Sports and the crypto invasion
What struck me when watching the first game of the first round of the AFL season a few weeks back, which incidentally was the 2021 Grand Final rematch between the Western Bulldogs and the Melbourne Demons, was the overt ‘crypto’ presence that was on my TV screen
Watching that Grand Final rematch rarely was there a moment during the telecast that crypto didn’t have a visual presence. The jumper sponsor for the Western Bulldogs, CoinSpot – an Australian based cryptocurrency exchange, was prominent. Crypto.com, a major sponsor of the AFL, could be seen via fence advertising around the stadium and even on billboards on punt road. That major sponsorship deal over five years placed Crypto.com as the official cryptocurrency trading Platform of the AFL and AFLW, worth a reported $25 million. Notably, Crypto.com is a Singapore based cryptocurrency exchange.
Further embedding crypto into the AFL landscape, AFL CEO Gillan McLachlan revealed the AFL has partnered with Animoca Brands to release NFTs, non-fungible tokens, in a unique deal that will share revenue with the AFL Players Association.
Animoca Brands, once listed on the ASX, but now based in Hong Kong, is a leading blockchain gaming NFT studios, worth more than US$5 billion.
During my 12-year professional AFL sporting career with the Hawthorn Hawks, we had many and varied corporate partners. An internet provider, health care provider, car brand and even a State Government just to name a few – not to mention the obligatory footwear / apparel sponsor. All brands were and still are prevalent corporations within their respective industries.
Bitcoin, least of all crypto assets, to most during my career, were nothing more than a meme, or perceived fad. Now the services that allow you to buy and trade these assets sit amongst the major sponsors.
As this new financial world encroaches further into traditional finance, ironically NAB, one of the AFL’s longest standing sponsors, was also advertising around the ground.
The discussion around cryptocurrency has intensified and can no longer be dismissed. The stability and long-term success of crypto assets is some way from being determined, yet the adoption of crypto assets by traditional financial institutions and even nation states, must be acknowledged.
Commonwealth Bank Australia announced in November last year, ‘that it will become Australia’s first bank to offer customers the ability to buy, sell and hold crypto assets, directly through the CommBank app.’
Only a few weeks ago, reported in the Australian Financial Review, ANZ ‘has minted a digital asset linked to the value of the Australian dollar,’ otherwise known as a stable coin. Adoption by these financial institutions suggests others will soon follow suit.
Globally, Crypto.com is making a huge splash to lift their profile. Most notably, via a reported $700 million deal to rename the Staples Centre, home of LeBron James’ LA Lakers, Crypto.com Arena.
Crypto.com has sponsored teams and leagues within soccer, hockey, and mixed martial arts, among a slew of sponsorship deals within the sporting landscape, Further, the platform has also committed to a campaign with Matt Damon – for a reported $100 million. All in an attempt to attract the eyeballs of an ever-growing, affluent youth.
And it’s not just Crypto.com ramping up their marketing budget in an attempt to onboard new users.
Binance, said to be the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, caught the global music industry’s attention when they recently signed a partnership agreement for the 64th GRAMMY Awards. Only a few days prior to that announcement, Binance purchased a $200 million stake in Forbes magazine, also taking two of the nine seats on their board of directors.
Furthermore, Binance.US, the United States partner company, secured $200 million in seed financing at a $4.5 billion pre-money valuation.
Whilst we have mentioned both crypto.com and Binance, when it comes to sponsorship expenditure, FTX must take pole position. FTX, the fastest growing crypto currency exchange over the past three years, now valued at $32 billion, have now partnered with NFL legend Tom Brady and his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen. According to the company’s press release, the couple will work as ambassadors for equity in the company.
FTX has also inked deals with the Miami Heat, Major League Baseball and the Mercedes Formula One team, as we saw recently watching the Melbourne Grand Prix.
You might ask why these sponsorship examples I have noted are all crypto exchanges? The two most significant reasons are that these exchanges are the bridge for the masses to gain crypto exposure. And in doing so, naturally the exchanges take a small clip of those transactions. Furthermore, these are centralised exchanges. Profits are held by the company to then redistribute, in part, to further sponsorship. The examples cited above gives you some indication of the amount of money flowing through these exchanges.
These large sporting brands and identities partnering with crypto businesses, must first gain an understanding and level of trust in regards to the crypto landscape.
A landscape that is developing quickly, both through a wealth creation, and adoption lens.
Recently when I contacted Western Bulldogs CEO Ameet Bains, he admitted there was some initial trepidation given his lack of understanding of the crypto industry. He was promptly reassured by his directors and advisors.
The initial CoinSpot sponsorship deal was extended beyond the one year term to now represent 3 years and to further include their AFLW team.
Interestingly, Ameet is most excited about the advancements of blockchain and the opportunity to engage with the Western Bulldogs community via NFT’s and membership deals.
This merger between the new financial world and the old shall catch many off guard. More so, it’s the rate of change that shall surprise most. Given the AFL industry accepted crypto-centric sponsorship dollars for the first time last year, I wonder to what extent does the AFL understand this has the ability to cannibalise and create conflict with one of their longest standing partners, NAB. Perhaps this notion of the inevitability of crypto asset adoption has already been considered. Those who embrace the new asset class, such as the AFL, will have a head start on those who are hesitant. Only time will tell.
At a Blockchain Australia event a few weeks ago, NAB executive, innovation and partnerships Howard Silby, said “banks are starting to have a mainstream blockchain moment”.
These comments were made off the back of it being noted that NAB, alongside UBS, Standard Chartered & BNP Paribas among others, has begun developing its own stablecoin to help settle trades on its carbon credit platform.
Given NABs’ sponsorship of the AFL, and the possible collision course of the emerging and traditional financial systems, does that jeopardise the sponsorship money the AFL is set to receive?
Or, does this merely signal what is happening more broadly within society?
Today, the largest sporting brands and the highest profiled individuals around the world, are comfortable to partner with crypto exchanges.
Given this rate of change and adoption, where will crypto sit within our mindset in another four years time?
*Brad Sewell holds a Masters of Business Administration with bachelor degrees in Commerce and Sports Management. After completing a successful career as an AFL player for Hawthorn Football Club, he has extended his business acumen through sitting on multiple boards and working with the ABC over the past 7 years. In addition, Brad has been an early and active investor in crypto-assets for the past 3 years. He can be contacted on email@example.com