Sorare Taps Gaming Execs Ryan Spoon, Michael Meltzer for U.S. Growth

European NFT company Sorare has hired a pair of U.S. gaming executives to help the company grow its presence in North America, part of a wider push to expand its team and product in the booming world of digital collectibles.

The group has hired Ryan Spoon, former BetMGM COO, into the same role at Sorare. It also hired Michael Meltzer, previously a senior director of strategic ventures at DraftKings, to be vice president of business development.

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Both executives will be based out of Sorare’s planned U.S. office, and both will help the company focus on expanding its presence in the most developed commercial sports market in the world. U.S. leagues like the NBA and NFL have dipped their toes into NFTs, particularly with U.S.-based Dapper Labs, and Sorare sees an opportunity to bring its unique NFT-and-fantasy approach to the market.

Sorare’s NFTs can be used in fantasy-style contests for real money, differentiating its product from much of what is currently available in the U.S. That adds a layer of utility to the NFTs, making Sorare’s items both collectibles and gaming tokens.

“Combining fantasy sports and blockchain technology offers an opportunity to mix gamification with ownership, and that drives incredible engagement,” Meltzer said in an interview. “Sorare is building a global community that North American leagues can tap into, and their success in soccer will translate to the U.S., which has a much more robust fantasy industry already in existence.”

The group already has a large presence in European soccer—it has partnerships with hundreds of clubs and leagues, including LaLiga and Bundesliga. One of its top priorities is to expand into other sports.

Both Spoon and Meltzer will rely on their experience in gaming, and the U.S. sports world, to aid that growth. Spoon has been COO of BetMGM for almost a year, as the company quickly grew into one of the U.S. market’s largest players in both sports betting and iGaming. Meltzer spent six years at DraftKings and worked on some of the company’s biggest strategic deals, including partnerships with ESPN and Turner Sports.

While NFTs were barely on the radar of U.S. sports fans 12 months ago, the space has quickly become crowded. That’s largely due to a surge in interest in memorabilia, alternate asset classes and blockchain technology. Dapper Labs, makers of NBA Top Shot, recently raised $250 million at a $7.6 billion valuation. In June, Fanatics launched an NFT company, Candy Digital, alongside Michael Novogratz and Gary Vaynerchuk; Tom Brady co-founded another, called Autograph.

Founded in 2018 and headquartered in Paris, Sorare was valued at $4.3 billion in its last funding round. Its backers include SoftBank, venture capital firms Accel and Benchmark, and a number of well-known soccer players, including Antoine Griezmann, Gérard Piqué and André Schurrle.

Spoon and Meltzer aren’t the only new Sorare executives. The company recently brought on Sylvain Utard as its head of engineering and Kiana Davari as its head of people. The company also hired David Byttow, a tech veteran who’s worked at Lyft, Snap and Postmates, to be its principal architect and head of mobile. He will be tasked with building Sorare’s first global app.