Regardless of what happens in this weekend’s Champions League final, it looks like a case of ‘what could have been’ for open-source blockchain DigitalBits, which will miss out on the chance to have its logo seen by a global audience of up to 400 million after it failed to keep up payments to Italian club Inter Milan.
Inter inked an €85 million ($100 million) sponsorship deal with DigitalBits developer Zytara Labs in September 2021 that made DigitalBits its sleeve sponsor. This was subsequently upgraded to the team’s main shirt sponsor.
However, waning revenues for the Netherlands-based firm — last August, it was reported that it had shed 98% of its value amid the market-wide downturn — have seen it unable to keep up with payments, and as of last October, it reportedly owed Inter somewhere in the region of €17 million (18.3 million).
As a result, back in November last year, Inter announced at the club’s annual shareholders’ meeting that it would sever ties with DigitalBits and begin the search for a new sponsor. The company’s logo was eventually removed from Inter Milan’s kit in April.
It was therefore feared that the team may have to go into this weekend’s showpiece fixture without a shirt sponsor. However, last week, it was announced that streaming service Paramount+ would present its logo on the team’s shirts for the final against England’s Manchester City.
The club was also courted by an adult subscription website called My.Club, which reportedly offered the team a $100 million, six-year deal.
Inter Milan and DigitalBits prove football and crypto don’t mix
The Inter Milan sponsorship snafu is just the latest in a long line of crypto-related controversies to dog the world’s favorite sport.
In September last year, English Premier League team West Ham faced criticism over its partnership with DeFi crypto platform PEAKDEFI, which was actively promoting its services to Russian users, causing concern about skirting sanctions.
Prior to this, another English top-flight club, Arsenal FC, was reprimanded by the UK’s advertising watchdog after it failed to warn fans of the risks associated with crypto investments in its “fan token” promos.
A number of prominent football clubs across Europe have also been heavily criticized for raking in more than $200 million by offloading so-called ‘fan tokens’ onto supporters.
The likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal, Leeds United, and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) sold fan tokens created by Malta-based blockchain company Socios. These tokens reportedly gave supporters the chance to vote on minor club matters, including the music played in the stadium before matches and the decor in certain parts of the ground.
However, supporters’ clubs weren’t happy, saying that the tokens were exploiting fans without providing the necessary support to help them properly understand the volatility and potential risks of crypto markets.