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Why Are Athletes Choosing To be Paid in Bitcoin?

Why Are Athletes Choosing To be Paid in Bitcoin?

News & Insights

11 Oct 2022

Being the first to implement something unheard of - and even borderline taboo - takes a huge leap of faith. And who’s to know whether people will follow in your footsteps? Athletes have played a key role in elevating digital assets.

Nike’s “You can do it” slogan illustrates the forward-thinking mindset of the sports industry. Nothing is deemed unreachable in sports. On the contrary, everything is achievable if you put your mind and heart into it. It is this particular sentiment that makes the sports industry a perfect hotbed for Bitcoin adoption. The cryptocurrency industry, with its nascent potential, is now riddled with sports partnerships and collaborations with famous superstar athletes. The fact that both industries are unafraid to tackle new challenges with open arms makes them perfect accomplices. And now, athletes have also come to the forefront of cryptocurrency adoption, with many converting chunks of their salary into Bitcoin (BTC).

Professional athletes are bullish on Bitcoin

In 2019, Carolina Panthers’ offensive tackle Russell Okung made headlines not only for his style of play but for a tweet considered unconventional at the time: “Pay me in Bitcoin.” The offensive tackle converted half of his $13 million contract into Bitcoin, collaborating with Zap payments network to make this possible.

Okung shed light on his ballsy decision on Twitter:

“I’m freeing myself from fiat. You can too. The next decade will be about Bitcoin’s mass adoption [...] When we are all paid in Bitcoin, no one can tell us what to do with the value we create.”

Okung is not the only sports star to have made this bold move - on the contrary. From mixed martial artist Matheus Nicolau to NBA All-Star champion Klay Thompson, Bitcoin as a salary payout has become the norm in the professional sports industry.

Even organizations within the world of professional sports have committed to making cryptocurrency more accessible. Now, anyone who watches an NBA match starring the Dallas Mavericks can pay for the game tickets and merchandise with Bitcoin. This bold move is thanks to Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. As a crypto pioneer, he made history with the Mavs, who became one of the first teams in NBA history to accept Bitcoin payments for tickets and merchandise. With cryptocurrency becoming more and more mainstream, Okung’s statement about Bitcoin salaries one day becoming the norm should come as no surprise.

Benefits of choosing a Bitcoin salary

Athletes are increasingly choosing to have part of their salary converted to Bitcoin as an investment method. For NFL star Odell Beckham JR., Los Angeles Rams’ wide receiver, this decision was probably one of the best ones he made. According to a report by CoinDesk, Beckham made $35,000 on a $750,000 deal thanks to his Bitcoin compensation. This calculation was done after taxes and is just the tip of the iceberg.

Long-term investment

Many believe that this trend is here to stay as athletes have increasingly been holding Bitcoin as a long-term investment solution to secure their future. It does not matter whether Bitcoin has been bearish in recent months - athletes are looking beyond that and evaluating the long-term attractiveness of Bitcoin as a store of value. Brazilian UFC fighter Luana Pinheiro, who converted parts of her salary into Bitcoin, shared her perspective with CoinDesk:

“Think about this: It takes on average 10 to 15 years for an individual to get a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so my time preference here is equally long if not longer. Black belt time preference, I call it.”

Birmingham Legion FC of the USK Championship league pro soccer player Alex Crognale echoed this view. He is bullish on Bitcoin despite the bearish market, explaining:

“I’ve continued to accumulate and buy at these prices because I see this as a move for my future and somewhere where I can store my wealth and use it down the line.”

Offsetting inflation with Bitcoin

Athletes also use Bitcoin as a means to hedge against inflation. It all goes back to Bitcoin’s advantages in comparison to fiat: the cryptocurrency often crowned “digital gold” offers instant access to funds, quicker processing times, and is recognized as a hedge against inflation.

Branding appeal of Bitcoin

Additionally, as much as crypto companies leverage sports platforms to gain awareness, the same can be said of athletes and Bitcoin. Bitcoin provides athletes with a way to elevate their personal brand and create a stronger appeal. Fred Whittlesey, the Principal Consultant of Compensation Venture Group SPC, explained that athletes could use Bitcoin as a branding strategy to ensure the possibility of “lifetime income” beyond their athletic abilities. He thinks that Bitcoin salaries are only going to get more popular among professional athletes.

Associating themselves with Bitcoin makes a professional athlete appear more forward-thinking, which in turn elevates their popularity. Not to mention that this also falls in line with the go-getter mentality of the sports industry, making it a win-win situation for athletes, pun intended.

Bitcoin’s emergence in professional sports in recent years

Bitcoin’s appeal in professional sports only started gaining traction a few years ago. But if BTC was so great, why have we not seen its implementation earlier?

This might be due to the fact that before Michael Saylor, no publicly-listed company had ever made a long-term investment in Bitcoin. This in turn meant that companies before that never even thought of the idea of holding Bitcoin. For sports leagues and organizations, the concept of paying Bitcoin to their athletes was never even considered a possibility beforehand, seeing as they had zero Bitcoin in their reserves.

But this all changed the moment companies started holding Bitcoin in their treasury reserve. Slowly but surely, other institutional players started following suit. The sports industry also leaped onto this opportunity. The crypto industry has in turn favored sports leagues and organizations, leveraging the global fan base to elevate its own brands, digital assets, and platforms.

Destigmatizing Bitcoin salaries

Being the first to implement something unheard of - and even borderline taboo - takes a huge leap of faith. And who’s to know whether people will follow in your footsteps? Athletes certainly have played a key role in elevating digital assets. Not only that, but they have also leveraged their fame to educate the masses on crypto. This trend is not set to fade away anytime soon. With the destigmatization of Bitcoin unraveling, many other industries are surely going to look at the sports industry as a leading example. Think of it - if your favorite athlete, who earns an income of over $10 million USD, were to announce tomorrow that he/she will be taking a partial Bitcoin salary payout, would reassure you all the more that there is nothing to lose? Volatility or not, crypto is here to stay and Bitcoin has proved its worth as a long-term investment asset. Expect Bitcoin payouts to be normalized in professional sports in the near future. And who knows, other industries may likely follow too as digitalization is the future.

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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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