least – who might previously have been earmarked as relegation candidates are able to spend tens of millions of dollars on transfers and offer players hundreds of thousands in wages.

The consequence is that teams stepping up to the Premier League are left with a choice: spend heavily in a short space of time or put faith in the players and methods that got them there in the first place. Norwich’s steadfast commitment to the latter has yet to bring them success. Fulham, having tried a mixture of both, have also been unable to crack it.

These are also two sides to have benefitted from the Premier League’s parachute payments, which are designed to help relegated teams manage costs after falling into a league that generates significantly less money. What that compensation also does, however, is provide an advantage. Critics of the system say the payments contribute to cases like that of Derby County, who were rescued from administration at the start of July after years of overspending on wages in a failed attempt to reach the promised land of the top flight.

The plight of Derby and other lower-league sides has prompted higher intervention. The UK government has called on the Premier League to agree a new funding structure for the English Football League (EFL) and wider pyramid, or risk tougher terms being imposed by an independent regulator, the introduction of which was one of several recommendations published last year following Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review into the sport.

Finding a solution will likely be high on the agenda of Alison Brittain, who last week was appointed as the first female chair of the Premier League. According to reports, the competition’s latest proposal would see cash distributed to lower-league clubs on a sliding scale based on their position in the table. True to form, though, there are strings attached: the so-called ‘new deal for football’ reportedly stipulates that Championship sides would take top-flight talent on loan to support their development.

The initial reaction suggests this issue will rumble on. A coalition of lower-league clubs known as the Fair Game organization described the Premier League’s plans as “deeply flawed” and having “more holes in them than a slice of Swiss cheese”.

How will Newcastle and Chelsea react to new ownership?

If last season was about discovering the identity of the new owners at Newcastle United and Chelsea, then this year will be about learning how those custodians adapt to life in environments where expectation is consistently high.

The 2021/22 campaign brought to an end one of the more protracted takeover sagas in the competition’s history when Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) secured its place at English soccer’s top table by purchasing Newcastle United from Mike Ashley. Despite receiving a hero’s welcome from a large section of the team’s fanbase, which had grown frustrated with the perceived neglect of the club by the previous regime, the move was heavily criticized by many observers outside of Tyneside and also revealed loopholes in the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.

In announcing the takeover, which was fronted by British businesswoman Amanda Staveley, the competition claimed it had received ‘legally binding assurances’ that Saudi Arabia would have no involvement in the running of the club – despite Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman being listed as chair of the PIF.

The question now is whether Newcastle, armed with immense riches, will be able to emulate the success of other state-backed clubs, such as Manchester City and PSG, by morphing into a European powerhouse. As well as squad additions, that will require time and investment in infrastructure, so it will be worth watching how the commercial operation evolves at St James’ Park in the coming months. The team already has a new sleeve sponsorship deal with e-commerce platform Noon, which counts the PIF among its investors.

One team Newcastle will soon be hoping to compete with is Chelsea, who last season had to be sold in what is surely close to record time. The start of the war in Ukraine meant the team’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich had to sell the club to a consortium led by US investor Todd Boehly, whose group committed UK£4.25 billion (US$5.2 billion) to take over at Stamford Bridge.

There will be pressure on Boehly to maintain the standards that saw Chelsea become perennial trophy winners during Abramovich’s tenure, although he will also need to work to address the concerns of some employees at the club. The appointment of Tom Glick as president of business followed the departure of long-serving chairman Bruce Buck and came after a damning report in The New York Times detailed accusations of a ‘toxic workplace culture’ within the team’s marketing department.

Generally speaking, what both the Newcastle and Chelsea takeover sagas have exposed is that the Premier League has become inextricably intertwined with geopolitics. That is increasingly true of sport more broadly, but few other competitions attract as many eyeballs week after week, nor are there many other institutions that provide investors with access to such a vast global fanbase.

Elsewhere, Southampton will be hoping that Dragan Solak’s first full season at the helm can breathe new life into a team that had begun to stagnate under previous owner Jisheng Gao. It will also be interesting to see whether Everton lure more suitors after the club ended takeover talks with a consortium led by former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon.

When will the Premier League announce their official NFT partner?

With the Premier League’s broadcast agreements tied up until 2024 in the UK and for even longer in some international markets, the competition might see now as the time to explore new opportunities to diversify its revenue streams. As a matter of fact, in June, the league submitted U.S. trademark applications covering NFTs and the metaverse.

