How Sports Leagues Can Use Crypto to Engage Fans

Crypto, like sports, can be fun, says Jonathan Manzi, the founder of Beyond Protocol. This op-ed is part of CoinDesk's Sports Week.

AccessTimeIconJul 27, 2022 at 6:48 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 14, 2024 at 8:27 p.m. UTC

Crypto and sports depend on teams.

A sports franchise and a blockchain startup are both led by a small pack of operators – whether it’s a revered National Football League coach and a seasoned quarterback, or a visionary founder alongside a savant developer – who must take their team to victory. They handle challenging conditions as one unit, all the while contending with large personalities, changing cultural tailwinds and frequent setbacks.

This piece is part of CoinDesk's Sports Week. Jonathan Manzi is the founder and CEO of Beyond Protocol, a blockchain company specializing in the Internet of Things with human performance use cases involving NFL players like Rob Gronkowski.

The team extends beyond the immediate unit into a broader community. Just as tens of thousands of Patriots fans pack Gillette Stadium for each game, legions of cryptocurrency believers swarm Telegram channels for company announcements and giveaways. Fans root for successful performances from their teams during tough times. Colorful mascots, like the one for the Las Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League or Uniswap’s mythical unicorn, serve as a rallying point for fans all connected by their shared love of the team.

While celebrity athletes have endorsed cryptocurrency projects, a real use case for crypto in sports lies in the stadium with fans and how they connect with the team. Whether it’s a blue-chip digital asset like bitcoin or colorful altcoins like doge, cryptocurrencies add a fun dimension to players’ storylines that fans now play crucial roles in.

Let’s give sports fans a “bitcoin”

When Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan Byron Kennedy caught Tom Brady’s 600th touchdown ball last October, the Bucs quarterback gave 1 BTC as a consolation prize to get the football back – in addition to season tickets and troves of Buccaneers merch.

“I am also giving him a bitcoin, which is pretty cool, too,” Brady said during a press conference, after tweeting “Let’s get this guy a Bitcoin.”

Brady has a partnership with crypto exchange FTX, and both parties turned the storyline to their advantage. Although the Buccaneers showered Kennedy with merch, the “cherry on top” is magical internet money landing in the fan’s smartphone – Bucs merch can be reproduced endlessly, but bitcoin is finite. Our company, Beyond Protocol, even joined the fun and gave Kennedy some of our native tokens, taking the journey from real life to social media to blockchain.

Cynics focusing solely on the corporate partnership between FTX and Brady miss the fact that crypto is fun, and there is a human and cultural element to it. Once regulation catches up with technology, sports franchises can offer airdrops to fans, while incentivizing the larger “team community” to publicly show support for players. Franchises can further leverage this model by tapping into iconic moments in their team’s history. Imagine receiving an NFT (non-fungible token) that grants access to baseball legend Ted Williams’ iconic red seat in the bleachers of Fenway Park in Boston.

We’re still only in the top of the first inning when it comes to the maturation of blockchain technology. As the industry evolves, new use cases will emerge.

While it’s tempting to view these as theoretical talking points from crypto evangelists, the infrastructure in sports stadiums to enable blockchain is rapidly being built out, from FTX gobbling up the naming rights to the Miami Heat's arena, and then airdropping every fan in a section $500 in crypto, to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban enabling dogecoin at Mavericks games.

Or just shower everyone in dogecoin

Crypto and sports are fun.

“The Mavericks have decided to accept dogecoin as payment for Mavs tickets and merchandise for one very important, earth shattering reason, because we can!” Cuban said in a press release in March of last year. “We have chosen to do so because sometimes in business you have to do things that are fun.”

As a billionaire invested in decentralized finance (DeFi), Cuban understands the value of seeding fun, new concepts into pre-existing institutions, letting them take hold and grow. Whether it’s a meme coin or ticket scanner, whenever a new variable is introduced to any environment, both change over time. By accepting payments in a meme coin, the Mavericks franchise allows cryptocurrency to evolve in a contained ecosystem, while studying what works and what doesn’t with adoption.

Six months later in September 2021, the Mavericks’ launched a dogecoin cashback rewards program, indicating that meme coins are growing into an even greater part of the organization’s culture.

For all the crypto news cycles on dense macroeconomic trends, and overwrought topics like protocol exploits and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regulation and bitcoin/Nasdaq depegging, the experts appear to misunderstand the fundamental nature of cryptocurrencies: They are a fun medium of exchange with cartoon mascots and built-in fanbases.

No wonder they have found a launchpad in sports stadiums.


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Jonathan  Manzi

Jonathan Manzi is the founder and CEO of Beyond Protocol, a blockchain company specializing in IoT with human performance use cases involving NFL players like Rob Gronkowski.