Banking and financial services are two of the traditional cornerstone industries in sports sponsorships. The growth of P2P money transfer apps, mobile payments and digital wallets shifted the key question for consumer finance companies and their partner properties from “Where are people keeping their money?” to “How are people moving it around?” Crypto’s surge into sports sponsorships is driving the conversation into entirely new directions, from how sports properties think about what they will accept at the point-of-sale to how many aspects of the fan experience may now fall under a single sponsor’s umbrella.
Or, to paraphrase a well-known tagline, it’s not just “What’s in your wallet?” but “What is your wallet?”
Mobile payment sponsorships connect local to global
PayPal signed a 10-year stadium naming rights contract with their hometown MLS team, the San Jose Earthquakes, in April. Visitors at PayPal Park will be able to make their purchases via QR code at touch-free points-of-sale, with the backend powered by PayPal and its subsidiary, Venmo. The platform integration will extend throughout the Quakes’ digital properties, which will likely aim at providing frictionless merchandise and ticket sales based on fans’ digital interactions with the team.
Each Quakes home game will also feature a local small business through in-park promotions and signage, and PayPal Park will host local business events throughout the year. In addition to embedding the team into the local business community – a local business community that has a habit of launching global giants, like PayPal – these activations will give PayPal another touchpoint for expanding their own client base.
The PayPal-Earthquakes tie-up is a localized version of Alipay’s sponsorship of the European soccer federation, UEFA.
Alipay came aboard in 2019 during the qualification rounds for the Euro 2020 tournament, which was ultimately delayed until the summer of 2021.
One attraction for Alipay was the unique structure of the Euro 2020 tournament. While the European Championships’ group stages and knockout rounds are normally hosted by a single country, like the World Cup, Euro 2020 had games across the continent for the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Even though European consumers could not yet use Alipay, Alipay opened the door for European companies who wanted to expand their reach into the Chinese market. UEFA itself showed the way. By integrating Alipay’s mobile wallet into UEFA’s website, UEFA connected with its biggest growth market via the most common consumer payment system in that market.
Alipay also used the relationship with UEFA to expand their business beyond mobile payments into some of the other things people keep in their wallets, like tickets. The entire ticketing process for fans in Asia went through an Alipay “Mini Program” they built with UEFA, part of growing Alipay from a payment app to a “lifestyle super-app.”
Crypto sponsorships expand and integrate fans’ wallets
Expanding the wallet beyond money is the key idea behind many sponsorships in the consumer finance and “finance adjacent” spaces. Look no further than all things crypto.
FTX and Coinbase planted the flag for crypto exchanges in MLB and the NBA, respectively. Coinbase looks like they want to be the official crypto partner of all basketball, in fact. In October they became the exclusive cryptocurrency platform of the entire NBA empire – the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League and NBA 2K League – and USA Basketball. But that’s just at the league level. FTX, which became the MLB’s first official crypto exchange brand in June, has the naming rights to the Miami Heat’s arena.
Crypto exchanges are about more than converting your dogecoin into bitcoin. They are becoming unified destinations for users’ entire crypto world. Coinbase and FTX both announced in October that they are launching their own NFT marketplaces. The NBA was an early entrant into the NFT world with NBA Top Shot, and Coinbase powers all Top Shot transactions.
Teams are accepting cryptocurrencies for ticket sales. That is not only a step towards wider recognition of cryptocurrencies, but moving towards blockchain-based ticketing. Crypto wallets will eventually be the place for storing currency, spending it and then storing whatever you bought.
Things that were once all prefaced with and powered by “digital” or “mobile” – banking, money transfer, purchasing, tickets – will soon be prefaced with “crypto” and powered by the blockchain.
Similar to how PayPal and Alipay are using their soccer sponsorships to get in front of potential new clients, crypto sponsorships present an opportunity for these companies to introduce themselves and their industry to their fellow sponsors. Blockchain and crypto technologies ultimately will have a penetration into all businesses similar to the one digital and mobile have had. The sports sponsorship ecosystem can facilitate that adoption by bringing crypto together with more mature industries while giving this high-growth category a platform to test and demonstrate their value.