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If You Lie Down with Dogs: Crypto Deals Turn Ugly for Teams, Leagues

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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.)


 

ITEM! Premium Preview

My Premium article on Substack this week is an interview with Daniel Horine, the artist behind the excellent Pop Fly Pop Shop, who’s found the ultimate nostalgic sweet spot by combining retro sports and retro comic book art. I’ve been meaning to interview him for a while now, and it was a blast.

My Premium Substack subscribers will receive this article in their in-boxes tomorrow morning. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do that here. (Didn’t hear about my move from Bulletin to Substack? Additional details on that, including the “Pay What You Wish” subscription option, can be found here.)


 

The (Pot)Hole Truth

One of the more disturbing examples of ad creep in recent years was a 2018 initiative in which Domino’s pizza filled potholes in various American municipalities in return for an ad being painted onto the repaired roadway (above left). I thought of that when longtime reader Jason Hillyer let me know about a Chicago artist named Jim Bachor who’s adorning filled potholes with beautiful mosaic renderings of famous paintings (like Hopper’s Nighthawks, above right). It’s a really fun project — additional photos and info here. And it really highlights how gross the Domino’s thing was by comparison.

(Major thanks to Jason Hillyer for this one.)

 

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Comments (41)

    Jim Bachor might indeed be “adoring” potholes, but you probably meant “adorning”.

    I think I could have done without the disparagement of dogs in the title. The crypto biz does seem a little sketchy at this point but why drag the canine into it?

    I was invoking the old adage, “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas,” which basically means that if you associate with disreputable characters, don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face.

    Never really thought about how that line could be perceived as anti-dog. For the record: I *love* dogs! I’ll think twice about invoking that adage in the future.

    Although the Uni-verse may be diverse, I’m pretty sure canines are not part of your readership, Paul. So please continue your use of light-hearted, innocuous headlines.
    Sincerely, someone who enjoys a good adage.

    Bravo, “O Canada!” Although I assume DonS was only joking, it’s still refreshing to see someone stand up for common sense, rather than phony outrage. Words and phrases often have multiple meanings and uses, and it’s the context in which they’re used plus the intent of the speaker that defines an idea or a thought. Words are just the vehicle used to convey those thoughts.

    The word “dog” has been used to describe disreputable characters in colloquial English for a very long time. Whether it’s calling someone, “you dirty dog!,” if it’s a woman describing a bad boyfriend as a “dog,” the phrase “lie down with dogs, get up with fleas,” or anything else, in that context the word “dog” is not meant as an insult to dogs, but rather to convey a certain idea to the listener about a particular person or subject. It’s then incumbent upon the listener/reader to abide by the implied social contract we enter into when we interact with other people to understand the intended meaning of the speaker, and not twist their words into something they can choose to become upset by.

    My dog saw the headline and his feelings were deeply hurt. He refused to read the rest of the post.

    Paul —
    You can’t please everyone. Don’t apologize and don’t overthink it. It was funny.
    -C.

    I don’t see anti-dog bias on Paul’s part; it’s a reference to a well-worn English idiom. It’s the kind of idiom that one tends to use without thinking of the words literally. Like, when people say or hear “a few bad apples,” they rarely think of literal apples in a literal barrel. Which is a shame, because when you do so the idiom actually means quite the opposite of what is usually intended. That said, I would never use the dogs/fleas idiom myself. A recently prominent national figure has made such consistent use of weirdly disparaging and deliberate anti-dog rhetoric that it’s made me acutely sensitive to dog hatred.

    That block quote from the Coindesk article that mentions “Angel F.C.” is actually talking about Angel City. I’m sure they don’t write about sports often but I’d hope they could get a team’s name right.

    Professional sports and shady business deals go together like gin and tonic. This is not the last time that stuff like this will happen.

    I couldn’t agree more with today’s post, although I think it can be expanded. Allowing a company to co-opt your brand with jersey sponsorships is just asking for this to happen eventually, no matter the industry. I knew I had read an article about particularly unsavory soccer jersey ads before, and went looking for it to cite here. Turns out it was on this website :) link Look specifically at Standard Chartered and AIG

    The Athletic had a great piece recently about allllllll the crypto companies with EPL sponsorships (and how the companies have tanked in valuation in the past year)

    It never made sense to me why a company would want to place advertising on umpires, who get booed and cursed at all the time. Seems like a pretty negative association for any brand.

    I’m full anti ads, but I actually have no problem with dominos placing their logo on potholes they fix. They are basically doing a public service that the city/state/etc is unable to get to, for whatever reason.
    In my area people who adopt a road get their organization’s name on a sign along the road. This is essentially the same principle. Private interest stepping in to handle a public service. No doubt dominos does it as a marketing ploy, but the road is still being paved.

    They are basically doing a public service that the city/state/etc is unable to get to, for whatever reason.

    Correction: They are doing a *private* service that a municipality *chooses* not to do. Big difference. Once you’re OK with the privatization of public services, there’s no end to it.

    (And yes, I’m opposed to road-cleanup advertising for the same reason. It’s outsourcing a basic public/civic duty to the private sector. If you’re OK with that — and with privatized prisons, privatized parks, and so on — that’s fine. I find it all completely unacceptable and at odds with the very notion of responsible civic governance. Not interested in debating that here, so we can agree to disagree.)

