Looking to Score: Web3 and Soccer

In a sign of Web3’s mainstreamization, companies in the space are sponsoring soccer teams. For readers not familiar with the topic, soccer sponsorships are a really big deal. Spain’s Real Madrid gets €70 million a year from Emirates to display the airline’s name on their shirts. The Dubai-based airline, by the way, sponsors three other European teams. Their Emirati rival, Etihad, reportedly paid £400 million to sponsor Manchester City’s shirts and get naming rights for their stadium.

For many years, Barcelona stood out as the rare major club without a shirt sponsor. Since then, however, the team has pursued deals with gusto. Barça recently inked a €280 million deal with Spotify that will see the music streaming service get shirt sponsorship and stadium naming rights.

Spotify is a massive name, of course, so it’s not surprising that they edged out the competition to get the Barça deal. But it is notable that two crypto exchanges, Binance and FTX, were in the mix.

While the club’s choice of sponsor was influenced by several factors, “distrust” of the crypto sector was cited as one of the reasons in press reports. In addition, it was considered that crypto businesses are not “in consonance with the club’s values.”

Yet a few days later Barça’s president announced plans to launch the club’s own cryptocurrency, as well as NFTs. The club, which is member-owned, is looking at Web3 as a way of financially challenging European rivals backed by Russian oligarchs, petrodollars, and corporate interests. This initiative suggests that any reservations on the club’s part had more to do with the specific suitors (while Barça’s decision predates the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Binance’s response to same is telling).

If anything, Web3 may allow Barça to more effectively harness the support of its worldwide fan base in an effort to remain competitive, instead of turning to unsavory backers. Hardly a rejection of the club’s values, it seems.

Barça’s crypto and NFT plans demonstrate that sponsorship is not the only possible synergy between soccer teams and Web3. In fact, sponsorship can go hand in hand with other Web3 engagement. A prime example of this is another Spanish club, Valencia, whose shirt sponsor is its own NFT, the $VCF Fan Token.

Soccer fans have differing levels of enthusiasm toward Web3 in the abstract. But if crypto and NFTs start leading to goals and titles, they will pay attention. If Web3 can successfully tap into the passion that the world’s game generates, it may establish its best use case.

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