Thirteen new teams are partnering with fan token platform Socios.com, as the NFL continues to loosen sponsorship restrictions tied to crypto and blockchain companies. But the company won’t be selling its controversial digital fan tokens, at least not yet.
Socios has embarked on new deals with the Washington Commanders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams.
The 13 teams follow the New England Patriots, who first signed a marketing deal with Socios in November. Socios, owned by Chiliz, notably has done other partnerships that include selling fan tokens, but the NFL deals will strictly be based around marketing activations and fan engagement efforts as the league remains wary of potential brand risk and regulatory issues.
The NFL recently approved changes to its blockchain rules at a league business ventures committee meeting. Some of those changes include permitting teams to sign blockchain sponsorships and accept NFT advertising (without using marks and logos). The NFL, though, still does not allow teams to promote cryptocurrency or blockchain fan tokens.
“We don’t mind if it’s a long road to fan tokens,” Socios chief strategy officer Max Rabinovitch said. “We’re ready for that. The important thing for us is for people to know who we are and what we do.”
Rabinovitch says there was interest from other NFL franchises but ultimately decided the 13 new teams were the best fit to be aligned with, while leaving the door open to add more clubs.
The deal allows Socios to integrate more deeply into the U.S. sports market. For teams, these deals present opportunities to gain scalable revenue and establish a relationship with a platform that’s determined to be a long-term player in the way sports teams keep fans engaged.
Socios’ approach to fan engagement has been met with a fair amount of criticism around the industry. A report last month alleges Socios CEO Alexandre Dreyfus failed to pay advisors and staff members an agreed-upon share of Chiliz. Dreyfus has since refuted this claim. Fans also bashed affiliated sports teams and organizations. This list includes Champions League organizer UEFA, which received backlash for monetizing supporter engagement through its partnership with the company.
Last year, the United Kingdom’s advertising regulator also banned two Socios ads promoting Arsenal FC tokens. The Advertising Standard Authority said the Premier League Club (EPL) was misleading fans and that the ads didn’t illustrate the potential investment risks of obtaining a token, which is purchased on the Socios app and gives fans exclusive access to rewards and promotions.
Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the holding company that owns the Rams and Arsenal, extended its relationship with Socios nonetheless. The 49ers’ ownership group (49ers Enterprises), which owns EPL club Leeds United, did the same despite fan criticism.
Socios, which has done similar marketing deals with multiple NHL and NBA teams, looks to be well positioned if the NFL does eventually allow teams to sell fan tokens. In the meantime, these deals will be left to mainly digital and social engagement, providing superfans chances to claim various rewards.