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The wave of crypto assets hits hard in sports. From the Los Angeles Lakers home to the Inter Milan and Valencia jerseys, cryptocurrencies and ‘tokens’ are the fastest-growing categories in sports sponsorship, up to 1,100% since 2019, surpassing insurers and airlines. “Doubts regarding the sector exist, but most clubs are entering because it generates money,” Ramón Amich, director of Nielsen Sports for Spain and Portugal, explained to EFE.
And this growth may not have seen its ceiling yet. According to data from the company, the investment of the crypto assets sector in sports could reach 5,000 million dollars (4,750 million euros) worldwide in 2026, surpassing sectors such as technology, energy or ‘retail’ even despite the many doubts aroused among sports entities when they receive their proposals.
“Many customers ask us whether they should take that money or not, because it’s a new hard-to-understand industry. We all understand the nature of a product like tires. The problem with crypto assets, NFTs and ‘tokens’ is that for many it is a gray area… They are growing in the United States, in Spain almost all teams have them, Socios.com has more than 150 agreements… Doubts exist. Most are entering because, at least, there is a present agreement that generates money, in the future it remains to be seen,” Amich analyzes in an interview with the EFE agency.
He does so while sitting on a torrent of information: Nielsen monitors 15,000 teams, leagues and events that cross more than 150,000 brands and tracks more than 170,000 sponsorship agreements worldwide. With that data, and a perspective of ten years at the company, he knows well that no sector, not even ‘crypto’ is infinite, but that they follow one another in waves.
“Now, airlines have had to put on the brakes because they have gone through two very bad years without travelers. But, when one sector goes down, another goes up. Four or five years ago everyone had a tire sponsor, then the betting houses appeared with a strong entrance in Spain. Then they left and are opening in the United States, and the blockchain has appeared,” he recalled.
However, the brands most associated with sports in Spain remain the same. “The brands linked to LaLiga, the ‘Champions League’ or the two or three big clubs are the ones that generate most notoriety,” explains Amich. Among them, he highlights Banco Santander, which gives its name to the two main Spanish soccer competitions and has now returned to Formula One. “It is true that there are some brands that have played a great role outside this environment, such as Endesa in basketball,” he points out.
They will be joined by Spotify, which will give its name to the Camp Nou, starting next season. “We understand it is going to be a notoriety success, because it is a well-known brand approaching high consumption, and with an aura of modernity,” says Amich, who believes that its predecessor, the Japanese Rakuten, had to “fight the lack of knowledge” of his company among the Spanish public.
Atlético Madrid Metropolitano stadium will probably also change its name, sooner or later, after the end of the agreement with the Chinese company Wanda, whose brand was the first to join the coliseum inaugurated in 2017. “There is the ‘first mover’ effect, the first to name may cost the new brand time. But Wanda is not an everyday brand. Depending on the brand and the agreement, in the medium term it can conquer the name and obtain some revenue,” the expert analyzes.
Passion does not sell sponsorships
This American company is the data provider for the main sports competitions, including LaLiga soccer league, the basketball Euroleague, and the MotoGP motorcycle racing championship, as well as the main soccer clubs. Audience data, return on each support (T-shirt, shorts, billboards…) are already fundamental to win over commercial brands.
The director for Spain and Portugal of Nielsen’s sports area observes “an enormous professionalization in the sector in recent years”, which means that clubs and competitions present themselves at any meeting with a range of data, something that used to be “very new” and is now “the minimum.”
To that end, what clubs mostly require is their international exposure data in order to obtain regional sponsorships. “Clubs have seen that if they reap noise in a given country you can attract brands that can be sponsors in that territory,” he explains. “You have to be honest, only the mid-table clubs upwards can activate those sponsorships,” he highlighted.
Youth and soccer
Over the past year, there has been a recurring debate in the industry as to whether young audiences are really interested in live soccer. From the information perspective the company possesses, the Nielsen Sports executive makes a reflection. “What is not true is that they cannot sit two hours straight watching a single thing. We see that on Twitch. It is said that two hours of a game is too much, but young people can spend five hours watching a game of ‘League of Legends’. There’s something going on here,” he says.
“Young people are capable of watching long-form content, but it has to be content that interests them. When there is an important sports match live, they are there. It’s true that they watch it differently, with a second screen and want to react on TikTok, WhatsApp, Twitter, but there is interest in sports content,” he stresses.
45% of Generation Z users (16 to 24 years old) use social networks while watching sports, almost twice as many as other age groups, according to data from this company. They are also attracted to content that goes beyond competition, such as documentaries, which interest 51% of sports fans between 16 and 29, compared to 38% of sports audiences of other ages.
Another growing trend is women’s sport, which in the UK has increased its average audience sixfold and globally received 146% more advertising investment decoupled from men’s in 2021. However, its media coverage still lags behind. “It’s something that always happens: first the fans, then the money, then the media… It has not yet transferred over to sports information,” concludes the Nielsen Sports executive for the Iberian market.