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Bitcoin of the Realm: College Stadium Gets Cryptocurrency Sponsor

24 Aug, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

There hasn’t been this much excitement around naming rights since bidet brand TUSHY wanted to sponsor a Toilet Bowl at the Buffalo Bills stadium. Only this time, it’s serious. Cryptocurrency exchange FTX has landed the naming rights to the field at California Memorial Stadium, the home court of the California Golden Bears, in a 10-year, $17.5 million deal.

Under the terms of the new agreement, the venue would become known as FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium.

According to PR Newswire, it is the first-ever collegiate cryptocurrency naming rights sponsorship. As part of the sponsorship package deal, LEARFIELD will accept the full payment in cryptocurrency on behalf of the university. (Learfield IMG College is a collegiate sports marketing company whose clients include the NCAA and all its championships, NCAA Football, leading conferences, universities and others).

Cryptocurrency has been making inroads into the sports business world. The tech-savvy Sacramento Kings (they of the solar-powered sports arena) started accepting Bitcoin back in 2014 and pioneered the move to mine digital currency. Through a partnership with MiningStore.com, the team installed cryptocurrency mining machines at Golden 1 Center and also instituted a rewards program in cryptocurrency.

FTX itself has been increasingly active in sports business; in June 2021, the company took out the naming rights for the Miami Heat’s arena(it was formerly known as the American Airlines Arena), inking a $135 million contract good for 19 years.

Front Office Sports also noted the following moves by FTX:

It became the officialcrypto partner of MLB and the first brand to advertise on an umpire patch.

Tom Brady became a brand ambassador for the exchange in June, receiving an equity stake and an unspecified amount of cryptocurrency.

It also struck a $210 million deal with esports team TSM for naming rights, rebranding the team to TSM FTX.

Cryptocurrency is making a name for itself on the international scene as well. In 2018, the FIFA World Cup in Russia accepted Bitcoin as a form of payment. The announcement was made in the lead-up to the event and spurred even more interest in it.

According to an article in CCNBuying Business Travel Russia reported that Apartments Malina had teamed up with the online payment system, Free-Kassa, to allow users to purchase rooms with cryptocurrencies. A total of four matches were played in Kaliningrad in June.

According to a rough translation, Apartments Malina’s manager, Anna Subbotina said, “Crypto-currencies are now enjoying increased interest. Gradually they will come into use as a means of payment. And we decided that the fans should be able to pay for our services with the help of this innovative technology. It may very well be that other hotels [are] awaiting our example for the forthcoming football holiday.”

But cryptocurrency didn’t only see use in lodging during the event. Killfish, a chain of bars in Russia, noted that it would be accepting Bitcoin for alcoholic drinks as part of an extensive promotional program that promised great discounts.

The San Jose Earthquakes soccer club also accepts Bitcoin for tickets, merchandise, and concessions. According to News BTC, each point of sale (the ticket gate, merchandise store, and concession stand) is equipped with a tablet running the Coinbase Merchant application. Bitcoin users can then pay for their items using the wallet of their choice. (In fact, the Earthquakes organization proudly points to itself as “the first pro team to accept Bitcoin in-stadium,” although the title actually belongs to the Kings).

But while the industry is still buzzing over the concept of a cryptocurrency sponsorship, let’s remember that over the years, we’ve seen plenty of nontraditional businesses moving into the sponsorship arena.

CBD started making inroads all the way back in 2015 (and, some might argue, even before) when marijuana tourism came to prominence. In 2018, Human Potential LLC, an event management company that hosts The Human Potential Running Series, announced that Colorado-based Elixinol had come aboard as an official sponsor of their series of events. (Human Potential noted it was the first time that an ultra-race or ultra-race series has been officially sponsored by a cannabis brand). The concept was fraught with arguments for and against at the time; it has since become far more mainstream.

Last week had its share of sponsorship announcements designed to rock the boat, including the fact that Caesars has become the first gambling business to sponsor a college bowl (The Fiesta Bowl).

Of course, there are plenty of doubters when it comes to the staying power of the crypto economy – and they’re quick to point out that the cryptocurrency industry is still emerging and evolving – and perhaps not to be trusted fully. MarketWatch warned investors, “Don’t Fall for the Bitcoin Bubble. Even the Flintstones had a Better System.”

And, of course, over the years, we’ve seen plenty of sponsorships that looked like great investments come to an abrupt and unceremonial end. In January 1999, for example, the Baltimore Ravens struck a 20-year, $105.5 million deal with Internet service provider PSINet, and the stadium in downtown Baltimore became known as the PSINet Stadium. (Wags who had purchased personal seat licenses, or PSLs, as they became known, were quick to re-christen the stadium “The PSL Net Bowl,” recognizing the steep prices they were paying).

But by 2001, PSINet, having expanded too rapidly along with the rest of the dot-com economy, buckled under its own weight and filed for bankruptcy, leaving the Ravens with no choice but to remove the 12-foot-high neon letters after a court battle.

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