The Crypto sponsorship landgrab

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Crypto. has been one of the biggest spenders in the sports sponsorship market over the last three years, putting its brand to properties including FIFA World Cup, F1 and the Aston Martin team, UFC, Australia Football League and the naming rights to the Staples Centre in Los Angeles – amongst others.‘s awesome head of sponsorship Alex Shapiro, whose CV also features Visa and ESPN, talked to Unofficial Partner about 2021, a year when every major sports property in the world was rushing to do deals in a category of companies known to be cash rich, and needing the global brand awareness and brand trust that sponsorship can offer. Then came the FTX scandal which rocked not just the crypto and web3 sectors but also the sports world.

It’s this rollercoaster we explored in Unofficial Partner podcast 310

“I think that way back in 2021, it was a wild wild west in terms of a bull market, crypto companies, web.3 companies, whatever company just popping out of anywhere. And then I would say it’s a combination of an industry that then went like vertical, obviously post pandemic, so people coming back to stadiums and then properties with financial needs. It was like the combination of the perfect storm.

So for us, we were very clear on what we wanted to do. But at the same time, there were others that were clear what they wanted to do. And then it’s like, the commercial nature of decisions, right? So sometimes, you know, you would go and say, hey, I’m interested in X property, and start talking to the rightsholder team and they were like, fine, give us some time. And then they would go out and hit the market because it was the first time ever you know, that a crypto or exchange company would come out for the rights and so they didn’t know what the value of the industry was. It’s not like you know, I’m Heineken or whatever Corona in my case as a Mexican and I want to sponsor. They know the value of a beer sponsorship, soft drink or beverage, whatever.

But here very few had a clue. So then they went to the market and said okay, what’s the value there and obviously the offers, the value, the desire for brands to get in because like every sponsorship is a way for being more legitimate, more on the main stage and then be able to compete with the big guys. So people were offering crazy crazy amount of money and then so you will go in for property A with this nice offer. But then they would come back and say listen, I have 10 people more interested than you and then your old thing about like, confidentiality and whatever like, then the word is out there. So then it might be you know, here’s there’s a city with two teams, right like a place like events or whatever properties with two or three big rivals so the other rival hears about it, and then they go and reach out to your competitor, your competitor gets in, and then they go back out into the market and you can see how these things can escalate like crazy.

So back then it was like that. So we were very proactive, very clear what we wanted. We sometimes we couldn’t close a deal we were fine to say no, because for whatever reason, but then we were also approached by opportunities like, hey, like xyz competitor are trying to do this. And then you’re just trying to guess games like what is each of them trying to do? Right? You know, we got F1 so what’s the next move of our competitors that weren’t able to get F1? Are they gonna go for teams, which teams? If they gonna go for teams, how are we going to protect our rights and so on. So I mean, it was fascinating as somebody that loves this industry, but honestly, it was like non stop, non stop because obviously say you close you know, F1, because then you have all of the teams coming out to you. Ok so Aston Martin, we’re very happy with them. Then you have all of the media, then you have all of the influencers, then you have all of the former drivers or upcoming drivers. Of course do you want to do NASCAR, do you want to do Moto GP or you want to do a whatever like drone racing and then it gets crazy.

If we talk about Visa, I know some of my Visa colleagues are fans of your podcasts, so if I’m not mistaken, I would say they’ve been doing the Olympics since 1986, NFL since probably 1990, FIFA since 2007. And then we did with Adrian and Steve we did the women’s US national partnership in 2017 I think and that’s it. So pretty stable. If you look what at MasterCard’s been doing. So again, pretty much like a, I wouldn’t say gentlemen’s agreement, but like, two big competitors and they both have their playing fields. And Amex, they have their own playing field as well and it’s pretty normal.

But back in 2021, like, we had Aston Martin, we had a small deal with the International Hockey finals and we had a deal with the Montreal Canadians in as well and a small deal for the Coppa Italia final with Serie A. That was it. And then there are so few, I would call it big global properties available. There’s only one F1, only one UFC there’s only one you know, imagine the crypto comm arena one.

