At Sunday’s World Cup championship final between France and Argentina, Crypto.com will have a highly coveted seat right on the sideline.
At Sunday’s World Cup championship final between France and Argentina, Crypto.com will have a highly coveted seat right on the sideline, with the digital-asset exchange’s name plastered on the wall just feet from both teams’ star players. For viewers still smarting from rival FTX’s implosion, the signage may put a damper on their revelry.
Crypto.com’s field position is a highly visible symbol of how aggressively crytocurrency companies once courted mainstream investors by pouring billions into advertising and sports sponsorships as the speculative mania peaked, culminating in a blitz by FTX during last year’s US Super Bowl. But the bubble has now burst, FTX is bankrupt, its former CEO is facing fraud charges — and Crypto.com is standing out as crypto’s remaining major sports patron.
The Super Bowl and the World Cup bookend a turbulent year for crypto, whose fortunes have dramatically reversed course as tokens like Bitcoin tumbled precipitously and a series of blowups rocked the sector, hammering investors with losses that have left them soured on the industry.
Because many sponsorship agreements are intended to last for years, some of them will stick around despite crypto’s malaise. But teams and leagues have scrambled to call off deals with FTX, whose co-founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, was arrested this week for allegedly misappropriating billions of customers’ funds. Meanwhile, by casting a cloud over the entire industry, FTX’s collapse is threatening a once-lucrative collaboration between professional sports and an industry that saw its fans as a major source of potential customers.
“Whether they’re willing to take the risk in accepting crypto money remains to be seen,” said Peter Laatz of sponsorship researcher IEG when asked about sports’ teams continuing interest in associating with the tarnished sector. “People are going to be a little more hesitant.”
FTX had spent close to $100 million on sports sponsorships in 2021, according to consulting firm GlobalData, which tracks commercial agreements across the sports industry including media rights, sponsorships, and event-hosting opportunities. That trailed only Crypto.com ($144 million) and Socios.com ($132 million), a company that partners with teams to create fan tokens that provide rewards to users — a different line of business than FTX or Crypto.com.
Last month, Miami-Dade County asked a bankruptcy court for the right to remove the disgraced FTX name from its arena, the home of the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat. The University of California, Berkeley’s athletics department and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 racing team have also suspended sponsorship deals with the company.
“From our point of view, the collapse of FTX has already had an impact on the sponsorship market,” said GlobalData analyst Conrad Wiacek.
Yet even before FTX collapsed, the relationship between the two industries had started to cool in the wake of a market downdraft in the spring that triggered a series of earlier crypto implosions. The number of deals signed since July is down more than 50% compared to the first half of 2022, according to GlobalData.
Amber Group, one of Asia’s leading crypto trading and lending platforms, announced this month it would terminate its sponsorship deal with the English soccer team Chelsea FC, while DigitalBits, a blockchain used to power digital assets, has failed to make sponsorship payments to FC Internazionale Milano SpA, an Italian team.
Alexandre Dreyfus, the CEO of fan token platform Socios.com, said sports firms have increased due diligence around potential crypto sponsors, often requesting shorter-term deals and upfront payments. IEG’s Laatz expects that in 2023, new deals “will slow to a trickle.” And of the 161 deals signed in 2022, nearly half will expire next year, according to GlobalData.
Even so, many blockchain companies are sticking with the sports industry. Crypto exchange OKX said such deals are key to building name recognition — bull or bear market aside. “Sports and other brand partnerships continue to be an important element of our brand building,” wrote Haider Rafique, OKX’s global chief marketing officer.
Crypto.com similarly said it remains committed to sports sponsorships, despite all of this year’s chaos. Deals include a $700 million agreement for naming rights to the former Staples Center in Los Angeles; a five-year, $100 million tie-up with Formula 1 racing; and, of course, the current World Cup.
Crypto.com only announced its sponsorship of the soccer tournament in March. The next World Cup occurs in four years. It’s far too soon to say which firms may make an appearance on the sidelines then — but given recent events, GlobalData’s Wiacek said Crypto.com’s return is unlikely.
“I’d be very much surprised,” he said.