The Premier League is taking legal advice over the use of images of its trophy in Non-fungible token (NFT) digital assets being promoted by big names in English football including John Terry.
The NFTs in question, promoted by Terry via his Twitter account, are cartoons of baby apes of which some feature the Premier League trophy. The trophy is illustrated on those NFTs promoted by Terry on Twitter as well as those tweeted by his former Chelsea and England team-mate Ashley Cole, and former Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong.
The Premier League trophy is protected by its trademark and its use in any commercial venture requires a licensing agreement with the league.
Terry, 41, currently working in a consultancy role with the Chelsea academy, has been promoting and endorsing the "Ape Kids Club" NFTs extensively on Twitter. Among those others who have also promoted the NFTs to date, and have been namechecked by Terry on his Twitter feed, are Jack Wilshere; the Brazil international Willian now back at Corinthians in his home country; Marco Verratti of Paris St-Germain; and former Fulham and England striker Bobby Zamora. The current Chelsea and England full-back Reece James has also tweeted about his own "Mutant Ape" NFT acquisition.
The "Ape Kids Club" NFTs in question are an off-shoot of another collection that has gained prominence in the United States, the "Bored Ape Yacht Club". That collection features 10,000 digital illustrations of cartoon apes, one of which was purchased by the performer Eminem for $461,868 [£342,000] last month. The PSG and Brazil attacker Neymar owns a "Bored Ape" NFT, as does Stephen Curry, one of the NBA's leading players.
Terry and James have both tweeted about ownership of NFTs in the "Mutant Ape Yacht Club" - another variation on the original featuring 20,000 separate NFTs. The "Ape Kids Club" features 9,999 different ape NFTS available for purchase.
Telegraph Sport has contacted Terry and Cole with a request for comment. It is understood that Cole has not entered into a contract with the creators of "Ape Kids Club" and his only involvement has been to retweet an image of an NFT of an ape in a blue kit with the Premier League trophy in the background.
NFTs are unique digital assets stored on the Blockchain and traded in cryptocurrencies. The NFT market has only recently been introduced to wealthy footballers. It has been embraced by some sport stars in the United States and is now catching the attention of their Premier League counterparts.
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NFTs' ownership and provenance are verified by the Blockchain, an online ledger. Some creators of the phenomenon argue NFTs will increase in value as internet usage switches predominantly to the immersive experience of the Metaverse. Some NFTs, including "Ape Kids Club", grant those who own them access to benefits online as well as access to real-life member conferences.
However, at clubs and among football authorities there are great reservations about the wisdom of promoting to fans assets of potentially volatile value in what remains an unregulated financial sector. The Premier League has looked at launching its own collection of approved NFTs but no final decision has been reached. It has so far declined any partnership with Socios, the online entity that offers blockchain-based "fans' tokens" to trade in clubs associated with the venture.
The online record of the sale of the "Mutant Apes" NFTs reveals that Terry paid in the cryptocurrency Ethereum for his NFT from that collection. It cost him 9.55 Ethereum, which made the NFT worth around £29,300 at the time of the purchase on Dec 24. The value of the cryptocurrency has fallen from around £3,060 at the time of the purchase for one unit of Ethereum to a current level of around £1,860.