Nashville is the latest Major League Soccer team to join the crypto bandwagon, with one twist: The club’s sponsorship deal with Valkyrie Investments is being paid for entirely in bitcoin.
Nashville on Tuesday announced Valkyrie, a digital assets investment firm, as a new founding partner. It comes as sports franchises increasingly embrace crypto-aligned sponsorships.
Players will wear a Valkyrie patch on their jersey sleeves and the premier club at the new Nashville stadium will bear the company’s name. Financial terms of the multiyear partnership were not released, but the deal is the first in MLS to be paid for with cryptocurrency.
The sponsorship comes at a pivotal time for the club as it prepares to open its new stadium in May. Nashville’s first MLS season came in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, but the team overachieved on the field with playoff runs in each of its first two seasons.
“I think that as part of that, we want to be part of the conversation, when people talk about new technologies and new initiatives,” Nashville CEO Ian Ayre said about the new sponsorship. “Our fan base fits very clearly into the MLS general demographic, and for that reason, we want to make sure that we’re relevant to our fans.”
Probably the most dramatic example of crypto’s growing visibility in sports is Crypto.com’s 20-year, $700 million purchase last November of the naming rights for the Los Angeles Lakers’ and Clippers’ arena.
In MLS, D.C. United struck a three-year deal last month with XDC Network, which will put the blockchain company’s name on the team’s jerseys for the next three years. Inter Miami has a jersey sponsorship with XBTO, a cryptofinance company that is partners with Valkyrie.
For the companies, MLS sponsorships reach a demographic most familiar with digital assets.
“MLS has the youngest fans in American sports, and our fans are also the most likely to already use or want to use cryptocurrency. You can understand why Nashville SC was appealing to Valkyrie,” said Chris Schlosser, MLS senior vice president for media.
Deals can be risky in a sector that is still emerging. Manchester City’s partnership with 3Key Technologies was scrapped after concerns about the legitimacy of the company’s executives. Barcelona canceled an agreement with Ownix after a businessman linked to the company was arrested for fraud related to cryptocurrency.
But for teams looking for new sponsorships, especially after the pandemic caused industry-wide losses, interest from the growing crypto market can be a boon.
Valkyrie, based in Nashville, felt its brand aligned well with soccer, and the hometown team.
“It’s very much community focused. You support the projects, and the coin founders, and it’s small and niche and a lot of people do care about each other and helping each other succeed,” Valkyrie Investments CEO Leah Wald said. “And we felt like that was a very good synergy that we also felt with the soccer community and soccer fans. So it kind of fit our ethos.”
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