Lionel Messi has signed a new endorsement deal with Socios.com, worth a reported US$20 million over a three-year period. The colossal football star will become the first-ever global ambassador for Socios in a monumental moment for the company. This is just another example of digital asset companies making their way into the football world through endorsement and sponsorship deals.
The crypto industry appears to be targeting football and other sports as a way to make itself more known and appealing to the general public. The only other industry to target sports and sports fans with such saturation in modern times is the gambling industry. There are a number of crypto and gambling businesses now present in football. Some shirt sponsors like Watford F.C. from the Premier League even offer crypto gambling. In comparison, bwin is one of the more noticeable brands that has always been keen to form relationships with football teams and leagues. They’ve recently become one of the main sponsors of the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Conference League.
What is Socios?
Socios is an online platform aimed at football fans. It allows fans to download their app and exchange money for fan tokens. It is thought that football clubs could then create polls, and fans who own tokens could make votes that have an actual effect on club decisions, such as shirt designs.
Socios states that fan tokens should not be seen as an investment like cryptocurrency. But they should see the fan tokens as a way to engage with their clubs – although clubs are not obligated to use polls and recognise fan token decisions. Socios does have agreements with some football clubs, including Messi’s Paris Saint Germain, Juventus, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Manchester City. Alike Bwin, they also have a sponsorship deal with UEFA.
The concept of Socios is exciting and innovative, but it has also raised criticism. Many commentators believe the business model is simply an attempt to monetise fandom within football and eventually other sports.
They suggest that sports fans already pay out enough money to broadcasters and on matchday tickets that making them own digital assets to have a say on their club is unfair. Football clubs that sign up don’t go without criticism either, as they are seizing the opportunity to make fans (sometimes season ticket holders or club members) pay more to engage with the club via a third party.
The bad publicity for Socios doesn’t end there. Arsenal FC was advertising Socios and promoted fan tokens previously. However, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK stated that the way the fan token adverts broke their code of practice. The ASA confirmed that Socios trivialised digital assets and were not clear enough to fans. One of the most significant issues with these adverts was that they didn’t make clear that you could only obtain tokens by trading with crypto.