A third of fans embrace cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, but the rest have concerns about regulation and real value

A third of fans embrace crypto and NFTs, but the rest have concerns about regulation and real value

Nearly two-thirds of sports fans have yet to embrace the world of cryptocurrencies and NFTs; 63% of the genre’s adopters feel that the federal government should regulate the emerging market; and half of fans still would prefer a physical ticket stub instead of a virtual one, according to a recent study fielded by Sports Business Journal and Chicago-based sports marketing agency rEvolution.

Thirty-seven percent of the fans in the survey, which was fielded April 8-13 and included more than 500 U.S.-based adults, said they were aware of cryptocurrencies, a rate of 9 percentage points more than the study’s non-sports fans. NFT awareness had an even wider gap, as 31% of sports fans are familiar with non-fungible tokens, versus 13% of the non-sports fans.

“The fact that only 37% of sports fans are crypto aware shows there continues to be a tremendous upside for the growth of the category,” said Dave Mullins, rEvolution’s senior vice president of client development, and one of the authors of the study. “The data from our study shows that once aware, these sports fans are incredibly optimistic about the future of crypto. Crypto marketplaces in this space should be chomping at the bit to educate these eager fans through innovative sports partnerships.”

Brands in the genre have made several high-profile investments in sports over the past 14 months. 

FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, ignited the industry when it committed $135 million for a 19-year naming-rights deal at what had been the Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena.

Crypto.com, another exchange, has signed more than $1 billion in sports deals, highlighted by a $700 million deal to put its name atop the former Staples Center, and title sponsored this month’s inaugural F1 race in Miami. 

Thirty percent of the sports fans in the study felt that the two naming-rights deals gave them “faith in the long-term viability of cryptocurrencies.”  

Digital currency, however, has seen significant disruption in the past few weeks, highlighted by the collapse of Lunacoin, which signed a five-year, $38 million deal with the Washington Nationals in February.

At SBJ’s Sports Business Awards ceremony earlier this month, Preston Peters, Crypto.com’s North America sponsorship manager, told SBJ sister publication SportTechie that the brand prepared for the market’s recent volatility.    

“Our leadership team has been planning for this bear market for a long time,” he said. “I think over the last six months, particularly, we’ve started to be really selective in terms of vetting our partnerships. If anything, it just allows us to follow that process in more detail and really make sure that we’re finding the right brands to partner with.”

Among NFTs, fans have come to recognize their presence in sports, but still prefer an actual ticket stub or autograph over the virtual offerings. Sport’s most popular NFT spot, NBA’s TopShot, had generated 18.2 million transactions valued at just under $1 billion since its October 2020 launch. 

Although 69% of sports fans in the study had not jumped into the NFT fray (more than one-third of them said that their reluctance to do so was because “it doesn’t make sense to pay real money for something I can’t touch”), the campaign shows the potential strength and the NFT market continues to expand overall.

“We view NFTs in the long term for fan engagement as part of our broader digital sports gaming and entertainment ecosystem,” said Beth Beiriger, senior vice president of product operations for DraftKings Marketplace. “We are returning to our roots while also embracing new technology with Reignmakers as a blockchain-based fantasy football game that will feature active NFL players.”