So it was a wild wild west, and it was quite quite anxious because it was all about as you say landgrabbing sponsorship, right?

Like I’m negotiating, you know, at some point we were like, we were reviewing clubs, reviewing leads, reviewing everything. And then as a sports strategist, I was…. okay? Do I want to go the league route, right? Or do I want to own all of the leagues or want to own all of the big teams like, what Emirates or Qatar Airways are doing? Pretty much the same.

And I’m the best player in my industry and I want to landgrab sponsorship. But at some point with the escalation of obviously prices as it was because like there was like an over demand, in the industry was very anxious, I was very anxious when you’re managing I don’t know how many conversations at the same time. You have a lot of pressure from management because like if you don’t close a deal it’s not like oh, we missed sponsorship a lets go for sponsorship b. This is putting your brand out there and there’s only one UFC, there’s only one World Cup.

It’s not only about us having the financial power like to pay a sponsorship, but it’s also who is on the other side trusting you know, at some point the conversation flips and it’s no longer like, Oh, we’re interested in your property, let’s issue you the rights. It flips very quickly. It’s like why do I want to partner with you Like, you know, why are you better than the other assuming everybody’s paying the same and then it’s all about okay, who is our executive team, who they are or values, where we want to go or compliance in the why you need to trust us and not the other one. And that’s when we become almost like the commercial agents. We’re selling results even though we need to pay and we get no commission.

I would say like from a from a personal and professional point of view, I would say it’s frightening because after you know been working the company here almost a year and a half and it’s a new industry and then you you get like second not second thoughts in the industry but it’s frightening to see like the industry is just collapsing. You have like the lunar collapse and then like all of these like halos sake and then FTX and it’s not nice to wake up every morning and see another crypto company disappearing or website or NFT in there or like financial it’s, it’s not nice, gives you a lot of anxiety to be honest.

And again, we all know who we work for and why we trust our career with I have never doubted on the trust or health or in this company and how well things are done here and the legality and how I would say like kosher it is no doubts but it just like the environment was very you know, everybody you know, everywhere you read was very aggressive. It was very frightening, to be honest, to be in this industry of people just LnkedIn the hey, you know, Are you okay? Yes, I’m okay, I’m working – thanks for asking. You know my parents like Alex like you Oh, are you sure, you know, you still have a T shirt like you know, these are as usual right like people today Chase bank they I’m pretty sure they they’re fine, regardless of all of these collapses in the banking industry in the US, right.

But then on the professional side before FTX collapse, we were very clear with a lot of our partners like who to trust, who not to trust and why, and it wasn’t about money. I’m not talking FTX here. It wasn’t about like hey, they’re offering 2x 5x more than we it’s about, you know, I they want to be able to pay at the end of the cycle or the year. Like it’s all about how much money you close. It’s actually we will you as a property be able to collect it. So again from that and I feel like hey, yeah, we were still here and we told  all of our partners that we’re going to be here so that’s important.

And then the second one is okay, now obviously the environment in industries, how do we go back to our clients and first I think like Chris, our CEO and all of the executive team, they were very fast to react and they did a very nice AMA ask me anything, and we were the first one of the first companies to publish our proof of research so that people can actually see what was going on with our company.

And then and then we started reaching out to apply to our partners and building that confidence. Thanks for relationship we’d built then okay, we turn the page now it’s worked out what do we do and what their stage in the world you can think of to be there to the public and say, We’re here we you know, we we told you we’re the number one cryptocurrency exchange we’re here as a brand you know who to trust and then also in the in the in the box in the in the in the outside of the field like to be able to network with all of the industry and just, you know, continue to build those relationships. So I think that was, it was a creative moment.

For us at the end it was good because then it’s not only in the pitch, but then we announced the interesting projects with top 10 brands in the world like these visa like Coke, where we did the NFT collections with them. We’re very active with a you know, with with with certain influencers and brand ambassadors and then and then, you know, we obviously we were there with the will or this client stakeholders, so it was good.”