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AAX Trends

Here’s Why The Biggest Players in Sports Are Crypto Companies

Here’s Why The Biggest Players in Sports Are Crypto Companies

News & Insights

31 Oct 2022

Crypto companies have strategically embedded themselves in the sports world to get the undivided attention of not only spectators and sports fans, but also the athletes themselves.

In recent years, there has been an incredible surge in partnerships made between sports teams, professional athletes, and crypto companies. The latter has been quick to jump at the opportunity of a collaboration with professional teams, and brilliantly so - crypto companies have strategically embedded themselves in the sports world to get the undivided attention of not only spectators and sports fans, but also the athletes themselves. This is because many have recognized the potential of the sports world as a global stage for cryptocurrency education. Furthermore, by leveraging the stardom often linked to professional sports teams, cryptocurrency companies can place themselves at the forefront of the world, drawing new users to their own platforms. More users, mo’ money.

Grayscale Makes History as the “Official Digital Currency Asset Management Partner” of NY Giants

In 2021, Grayscale became the first Bitcoin company to partner with NFL’s New York Giants, making history with its move. One of Grayscale’s main goals was to educate athletes on their asset management portfolio through the partnership, thus elevating the benefits of digital assets. Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein spoke about the partnership and said:

"Our partnership with the Giants is incredibly meaningful because our roots are in New York.”

Being the first to do something is incredibly bold in the digital asset industry as it gives you extra street creds for daring to take the leap. It also paves the way for others in the industry to follow in your footsteps.

Educating athletes on crypto

Grayscale’s strategy of educating athletes on how to effectively manage their digital asset portfolio is an ingenious move. Think of it - if educated properly, athletes could potentially set the tone and influence the masses to adopt Bitcoin. That means that Grayscale’s move to endorse a sports company has undoubtedly magnified in influence. It is a smart investment on the digital asset management firm's end. Not only do sports teams have their unique fan base, but each and every athlete also has millions of followers.

Athletes in today’s day and age are key opinion leaders of sorts. Take McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo for example. As a Formula 1 driver for McLaren, a racing team that is directly sponsored by OKX exchange, Ricciardo also doubles as an ambassador for the exchange. This endorsement of McLaren itself places OKX at the forefront of 445 million TV viewers in 2021, according to data from Statista. This is not to count the number of race day attendees.

Not only has OKX sponsored McLaren, but it has also strategically designated Ricciardo as its personal ambassador. At Singapore’s Token 2049 crypto and blockchain event, Ricciardo shared his experience within the crypto space, telling CoinTelegraph:

“I was actually starting to get pretty involved to a point where a few people on my team were like, ‘Alright, you’re spending a bit too much time on here.’ It’s great, and I am certainly curious in terms of diversification and trying to understand more about the space.”

Follow the (crypto) leader

Some athletes have even taken cryptocurrency a step further, embracing the digital asset class to its fullest by demanding a salary in Bitcoin (BTC). This trend is becoming increasingly popular in professional sports. It all started in 2019, when Russell Okung, NFL Carolina Panthers’ offensive tackle, tweeted on his personal social media account: “Pay me in Bitcoin.” The tweet went viral and not only was Okung one of the first to be paid in Bitcoin in the history of professional sports, but his bold move also inspired other fellow athletes to follow suit.

Some have even chosen to be paid in other cryptocurrencies. Renowned soccer player Lionel Messi made a ballsy move and demanded that part of his $130 million salary be paid in Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) fan tokens.

Some athletes that become as implicated as Okung even go on to expand their interest to different areas of the cryptocurrency industry, such as the metaverse. Top tennis champion Ana Ivanovic and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti are among those who have invested in virtual lands on the Sandbox. By being at the forefront of the cryptocurrency industry, they are leading examples to fans that the crypto space is worth a venture.

Educating athletes on crypto creates a snowball effect

That is why crypto companies are smart to invest in sports teams. By doing so, they are also strategically placing a bet on the athletes. Educating the latter creates a snowball effect that leads to more adoption within the crypto space. Think of it - in just the United States alone, around 150 million Americans watch sports every year. By getting athletes onboard with cryptocurrencies, crypto companies create a unique marketing platform to support themselves.

Sports fans yell foul

Crypto’s entry into the world of professional sports has not always been welcomed with open arms, however. In December 2021, Crypto.com made waves - and maybe not in a good way - by snagging the Staples Center and renaming it to Crypto.com Arena. This partnership, estimated to be worth $700 million, was a strategic move to elevate Crypto.com’s marketing and incite the masses to invest in the exchange. However, the renaming of Staples Center to Crypto.com Arena simultaneously infuriated sports fans, who insisted that things will never be the same with this rebranding. This marketing move also vexed celebrities and veteran sports players as it was seen as disrespectful to tradition. Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant took to her Instagram, hinting that Kobe’s legacy was now tainted. She expressed that the Staples Center was "the house that Kobe built." Others like George Wrighster III, a former NFT player now turned sports commentator, also tweeted: “This feels gross.”

Advertisement for not only crypto companies but for the industry as a whole

Crypto.com is not the only one to have made such a ballsy move. In March 2021, FTX claimed the naming rights to the American Airlines arena (AAA), home of NBA’s infamous Miami Heat. Interestingly, this rebranding did not trigger as much resistance and anger from sports fans as the Crypto.com Arena did.

But the goal of this partnership is similar. By slapping their name on a globally-known sports stadium, both crypto companies have raised awareness for not only their own firm but for the cryptocurrency industry as a whole. To give you an idea, the former Staples Center is home to numerous professional sports teams, namely the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League (NHL), the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the Los Angeles Sparks of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). On top of the amount of sports fans attending games, reputable concerts are also given at the Crypto.com Arena. This automatically places the crypto company in the spotlight of millions of people.

Empowering the 85%

From sponsoring sports teams and athletes to creating fan tokens, the crypto industry has done it all. Cryptocurrency leaders believe that outreach and education are key to achieving progress and adoption of digital assets. As we venture down the path of digitalization, it might not be surprising to see an even bigger merge between cryptocurrencies and sports teams. The beginning of this journey can already be witnessed through the influence of the sports world in GameFi, sports tokens, the metaverse, and more.

But more work has yet to be done. As of 2022, cryptocurrency adoption on a global scale stands at 15% according to data from Finder.com. The majority of the world has yet to get acquainted with cryptocurrencies. For this to happen, more education on cryptocurrency needs to be made available and industry leaders and firms can play a crucial role here. Not only that, but clearer regulations in each jurisdiction will also serve to guide people on how to use this digital asset class properly.

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Shine Li

Senior Content Manager

Shine is the Senior Content Manager at AAX. Focused on branding and content initiatives at the digital asset exchange, she aims to drive the adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain forward with engaging content. When she’s not working, Shine can be found daydreaming about her next travel destination or playing sports.

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