Though fintech and football may sound like an unlikely partnership, the two industries have more in common than you think. With the football world capturing an ever-growing fanbase ready to spend their money, as well as fintech becoming more and more commonplace in society, the business possibilities between the two industries are endless.
Whether it’s cashless stadiums, new payment methods or the emergence of fan tokens, fintech and football is a partnership starting to kick off.
So, what are the opportunities for the two sectors? Chris Cook, co-founder and director of specialist football partnerships agency Future Sports Marketing, believes they are endless:
“As in the rest of the economy there are unlimited opportunities for fintech in football, ” he explained. “Raising awareness through partnerships and sponsorship is one dimension but there are endless commercial applications throughout the football industry, we’ve already had a big money transfer paid in Bitcoin, player bonuses paid in Bitcoin, blockchain digital fan engagement services like Socios, cashless systems for stadium access, Buy Now Pay Later services for club retail payments, the list goes on…”
It’s not just the football clubs that can see benefit from working with fintechs however, as often these partnerships can lead to companies becoming household names, boosting the reputation of the financial brand.
Vroon Modgill, CEO of Sokin, said: “Football is a global game with a global reach. Over three billion people watch The Premier League each season making it one of the world’s most-watched sports leagues. This offers an unrivalled platform for fintech to tap into an audience they may not have had access to before.
“For Sokin, partnering with football clubs such as Everton, Fulham and AS Monaco has given us the opportunity to bring our product directly to the fans at the forefront of some of the biggest leagues in the world. Aside from this, the affinity fans have for their club helps us build trust and authenticity between our brand and the fanbase. This is because many football clubs selectively choose their partners and only work with those who fit their ethos and values. It’s vital that clubs work with fintechs they trust will look after their fans.”
With no bounds to the kind of partnerships that can be struck up between fintechs and football, it appears any opportunities between the two are a win-win. This is particularly true when you think about fan engagement, where partnering with fintechs can offer clubs the chance to create better experiences for fans, whether that’s through frictionless payment methods on match days (particularly with the ever-popular cashless stadiums) or offering fan tokens and virtual experiences to bring supporters closer to the game.
Carlos Grenoir, Olyseum CEO and Co-founder agreed with this, saying: “I think fintech presents unique opportunities for football clubs and stars (not only from football, but all kinds of vertical-agnostic celebrities), or community-based ecosystems more broadly, to redefine the parameters of payments, experiences and service delivery. The possibilities are numerous, extending to cashless stadia, bespoke club currencies and digital marketplaces. Ultimately, fintech innovations can greatly improve the fan experience, ensuring seamless cross-platform payments and placing fan rewards at the centre of transactions.”
Though cashless stadiums and other payment methods on match days are an obvious way fintech can work with football, there are even opportunities involving fans who rarely set foot inside a stadium. Technology such as NFTs and fan tokens bring them directly into the action and bring supporters closer to the sport, players and clubs than ever before.
“The opportunity we are offering football clubs is potentially huge,” said Socios CEO Alexandre Dreyfus. “The pandemic ruthlessly exposed the fragility of sport at the highest level and accelerated the desire on the part of many clubs to embrace new technology to ensure they continue to run as sustainable, profitable organisations in the longer term.
“Running a football club is an expensive business. Many of the clubs on our roster are true global brands with, in some cases, hundreds of millions of fans who might never have set foot inside the stadium. Fan Tokens give these fans a share of influence they never had before, allowing them to feel closer to the team, feel recognised and earn rewards. In return, the clubs can access a new source of digital revenue. It’s a win-win opportunity.”
For the club
That being said, these opportunities aren’t always with the fans in mind and can be solutions to problems at a club level.
Modgill explains: “In terms of tech innovation, football clubs are plagued with old, outdated payment systems which haemorrhage both cash and time. For example, to pay an EU invoice in GBP via a traditional international transfer platform, the process (on average) can take seven steps, with a full payment cycle (waiting time) of four days.
“Let’s consider the transfer window. During June and August, a huge amount of money moves between Premier League clubs’ as they look to purchase top talent driven by the desire for success on the pitch. The bulk of player transfer payments happen in the final week. This means there is a large volume of administration and money transfers that need to be completed in a very short timeframe – a seven-step process with a payment cycle of four days just isn’t feasible, realistic, or suitable anymore. We knew the process and the speed could be dramatically improved and so created a savvier alternative to the current not-fit-for-purpose system in place.”
With these endless opportunities continuously unfolding, there is clearly a multitude of benefits that come with it that are advantageous to both sides.
When it comes to going cashless, Pierantonio Idini, Chief Operating Officer of REPX, a payments company that has partnered with several major clubs, believes the connection with fans is a major perk.
“Friction-free stadium access and the ability to demonstrate club loyalty by making payments with a club branded card are valuable benefits for fans that make them feel closer and more involved with the club,” he said. “We feel it helps create a symbiotic relationship between the clubs and fans, ultimately making the fan experience more seamless than it has ever been before.
“From the clubs perspective, a major benefit is an improvement in security, no cash on-site means less threat of theft or robbery. Card payments are also faster which means there is a major benefit to the speed of servicing fans and reducing queues. Stadium access is also more efficient which helps to improve the flow of people around the stadium. Linking purchases to a fan’s digital profile also helps to build a seamless loyalty programme which can be used to both provide rewards and deliver more bespoke experiences.”
Fan engagement is also a key advantage in these scenarios, particularly in making football accessible to all fans, whether they’re casual observers or hardcore supporters.
Modgill said: “Fintech can help ensure football is as accessible as possible by letting fans support and follow their club to the fullest and in a stress-free way – especially for international fans and those who travel overseas to watch their team play”
It’s a similar story with Socios, creators of fan tokens that are partnered with some of the biggest teams in the world. Fan tokens can help keep people close to the game, as well as recognise and reward fans for their commitment to the club, all while unlocking a new digital revenue stream from a global fanbase.
“Hundreds, potentially thousands, of major sporting organisations and some of the biggest entertainment franchises from film and music fully embracing Fan Tokens as a core part of their digital engagement strategy, ” Dreyfus explained.
“In the same way that major sports teams have dedicated personnel managing social media, we envisage in-house Fan Token teams for our partners, using Fan Tokens as the true engagement tools they are, recognising and rewarding their global fanbases daily. We believe that in five years time our vision to transition passive fans into active fans through transactional fan engagement on Socios.com will be much more fully realised and that a generational shift, providing global fans with the engagement they crave and teams with a powerful new revenue stream, will have taken place.”
When examining the budding world of fintech and football, one thing is abundantly clear: the future is very very bright.
Cook said: “The future for fintech and football is massive. As a specialist football partnership broker, we’re increasingly being contacted by fintech brands who are interested to understand how they can use football to connect with massive global audiences. I’d estimate that approximately 50 per cent of our new client discussions are now with fintech brands keen to explore partnership opportunities in football. I think it’s probably a safe prediction to say that fintech will become the biggest category of sponsor in football within the next five years.”
Idini agrees, saying: “We see the passion of football fans across the globe as a very powerful force. If you combine this with the innovation potential of fintech platforms we believe it will unleash an enormous number of new products, not solely in payments, but in rewards, loyalty and much more. The final result will be a new wave of ever closer engagement between clubs and fans across both the physical and digital worlds.”