Sponsorships have led to an increased awareness of cryptocurrencies amongst viewers and investors at a time when crypto’s prevalence in the media and everyday life is also on the rise.
Sports as an industry has realised the potential that cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies can bring to further monetise fan engagement, attract sponsors and engage a global market in ways that were unimaginable only a decade ago.
The rampant growth of this new, and relatively unregulated market has presented various, and sometimes unique, challenges for all these brands. These include educating the public about the sector in general as well as their own individual brand, establishing legitimacy and confidence in the public’s mind and getting them to use crypto products for the first time.
Also Read – Crypto in Football
Bitpay and St. Petersburg Bowl | (June 2014)
The first official cryptocurrency sponsorship deal signed between a company and a rights holder saw US-based crypto payment company Bitpay sponsor ESPN events as one of the first recorded cryptocurrency marketing initiatives. St. Petersburg Bowl, an annual postseason college football game in the US, was its next sponsorship. This is the prime example of the challenges first faced by crypto brands in having to educate the public about the technology first. Bitpay itself wasn’t the actual brand named in the sponsorship; instead, the company paid to promote Bitcoin itself, hence the event was known as the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.
Cashbet and Arsenal FC | (Jan 2018)
Bitpay was certainly ahead of the curve as it would be another three years after its first deal that cryptocurrency sponsorship really started to take off, with Cashbet’s sponsorship deal with Premier League club Arsenal. Not only did this seem to usher in the sustained era of crypto sponsorships, but it was also the first involving a major global sporting team. It’s also significant as it was the first deal in what would become a dominant theme in crypto sponsorships – gambling. The deal was designed to promote the launch of Cashbet Coin, a cryptocurrency specifically designed for use on CashBet’s online gambling platforms.
TIXnGO with Lancashire Cricket Club | (Feb 2020)
Last year, TIXnGO partnered with Lancashire Cricket to provide a new blockchain mobile tickets platform. Working with SecuTix, a ticketing service provider, the deal activated secure mobile tickets for all domestic and international fixtures at Emirates Old Trafford in 2020. The aim was to create a unique encrypted ticket for smartphones that would be traceable and remove the risk of counterfeit tickets, simplifying the process of transferring or reselling tickets for the end customer.
eToro’s association with several Premier League Clubs | (Aug 2018)
Social trading platform eToro deserves a special mention and inclusion due to its sheer perseverance and being a leader in connecting cryptocurrency with sports. To promote its crypto trading service – and cryptocurrencies in general – eToro partnered with not only one but seven English topflight teams. Notably, the deal, estimated at between £5-6 million, was paid for entirely in bitcoin. The clubs in association were Tottenham Hotspur, Brighton & Hove Albion, Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Newcastle United and Southampton.
Antpool and the Houston Rockets | (Sep 2018)
This was the first major sponsorship from a non-currency or trading/gambling crypto brand and one that involved a physical product. Antpool and its parent company Bitmain are involved in producing cryptocurrency mining equipment. In the digital world, this isn’t the digging and mining stuff but rather the data centres, machines and software that enable new bitcoins to be entered into circulation and maintained. Antpool’s sponsorship of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Houston Rockets was part of a wider US$500 million investment the firm was making into the Texas state.
Chiliz and Barcelona FC | (Feb 2020)
Although not a regulation ‘badging’ type of sponsorship, blockchain firm Chiliz partnered with Spanish giants Barcelona ($BAR) to produce Barça Fan Tokens in a signature example of meeting the usage challenge. Forty million tokens, costing €2 each, went on sale enabling fans to buy, earn and redeem tokens around various exclusive activities ranging from merchandise to holding voting powers. Barcelona’s move into blockchain was part of their global expansion strategy to build fan engagement through digital means.
Chiliz, which runs the fan voting & rewards app Socios, has partnered with many rights holders along these lines including 20 other football clubs such as Inter Milan ($INTER), Atlético Madrid ($ATM), Paris Saint-Germain ($PSG), Manchester City ($CITY), and Arsenal ($AFC).
Crypto.com and Formula 1 | (June 2021)
In June 2021, it was announced that Formula One was partnering with cryptocurrency exchange Crypto.com. The deal, reportedly worth US$100 million, gave Crypto.com top-bill branding slots at the new sprint qualifying rounds at the British Grand Prix. The deal also afforded the crypto exchange trackside billboard real estate for the remaining rounds of the 2021 season.
In March 2021, Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One became the first Formula One team to partner with a cryptocurrency firm. Crypto.com is a platform with over ten million active users and will undoubtedly gain greater brand exposure on Aston Martin F1 cars with the Formula 1 circus visiting almost every continent.
Bitci.com and McLaren F1 | (April 2021)
Similar to Aston Martin’s deal, one of the oldest and most successful teams in Formula One, McLaren, entered a long-term partnership with Turkish crypto firm Bitci.com. According to reports, as per the terms of the deal, Bitci.com would create an official fan token for the McLaren team.
According to McLaren, it is a ‘first of its kind’ partnership through which a cryptocurrency exchange has become an official partner of the team. Procuring these tokens allows the fans to become partners of the team they like, where the token owners earn voting rights on certain decisions made by the team while also availing other advantages.
Crypto.com and UFC | (July 2021)
In June 2021, the cryptocurrency exchange Crypto.com revealed that it had entered a partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as the firm’s global fight kit partner. According to publications like sportico.com and CNBC, Crypto.com and the UFC deal is the largest sponsorship deal in UFC history. Back in March, the UFC partnered with Draftkings in a deal that was reported to be worth US$100 million. People familiar with the matter have said the Crypto.com deal with the UFC is estimated to be around US$175 million on a ten-year deal.
FTX and Major League Baseball | (June 2021)
Despite the volatility and uncertainty over its regulation, crypto sponsorships keep popping up in the US. In June, Major League Baseball (MLB) signed a long-term, multimillion-dollar deal with FTX, an exchange that was valued at US$18 billion last month, up from US$1.2 billion last year. Sina Nader, chief operating officer of FTX US, believes that as people become more familiar with crypto as a concept, the next challenge is to engage them in a dialogue.
The exchange has committed millions of dollars a year to sports sponsorship, enlisting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Tom Brady and his wife Gisele Bündchen as ambassadors and advisers. By associating themselves with the biggest names in sports, crypto companies are betting that the digital economy’s appeal to a mainstream audience will grow — and they are willing to pay to be first.