The world of blockchain throws up some interesting life journeys.
For Jason Sze, co-founder and CEO of 433 Token – an initiative to democratise soccer – a promising career began as an inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force.
So how did this radical career change come about?
After Jason launched his digital marketing agency, some of his team wanted to be paid in bitcoin, the pioneer of cryptocurrencies based on blockchain technology.
“I quickly became fascinated and thought it would be a revolutionary technology to change the world,” he says.
An ardent Real Madrid fan, Sze, who admires the dedication and determination of the Spanish club’s former striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who now plays for Juventus in Italy – joined forces with long-time mentor Raymond Wong to co-found the token.
Much in the vein of SportyCo, Faxport, TokenStars, Globatalent and GCOX, which took the blockchain concept and applied it to celebrities and sport, 433 Token aims to use blockchain and smart contracts to connect soccer stars, youth and fans.
Soccer fans can use 433 Token to bid on a chance to hang out with their favourite players, vote on the format, rosters and venues of legends soccer games, and sponsor the mentorship of young players by soccer greats.
To make this dream a reality, 433 Token teamed up with the Global Legend Series (GLS), a league of superstars who play exhibition games, but also help mentor young players and focus on giving back to the community.
Sensing a similar vision and natural synergy, 433 Token signed a partnership this year with the GLS, allowing it to link up with the league’s roster of some of the game’s greatest ever players.
Upon agreeing a partnership, former Manchester United and England star Paul Scholes and Ukraine and AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko expressed a keen interest in 433 Token.
Joining the team as the first mentors of youth players on the 433 platform, their roles exist outside their contractual obligations to the GLS.
“They see 433 as a platform to enhance fans’ experience and help young talent fulfil their dreams,” Sze says.
A public pre-sale, starting on November 16, has the target of reaching its hard cap – or maximum amount – of US$27 million, after which the team hopes to add eight more legends to the roster.
While 433 Token is a commercial venture and the tokens will be listed on exchanges like cryptocurrencies, the concept behind it, Sze stresses, is primarily about opening up soccer.
The “beautiful game”, as Sze calls it, has been accused of becoming distant from the fans, with marketing, sponsorship and profits taking precedence over the sport.
“If we can democratise football for the fans, they can have higher involvement and decision-making power,” Sze says.
“I believe that it can help to boost the passion and take the relationship between fans and their favourite clubs to the next level.”
Forthcoming events include a Manchester United Class of 1992 charity dinner and auction, and a video platform for local talent to showcase their skills.
After the young players upload their videos, people can use their 433 Tokens to vote on who are the top prospects.
Following this, Scholes and Shevchenko will pick the talented youth players they want to mentor.
Eventually, the 433 Token team plan to allow youth players to nominate their mentors, which they see as a way to drive traffic to the initiative and open it up to a wider audience.
“For 433, blockchain technology and smart contract possess a very important role to execute our utilities with our vision.
Blockchain offers a transparent and reliable voting system for the next exhibition game, a bidding system for personal interactions and a sponsoring system for mentorship,” Sze says.
Soccer has been sullied by controversy over bidding for major international tournaments, rocketing agents’ fees and even match fixing.
Using blockchain means the public will be able to see how tokens are moving across the platform in a transparent manner, which will make it credible for users.
For example, those people who sponsor youth players will be allowed access to permission-based blockchain, to view interactions between the mentors and those being mentored.
Detailed, real-time, advanced sports statistics, offered by STATSports, a performance tracking system used by the likes of English Premier League teams Liverpool and Chelsea, and the Brazil national team, will offer more information on youth players.
The 433 team have also brought in STATSports board member Jefferson Slack to offer advice.
“The business model of 433 can still run without blockchain, but it will lose the soul and vision,” Sze says.
“With blockchain technology, 433 can offer an immutable platform to the football industry, for fans to view and trace the flow of the tokens, which highly enhances the transparency of the system, to avoid corruption.”
On the technical side, Jason chose to fork off Ethereum – an open-source, public, computing platform and operating system – because of its strong, smart contract capabilities and stability in blockchain.
“We think it is a perfect tool to build the confidence for fans as the smart contract is not manual, but automatic.
“With smart contracts, players being selected must show up to play the game or they will not get paid,” Sze says.
Many Asian soccer fans have experienced the disappointment of going to watch European clubs come to the region only to see them not fielding some of their top players.
It is a situation 433 Token aims to make a thing of the past, with fans using their tokens to decide line-ups and take an active decision-making role in matches.
However, the sponsorship element is also crucial, as so few young players make it professionally.
The 433 Token team has set aside 15 per cent of the total available tokens to support under-privileged youths and unsigned youth talent who cannot find a club after their mentorship.
With football organisations and moneymaking machines so embedded into the system, can 433 Token really succeed?
“I believe it’s about popularity,” Sze says.
“Blockchain technology is still a relatively new field for the public and with the bear market of the cryptocurrencies, it may build some obstacles to our project.”
The cryptocurrency market has gone from hero to zero in 2018, and Sze acknowledges this makes the environment that more difficult.
“The bear market this year affects the confidence and passion of the public to participate in the crypto market and development of blockchain technology, which may add difficulties for us to get more people involved in the project,” he says.
While cryptocurrency has been on the downtrend, the global regulatory market is more mature, with institutions ready to meet investor demand for digital currencies.
Being a utility token allows 433 to have more flexibility on where it lists, and the team is currently assessing offers from various exchanges globally.
“Regulation affects us so we’re obtaining legal opinions to make sure the project is absolutely legitimate,” Sze says.
“The market has entered the stage of natural selection, so only the projects with solid foundations and vision will survive.”
For a man who gave up a stable job in the police force, failing to push his ambitions to democratise football would be an own goal.
“We hope to take a leading role to advocate the implementation of blockchain technology, not only to the football industry, but also into the lives of the general public,” Sze says.