Women’s Sports Leagues and Crypto: An Overlooked Investment Opportunity?

Fans of these leagues have a relatively high knowledge of cryptocurrencies, yet fewer crypto companies invest in female athletes and teams. This feature is part of CoinDesk's "Sports Week."

AccessTimeIconJul 27, 2022 at 4:24 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 28, 2022 at 5:55 p.m. UTC

Margaux Nijkerk reports on blockchain protocols with a focus on the Ethereum ecosystem. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Emory universities, she has a masters in International Affairs & Economics. She holds a very small amount of ETH and other altcoins.

The crypto industry has turned to sports to educate the masses. Over the last few years, sponsorships in male sports leagues have popped up in large chunks. For example, soccer’s FIFA World Cup is sponsored by trading platform crypto.com, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Golden State Warriors is sponsored by crypto exchange FTX and the National Football League’s (NFL) Dallas Cowboys is sponsored by financial services company blockchain.com.

This piece is part of CoinDesk's Sports Week.

But while crypto companies have raced to grow their presence in male-dominated sports leagues, the space has not expanded as fast in the women's. Could this be because crypto is a male-dominated industry? Possibly. But by engaging with women’s leagues, an industry that is growing exponentially, the crypto economy also has enormous opportunity to educate new fanbases.

Women’s sports – an emerging target for investment?

In 2020, women’s sports globally received less than $1 billion in sponsorships, while $467 billion went towards men’s and mixed sports (including Olympic and Grand Slam tennis events). This enormous inequity is astounding, especially given the fact that women’s sports in the United States alone have enormous returns and active engagement from fans.

According to a Nielsen report, sponsorships in women’s sports have gone up by 146% since 2018, indicating that there is vast momentum and a dedicated audience following women’s leagues. Fans of women’s sports are also 25% more likely to buy sponsored products than fans of men’s sports, adding to a widespread sentiment that women’s sports fans are fiercely loyal to their favorite athletes and teams.

These stats, combined with surveys showing that sports fans have a higher degree of understanding of what cryptocurrencies are, makes breaking into the female leagues that much more pertinent for the crypto industry. A poll from 2021 by the Morning Consult, showed that sports fans are twice as likely as non-sports fans to have some knowledge about Bitcoin or Ethereum, and three times as likely to say they are very familiar with the workings of the crypto ecosystem. Overall, 47% of respondents (who are sports fans) said they are very familiar with crypto, compared to 39% of U.S. adults and 23% of non-sports fans.

But when you break down the audiences and their awareness of the crypto industry, those that are loyal to “niche leagues,” such as women’s leagues, follow the crypto industry more intently than those who actively follow the big four leagues: the NBA, NFL, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.

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(Morning Consult)

According to the chart above by the Morning Consult, about 64% of respondents who identified as Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) fans, and 70% of Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) fans were familiar with cryptocurrencies, compared with fans of the NBA (52%), NHL (52%), MLB (47%) and NFL (45%). Women’s sports fans are clearly more familiar with the crypto industry than fans of men's leagues. And yet, the crypto world, like other sponsors of sports leagues, has not used the already familiar audience and growth of popularity of women’s sports in its favor.

State of crypto involvement in women’s sports

So why hasn’t the crypto industry put more resources toward sponsoring women’s sports? Probably because the industry is dominated by men, and so are the major leagues. Although there has been little engagement and sponsorship from crypto companies in women’s leagues, there are some partnerships that have paved the way.

Naomi Osaka, the No. 1 ranked tennis player in the WTA, signed an FTX sponsorship in March. In addition to wearing the FTX logo on her uniform, Osaka also receives equity stake and compensation in crypto from FTX. As Osaka said in the press release: "Cryptocurrencies started with the goal of being accessible to everyone and breaking down barriers to entry. I'm excited to partner with FTX to get back to that mission and to innovate on new ways to reach more people and further democratize the space."

Though Osaka is the first major female athlete to join FTX’s sports ambassador program, this is not her first venture into the crypto world: In August 2021, she released a limited non-fungible token (NFT) collection with online betting site DraftKings.

Coinbase and the Seattle Storm

Coinbase (COIN) and the WNBA have partnered to educate fans on the crypto ecosystem. One of Coinbase’s partners is the Seattle Storm, the four-time WNBA champion. The partnership is unique in the space as it is the first crypto sponsorship in the WNBA franchise, a league that has become more popular than ever.

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From left to right: Coinbase’s Chukwukere Ekeh, Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd and Crystal Langhorne at the announcement of their partnership (Seattle Storm)

Nate Silverman, the senior vice president for Corporate Partnerships and Social Responsibility for the Seattle Storm, told CoinDesk that women tend to get behind brands that support women’s teams, so reaching out to this audience makes sense.

“You look at the WNBA, we're seeing attendance in gate numbers grow. We're seeing TV viewership grow. Partnership revenue is growing significantly across the league and for teams specifically. And so we also know that women tend to be the decision makers of households when it comes to family spending. And the typical crypto investor is male. So like any business it's obviously important to diversify our customer base. So the crypto industry can really capitalize on both the growth of women's professional sports, but then also appeal to women viewers, and women’s fans through investing in women's sports.”

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Coinbase logo on the home court of the Seattle Storm (Seattle Storm)

‘Change makers, disruptors and first movers’

The partnership between the Seattle Storm and Coinbase is mutually beneficial. The Seattle Storm exposes and educates its audience on the crypto economy, while Coinbase contributes to the team’s social justice Force4Change platform, which gives a voice to marginalized and underrepresented communities.

With the partnership, Coinbase identified that social justice is important to it, too. Within the Force 4 Change network, Coinbase has formed its own program, called “The Blockchain.” For every shot blocked by a Seattle Storm player, Coinbase will donate $70 to TechBridge, a nonprofit which focuses on STEM learning for girls grades 5-12 in underserved communities.

Jessica Williams, director of partnerships at Coinbase, told CoinDesk about the importance of the loyal fanbase and growing popularity of women’s sports: “Coinbase knows the passion, innovation and die-hard fandom behind the women’s leagues, especially the WNBA. As the brand aims to bridge the divide in crypto adoption and bring the next 100 million people into the crypto economy, it’s important to be able to get in front of this captive audience to educate and empower them.”

Williams added, “Women’s sports are filled with change makers, disruptors and first movers. They’re used to facing pushback and yet still moving forward and building something new. That ethos is true to crypto and central to Coinbase values, so it’s a great cultural fit to have the brand associated with women’s sports.”

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Margaux Nijkerk reports on blockchain protocols with a focus on the Ethereum ecosystem. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Emory universities, she has a masters in International Affairs & Economics. She holds a very small amount of ETH and other altcoins.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Margaux Nijkerk reports on blockchain protocols with a focus on the Ethereum ecosystem. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and Emory universities, she has a masters in International Affairs & Economics. She holds a very small amount of ETH and other altcoins.