FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange that’s been advertising on MLB umpires’ left sleeves and right chests since the 2021 All-Star Game, always seemed like a curious choice for MLB to take on as its first on-field uniform advertiser. For starters, crypto is still a new and unstable product, so why would you want to hitch your wagon to something so sketchy? Moreover, crypto is often used to hide illicit transactions, which seems like the last thing you’d want to associate with umpires. I mean, if someone wanted to bribe a corrupt ump, they’d definitely do it with crypto.
Now it turns out that Texas — a state not usually known for its tight corporate regulatory policies — is investigating whether FTX and its CEO may have broken the state’s securities laws. What a surprise. Maybe FTX will call Rob Manfred as a character witness, which seems like a perfect match.
This isn’t the first crypto-related embarrassment that teams and leagues have recently experienced. In fact, it’s not even the first one involving FTX! The company was set to become the L.A. Angels’ sleeve advertiser next season but reportedly backed out of the deal this past June when the crypto market tanked. Given the Texas investigation, maybe the Angels should consider themselves fortunate. (According to that same linked article, another crypto firm backed out of a similar uni-advertising deal with the NBA’s Washington Wizards around that same time.)
A similar situation appears to have unfolded in Portland, where the Trail Blazers’ relationship with the crypto exchange StormX has gone south in a hurry. Last season, the Blazers proudly introduced StormX as the NBA’s first crypto
patch partner uni advertiser. The ad deal was reportedly for five years, but that turned out to be a tad optimistic, because the Blazers terminated the deal without explanation a few weeks ago and are now going ad-free — and, presumably, going without revenue they had budgeted for — while they look for a new uni advertiser. (Amusingly, players were still wearing the StormX patch for their annual Media Day photo shoot just four days before the team pulled the plug on the ad deal, probably rendering the photos unusable.)
And then there’s Crypto.com, the exchange that bought the naming rights to the Lakers/Kings/Sparks arena last December. Less than a year later, Crypto.com has gone through a serious round of layoffs (which the company initially characterized as amounting to 5% of its workforce, although the truth turns out to be at least 40%) and is now facing a possible bankruptcy. According to this report:
In addition to walking back its $495 million UEFA Champions League sponsorship last month, the company has also retracted its sponsorship with Los Angeles-based soccer team Angel [City] F.C., said Ad Age. It has also pulled back on its sponsorship deal with the esports league of streaming service Twitch.
No word yet on what Crypto.com’s declining fortunes may mean for the 76ers, but that seems like something to keep an eye on.
Update: Reader Mark Richard reminds me of another example: The NWSL has found itself in dire financial straits after partnering too deeply with the crypto platform Voyager Digital, which recently filed for bankruptcy.
Advertising on uniforms and stadium/arena names is unsavory enough without involving this industry. I understand that anything crypto- or blockchain-related is the current flavor of the month or whatever (remember how MLB tried to bribe me to promote their NFTs a year ago?), but you’d think jillion-dollar leagues and teams might be a bit more careful about who they do business with. Instead, it looks like they’re gonna be ending up with a lot of egg on their face. Serves them right.
(My thanks to our own Anthony Emerson for letting me know about the FTX investigation.)