Fintech in Football: The Industry Partnership That’s Kicking Off

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With the Euros drawing to a close last week, with a nail-biting final and the sad result that it’s not “coming home”, The Fintech Times takes a look at one of the industries more unusual partnerships – football and fintech.

Though fintech and its companies are still sometimes thought of as more of a niche, at least to the general public, it’s clear that as the two industries progress they collide more and more. Whether that’s with partnerships, such as Laybuy partnering with Man City to offer the Premier Leagues first Buy Now Pay Later Scheme, investments like Rio Ferdinand becoming a shareholder in Sokin, to the crypto and blockchain worlds of NFTs and other fan tokens and virtual offerings.

With fintech starting to go mainstream within the football world, the recent Euro 2021 was seen by many as a turning point for fintech, leading to prominent players in the fintech world becoming household names.

Chris Cook, co-founder and director of Future Sports Marketing, a specialist football partnerships agency said: “It was impossible to avoid brands like Alipay and World First at the Euros – and there are no doubt millions of people across Europe wondering what Antchain is! For three of the most high profile tournament partners to be fintech brands proves that fintech is now mainstream.

“Despite the fact that few football fans can explain what they actually do, the fact that these brands are now household names makes Euro 2021 a major milestone for the fintech industry. This is the start of mass adoption; awareness creates consumer curiosity, giving brands opportunities to engage and educate audiences, driving trial and then adoption of fintech services.”

Fintech Opportunities in Football

Not only has footie made more people aware of fintech via its partnerships and sponsorships, but there are also many commercial applications of fintech within the industry that present limitless opportunities for the two to come together.

Chris Williams, Commercial Director, Southampton FC said: “Ultimately, the key here is to be working with fintech in ways which adds value to the fan. Whether that is in connecting fans to new technologies that align with their interests such as what we have done with eToro and Sportsbet.io, or in creating an improved experience when interacting with the club through our online store for example. One of our key values is innovation and the fintech industry gives us the perfect platform to be innovative and think differently.

“Fintech is something that we see as an enabler for our business, and also for our fans. As fintech continues to evolve we expect to see the scope of opportunities to grow, and suspect that the opportunities will be plentiful.”

As with a lot of industries, one of the simplest ways fintech and football can come together is through payments. With the world moving online in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, digital and cashless payments have become the norm across the globe, so it only makes sense that they are more frequently used on matchdays too as fans are starting to get back into stadiums.

A number of football stadiums have become cashless over the last few years, even before Covid, with Tottenham Hotspur moving to 100% contactless payment methods with the opening of their new stadium in 2019, as well as The Emirates Stadium and Cardiff Principality following suit in 2020, to name just a few.

With thousands of people entering stadiums, buying tickets, food and the all-important club shirt, having easy, frictionless payments in stadiums are crucial for maximising fan experience, as well as helping to increase revenue in the clubs.

However, contactless payments and other alternative payment options are merely the gateway to the opportunities available in the fintech world, with many clubs beginning to explore other options. Buy Now Pay Later schemes, while increasing in popularity in e-commerce, have also begun to enter into the football space. Payment provider Laybuy became the first ‘buy now, pay later’ provider to enter top-flight football after signing a multi-year regional partnership deal with Manchester City in 2020.

Commenting on the partnership, Gary Rohloff, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Laybuy, said: “This is the first step of many in our bigger ambition to enable fans to fuel their love for their football clubs with innovative new payment options. This partnership perfectly reflects Laybuy and the Club’s shared values in ensuring football is as accessible as possible; keeping the community spirit alive by letting fans support their club to the fullest and stress-free. We’re excited for what the future holds.”

Additionally, many clubs are also starting to explore cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin in order to maximise fan experience.

Paul O’Brien, Commercial Director at Watford FC said: “I always say that my children will be using fintech like my generation used to use cash, it will be second nature to them. The club wants to be first movers where we offer instant payment via the Lightning network, as well as other cryptocurrencies. for small-ticket items (food and beverage at half time for example) plus merchandise.”

