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Crypto’s campaign for mainstream acceptance now extends to sports sponsorships

Fans arrive at the Staples Center in LA
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Fans arrive at the Staples Center in LA
  • Adario Strange
By Adario Strange

Media & entertainment reporter

Published

After years on the fringes of finance and culture, the cryptocurrency industry is using the world’s obsession with sports to leverage its way into respectability. The latest step is the renaming of Los Angeles’ Staples Center, home to the National Basketball Association’s Lakers, to the Crypto.com Arena, after the Singapore-based crypto exchange signed on as a sponsor.

“In a few years, when every person in the world holds crypto, we’ll all look back at this historic moment knowing this was the day cryptocurrency crossed the chasm and went mainstream,” Crypto.com CEO  Kris Marszalek said via Twitter following the announcement of the deal.  

The Los Angeles deal is part of a growing trend 

AEG, the owner of the popular 20,000-seat sports and music facility in downtown Los Angeles, sealed the 20-year branding deal with Crypto.com for a reported $700 million. The agreement adds one of the crown jewels of live entertainment to Crypto.com’s growing list of sponsorships that include the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a deal reportedly worth $175 million, as well as Formula 1 racing, esports tournament Twitch Rivals, the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens, and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. 

The company’s interest in a sports-focused marketing approach—including esports—appears driven by the demographics of crypto users. Crypto investors tend to be men between 18-44, which is also the profile of avid sports fans and very close to the 18-34 demographics of the most active video game users

The Crypto.com deal is the second NBA-focused arena naming deal. Florida’s Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners agreed to change American Airlines Arena, the home of the NBA’s Miami Heat, to FTX Arena, promoting the name of another major crypto trading platform.

Crypto and sports marketing are a perfect match

While some other sports sponsorships can feel strained, like basketball’s Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, or baseball’s Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, the entry of crypto into the sports world is, thematically, a natural fit, particularly with the rise of legalized sports betting in many parts of the US. Although long-term crypto natives avoid describing the space as a gamble, that’s exactly how many traditional investors have framed it in recent years.  

Long before the UFC made its own crypto sponsorship splash, one of its stars, Ben Askren, took on a high-profile crypto sponsorship from the Litecoin Foundation. And in 2018, boxing headliner and crypto devotee Floyd Mayweather was fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission for improperly promoting a then largely unknown crypto project. 

The freewheeling nature of sports aligns closely with the users and creators involved in the crypto space, who often see crypto as a tool to defy the traditional confines of finance and wealth creation. However, much like sports betting addictions, some crypto stories don’t always turn out well. But that hasn’t stopped the tendrils of crypto marketing from slowly creeping into the sports world. 

LA Sports fans bemoan the loss of the Staples Center name

Some longtime sports fans are lamenting the name change of the Los Angeles arena where so much sports and music history was made in the last two decades. But the new Crypto.com Arena name, to be officially launched on Dec. 25, is no more incongruous than many of the unlikely brand names gracing the front of other major arenas or displayed on the jerseys of their favorite teams in basketball and soccer.

Other major sports organizations are happy to accept crypto riches driven by the current bull market. The NBA recently secured a deal with US-based crypto exchange Coinbase, and Major League Baseball has taken on FTX as a sponsor.

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