England’s top flight is the last major European league yet to (officially) make a venture into the realm of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), an area in which the likes of the Bundesliga and Serie A have already been fairly active. Last month, Serie A signed a two year NFT agreement with OneFootball. The deal however, only included 15 clubs. Inter Milan and AS Roma were not included in the deal, while AC Milan, Juventus and Napoli have their own separate agreements with OneFootball.

The league is sitting on a rich library of content that would likely be well suited to an offering similar to the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) popular Top Shot platform, which allows users to buy and trade video ‘moments’ of memorable plays. The company behind Top Shot is Dapper Labs, which in March was reported to have secured the Premier League’s video NFT rights, with ConsenSys gaining the rights to mint digital collectibles based on still images.

According to the Daily Mail, those partnerships could be worth as much as UK£434 million (US$526.4 million) over four years, but there has yet to be official confirmation. That could suggest that any potential products are still in the development phase, or that interest in the space has cooled on the back of mixed fan reaction to NFT initiatives launched by individual clubs.

It is also a complex sector to navigate given its ties to cryptocurrency (more on that later) and there are various examples from the last 12 months where NFTs have declined in value, leaving consumers out of pocket.

That is unlikely to deter the Premier League and its clubs, who themselves will also continue to look for new outlets to distribute the vast amounts of content they are creating, whether it be through third-party services or platforms they operate themselves.

Tottenham Hotspur, for example, launched their SpursPlay over-the-top (OTT) subscription service in July, offering fans access to certain live games and other original programming. In addition, several Premier League clubs such as Crystal Palace have released Fan Tokens through a partnership with Socios.

Will crypto sponsors replace betting brands?

There has been some meaningful movement in the area of betting sponsorships in English soccer. For some time the expectation had been that the UK government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005 would result in clubs being banned from displaying the logos of betting firms on their kits.

Some teams, such as Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers, appeared to have started preparing for that eventuality by announcing new shirt deals with non-gambling companies. Everton did the opposite, handing the inventory back to a betting brand after their deal with Cazoo came to an end.

Now, however, it seems the clubs will be left to make the decision themselves. The most recent reporting suggests that the Premier League is seeking support for a voluntary ban that would see betting logos disappear from teams’ shirts within the next three years. There are, unsurprisingly, several conditions upon which this relies. Those reportedly include letting existing deals run their course and an option to overturn the ban in certain circumstances.

Another mooted compromise could see teams keep betting brands as sleeve sponsors, almost as if to say that gambling becomes less risky for consumers if advertised on the side of the shirt rather than the front.

This level of bargaining does raise questions over whether soccer is really prepared to walk away from the revenue it receives from the betting industry. The argument adopted by the EFL, whose clubs are perhaps more reliant on the money generated through gambling partnerships, does not hold true for Premier League sides, who have vast media rights income to fall back on.

Should a voluntary ban be introduced, however, there is the question of who replaces the betting brands. One obvious answer right now would be crypto, another potentially lucrative but risky sector that will likely lead the Premier League and its clubs to conversations similar to those they are having now. Some teams, including champions Manchester City, have already thrown themselves into the space, only to be undone by a lack of due diligence.

Players welfare amid another packed schedule of games

The 2022-2023 season starts a week earlier than last year, in part to accommodate a one-month break between November and December for the first-ever winter edition of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar. That could reignite the debate around player welfare, which has come under the spotlight in recent years because of the pandemic and the subsequent cluttered schedule required to make up for lost time.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been a vocal critic of the fixture schedule and has already voiced his concerns about the way the calendar has been built around the World Cup. In December last year, amid a rise in Covid cases that resulted in several fixture postponements, his captain Jordan Henderson said he was “concerned that nobody really takes player welfare seriously”.

For its part, the top flight has agreed an increase in funding with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) to UK£24.5 million (US$29.7 million), while Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said the competition will continue to work with the players’ union on areas such as player welfare, anti-discrimination, player transition, head injuries and education.

Yet there is still potential for this to reach boiling point over the coming months. Henderson and his counterparts at other clubs have grown closer since the pandemic, reportedly even setting up a WhatsApp group in an effort to represent players’ views on key issues, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the schedule became the next frontier at a time when the calendar feels busier than ever.

In fact, in addition to a packed domestic schedule, the past 18 months have also seen some players compete in deferred editions of the Uefa European Championship, Copa America and Africa Cup of Nations. Several internationals have also seen their summer break this year eaten into by Nations League fixtures and other national team games that have been shunted forward because of the World Cup.

Clubs, too, are not blameless in all this. With travel restrictions now loosened, most Premier League teams have jetted off on lucrative summer tours to destinations including Australia, the US and Thailand, mileage which will undoubtedly be valuable commercially but may not be the best way for players to prepare for what will feel like a long season.

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