Watford FC is particularly noteworthy when it comes to the crypto scene, as for the 2019/2020 season the club had the Bitcoin logo on their uniform sleeve as a result of a partnership with bitcoin betting platform Sportsbet.io. The club also created an educational website that allowed fans to make transactions using bitcoin as a payment method and was one of the first clubs to do so.

At the time of the announcement, Scott Duxbury, Watford’s chairman and chief executive, said: “Placing the Bitcoin logo on a Premier League shirt is something that challenges the accepted norm. We’re excited about the partnerships and the potential for new global conversations that it could help start for our club.”

Watford was the first club in England to use bitcoin as a payment method, and many other clubs followed suit including a number from the premier league: AC Milan, Swansea City, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

Southampton FC also partnered with Sportsbet.io, and the three-year deal with Coingaming Group reportedly allows Southampton’s players to receive their yearly performance bonus paid in bitcoin.

Williams said: “The way fintech is used is evolving. We ourselves are demonstrating this through our partnership with Sportsbet.io the openness to explore the integration of cryptocurrency into sponsorship, as we hold the option to receive on-pitch performance-based rewards in bitcoin.

“Our principal partners Sportsbet.io are part of The Coingaming Group who are responsible for the leading crypto-based gaming brands. They are a pioneering business who sits on the convergence of two dynamic sectors in gaming and cryptocurrency. These are sectors our audience are hugely interested in, and we are utilising our platform to educate fans on the topic of cryptocurrency, whilst promoting responsible gambling and we have supported this through activations such as ‘Listen to the Saint in You’ which highlighted the importance of betting responsibly. Campaigns such as this enable us to have a positive impact on brand perception and build trust between our audience and our partners.”

What does the future hold?

When exploring the worlds of football and fintech, one thing that remains clear is the importance of partnerships between the two industries. Collaboration is a frequent theme in fintech currently, with many in the industry emphasising the importance of working together in order to accelerate the industry and how it helps consumers – so it makes sense that this has translated into the football world.

“We are increasingly seeing fintech brands utilising partnerships within football to tell their story, and communicate their purpose,” said Williams. “Take Mastercard for example. Mastercard have been part of the football fraternity for decades but in recent years have doubled down as a key supporter of growing the women’s game. Moves such as this don’t just enable them to showcase their proposition, or even provide the greatest degree of exposure for their brand, but support in creating meaningful impact for an aspect of the game that they as a business are proud to support. We expect that as the fintech landscape continues to be fiercely competitive, the brands within that will continue to look to football as a potential platform to communicate their point of difference as well as their value proposition.

Williams continued: “At Southampton, we aren’t the biggest club in the Premier League so innovation is a key part of how we remain successful. That isn’t just on the pitch, but equally, it’s off the pitch too and how we activate for our partners.

While fintech and football are together in many ways, their true partnership is just starting out, with much more collaboration, partnerships and innovation across both sectors will happen over the next ten years.

Cook said: “As for all live events, the pandemic hit football revenues hard. Clubs had no fans in their stadiums for over a year and sponsorship revenue dropped across the industry by around 25%. Combined with the imminent removal of all gambling sponsors from sports it means football clubs are more focused than ever on generating new revenue streams – and fintech is a major opportunity for them.

On the other hand, Cook added: “With the popularity of football expected to hit an all-time high post Euros, we are seeing Fintechs turn to football sponsorship more and more as the most effective vehicle to quickly build mass brand awareness both here in the UK and abroad.” 

Finally, O’Brian said: “In a world where we are seeing people spend their own money on egotistical ventures, the Fintech world seems to be different, more together and supportive of each other’s ventures. The Fintech world is full of smart entrepreneurs who care about each other and the environment they work in, I honestly think all other industries can learn from this.”

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