    Feudalism was privatization.
    Ancient kings who needed a loan or some troops would trade away parts of their legal power over a designated territory to someone who could supply those things – usually someone who was already a big landlord or barbarian. They were private individuals, until they got that power.

    Oh, I agree, and don’t think that these things should be privatized. I work in the public sector and understand certain things must remain in the public sector because the average citizen would be screwed if private sector had control and there was no way to hold them accountable (to the extent we can hold public officials accountable these days.) And it is worrisome that various things (sewer, water, etc.) are increasingly being privatized.
    I just don’t consider Domino’s unsolicited pot hole fixing privatization, but who knows, maybe it is sneaky back door way of undermining government accountability to trick people into thinking we should privatize stuff.

    The pothole was Guerrilla marketing – they did not pay the city to fix the potholes, they hired a paving contractor themselves and put their logo on it for attention. I don’t see the slippery slope – it was a well-executed stunt (seeing as how we’re still talking about it) and nothing more.

    The notion that something is successful simply because people are “still talking about it” sets the lowest conceivable bar for success. More importantly, it’s also demonstrably false, whether in the marketing realm or out of it:

    Hey, New Coke was a great idea — after all, we’re still talking about it!

    Hey, the Vietnam War was a great idea — after all, we’re still talking about it!

    Hey, Jan. 6 was a great idea — after all, we’re still talking about it!

    And so on.

    I have done some of advertising (sponsor) deals in my past life. My guess is that the crypto companies way outbid other potentials and the MLB and teams grabbed the cash. GREED!

    The crypto market reminds me of that modern day philosopher, Hank Hill: “It’s kinda unfair, but that’s how it is with most ways of making big easy money. It either gets you jail time or your ass kicked.”

    Switching advertisers is the nature of the beast: products change, markets change, priorities change. Not all companies go out of business because they are unethical (anybody buy 110 film recently? how’s the rotary phone market these days?).

    But sports are integrated into the community, so changing advertisers is a much bigger deal because it is so much more visible. Case in point: Real Salt Lake has a club anthem that references the old advertiser of the stadium (“Here at the RioT/The battle hymn’s begun.). And yet, the supporters still sing after every goal. We all know that every square inch of the Titans’ new stadium that can be sold, will be sold to the highest bidder. In a way, that’s all a PSL is-an individual “sponsorship” of a seat in the stadium.

    The bottom line is, as much as we want to deny it, professional sports are a business.

    The bottom line is, as much as we want to deny it, professional sports are a business.

    Actually, nobody ever claimed that sports isn’t a business. The point is that some ways of doing business are better (or worse) than others.

    “It’s just business” is never a good answer. Here’s why: link

    Not justifying it, simply stating that pro sports front offices are look at the business page before the sports page, something that fans sometimes lose sight of.

    I agree, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, even business, and whoring to the highest bidder is not an automatic means to an end.

    I’m going to start quoting that Hank Hill line the next time someone tells me how awesome crytpo is. Admittedly that doesn’t happen so much anymore.

    I may be showing my own politics, but it is a bit odd that Texas, a GOP controlled state without a huge financial industry (compared to New York), is investigating FTX, whose founder gives millions to Democrats. Texas has shown it’ll launch similar investigations over political issues recently (it’s investigating Twitter after Elon Musk raised some issues with bots)
    I don’t love crypto, and i try to avoid using branded stadium names, but this isn’t compelling evidence that FTX is a particularly bad crypto company. (This is going far afield, but probably every crypto company should register as selling securities.)

    Crypto . com also is the Title Advertiser for the F1 Miami Grand Prix and an advertiser of the Aston Martin F1 team. They haven’t said anything about those deals, except that Crypto is looking into reducing its sports marketing spending
    Also, FTX is an advertiser with Mercedes F1.
    8 out of 10 F1 teams have a crypto exchange or blockchain tech company as advertisers.

    In the photo shown the main umpire seems to have lost his “BH” patch on his shoulder (above the FTX ad). The other guy seems like his is about to go as well…

    “Texas — a state not usually known for its tight corporate regulatory policies”
    Really? An absurd statement. What’s the basis for your assessment. Let me help with that..there is none.

    Actually….

    link
    link
    link

    And so on.

    I’m not even saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m just saying some states are known for being heavily regulatory and others are more laissez-faire (both of which have their respective plusses and minuses). That’s all. There’s no need for you to take umbrage at the statement because there was no value judgment embedded in it. Let’s please move on. Thanks.

    Your discussion of potholes reminded me of Toynbee tiles. Have you ever seen one in person or heard of them?
    link

    I just finished listening to an Australia-based cricket podcast episode that referred to several of these NFT-related advertising relationships in the context of controversies rocking Australian sports: Australia’s Netball league accepted lifeline advertising revenue from a leading mining company with a terrible record on both climate/environment and human rights; the global cricket governing body announcing a major advertising partnership with the state oil company-slash-tyrant’s slush fund Aramco starting with the T20 World Cup currently ongoing in Australia; and Australian cricket players speaking out in opposition to their national federation’s uniform advertising relationship with an oil-services company. The latter ad relationship was ended a year early following the player statement.

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