While the NFL remains apprehensive about aligning with cryptocurrency companies, that hasn’t stopped one of its marquee teams from getting a head start in the space.
The Kraft Group, which is owns the New England Patriots and MLS’ New England Revolution, has partnered with Socios.com. This is the first NFL deal for the blockchain fan-token platform, which aims to engage fanbases with opportunities to win rewards, access VIP experiences and more.
Patriots fans, though, won’t immediately be able to purchase tokens and trade them within the Socios app, as the league is keeping the crypto craze at arm’s length. The agreement, which makes Socios the official sponsor of the Patriots’ indoor practice facility, for now will be centered around marketing activations and in-stadium branding as rules continue to evolve.
The NFL has barred teams from selling sponsorships to cryptocurrency exchanges, but it has left the door open for partnerships with crypto-adjacent companies, like Socios. While the league has been slow to embrace emerging business categories, this new deal indicates where the wind is blowing.
The NFL was the last of the four major pro sports leagues to partner with sports betting operators, for example, and now has deals with several gambling companies, including Caesars Entertainment, FanDuel and DraftKings.
Socios follows cryptocurrency asset manager Grayscale Investments, which partnered with the New York Giants back in May, as early companies to break into the NFL. Despite TV rightsholders like Fox selling crypto-related ads, the league remains cautious in its approach to these unique digital assets.
The NFL prohibits team NFT deals but allows player crypto sponsorship deals (quarterback Tom Brady signed a partnership with crypto firm FTX earlier this year). In coordination with the NFLPA, the league inked an equity deal with Dapper Labs in September to create digital video collectibles. The NBA Top Shot maker recently closed on a $250 million funding round.
Socios’ partnership with The Kraft Group also marks its first in MLS (Inter Miami CF signed cryptofinance firm XBTO as its jersey sponsor in September). This is the latest move for the Chiliz-owned company as it looks to further embed itself in North American pro sports.
The company, which has plans to expand to the NHL, already deals with a host of European soccer clubs like Juventus and FC Barcelona. It previously struck a deal with Premier League club Leeds United, which is partly owned by 49ers Enterprises. It also has deals with mixed-martial arts properties and cricket teams. About two dozen NBA franchises have partnered with Socios as well. But more important, the Malta-based company has finally planted roots with the NFL.
Socios, which plans to open an office in North America, says its app now has more than a million downloads and over 900,000 active users.