Despite the recent proliferation of cryptocurrency in Americans’ lives—hello, Elon Musk on Saturday Night Live—cryptocurrencies have some ground to gain before they become ubiquitous with consumers and their finances. They have become ubiquitous in the sports world. The significant rise in crypto sponsorship deals provides massive visibility to the budding industry–yet these crypto brands will eventually need to extend their efforts beyond naming rights, logo patches and arena signage to succeed with consumers.

The role of crypto in sports has gone from being a niche investment to becoming a major growth driver within two years. According to SME Sports Sponsorglobe, 84 new crypto/blockchain/NFT sports deals had been signed globally through the first three quarters of 2021. That’s up 664% from the 11 signed back in 2019 in the same time period. Auto deals increased 52%, while insurance deals rose 6%. This year’s most significant deal was the $20 million, 20-year contract for naming rights that will make the Staples Center in Los Angeles into the Crypto.com Arena. It is worth $700,000,000.

This is the latest deal made in crypto by the NBA. Crypto.com was recently named the new arena of the Clippers and Lakers. It also became the official jersey patches partner for the Philadelphia 76ers. Separately, Coinbase is the official crypto partner of the NBA, FTX recently purchased the naming rights to the Miami Heat’s arena and made Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry its brand ambassador, and StormX is the official jersey patch partner for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Crypto advertising and sponsorships in sports makes sense for an array of reasons, with  visibility typically being the top driver, especially among new brands and categories. Sports programming accounted in the U.S. for 98% and 72% respectively of the top-rated programs broadcast, and cable TV for 72%. Super Bowl LV accounted for 20.3 Billion minutes viewed. Additional promotion and awareness is provided by the activations, signage and displays at sporting events.

These massive marketing efforts have the upside that sports events are more open to sponsorship. In fact, SME’s 2021 Trust in Advertising survey found that 81% of global consumers either completely trust or somewhat trust brand sponsorships at sports events, just behind recommendations from friends and family and branded websites. Brands will have to shift their attention from consideration to awareness due to the high level of consumer interest in sports sponsorships.  

SME Fan Insights data demonstrates why the NBA is such an excellent partner for cryptocurrency. A mere 49 percent of NBA fans express an interest in cryptocurrency products. This is almost 80% higher than the general U.S. population. What’s more, 46% of NBA fans intend to use a crypto product in the next six months which is 61% more likely than the general population.

Non-fungible tokens have gained popularity as teams and leagues use them to offer extended value for fans. NBA Top Shot is an NFT marketplace that sells officially licensed digital collectibles. NBA Top Shot was launched in October 2020 and has been a huge success. 

NBA fans, much like crypto-savvy gamers, are not just open to NFTs. SME Fan Insights data shows that 43% of NBA fan intends to purchase NFTs within the next six-months, which is 75% higher than the average population. The NFTs are a great option for NBA fans:

  • They are a great way to interact with your team (26%)
  • Offer growth potential (23%)
  • A financial authority (21%) recommended them

Although blockchain and crypto tech are becoming more prominent in the sports sector, it will take time for people to get used to them. While sports sponsorships are viewed highly in terms of trust, just 48 percent of NBA fans are not familiar with NFTs, and 43% don’t even know what cryptocurrency is. However, certain brands such as Crypto.com and Coinbase are gaining popularity and seeing increased usage.

Blockchain technologies, NFTs, and cryptocurrency have more to offer than traditional sponsors such as those in the insurance, travel and auto industries. Exposure is the first and most important step in creating awareness. The sport industry offers many options for visibility. After creating awareness of cryptocurrency through these—and other—sponsorships, there will come a time to bridge the gap between awareness and intent, transitioning from brand building to conversion, as detailed in SME’s Brand Resonance white paper. Just as every brand needs to do, they’ll solidify and expand their relationship with customers from one-way conversations to two-way ones, backed up by education and trust building.

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