FTX puts name on Cal’s football field; Learfield’s cut in crypto

By Bret McCormick

Sina Nader accidentally joined the Cal Bears football team in 1999 when he showed up to a practice to watch his roommate, who was on the team. A big guy, Nader drew the attention of a team trainer, who recommended he come back the next day and try out. He did, and stuck around, playing scout team defensive line for two more years.


The 10-year, $17.5 million deal that cryptocurrency exchange FTX and Cal announced this week to put FTX’s name on the field at the school’s California Memorial Stadium was much less accidental. Nader, FTX’s chief operating officer, was the initial impetus behind the deal with his alma mater, which is part of an ongoing effort by the company to increase awareness of its brand.

“Two of my passions are sort of meeting up here, Cal football and crypto,” said Nader. “I would struggle to find words appropriate enough to describe how awesome it is.”

Cal’s Learfield arm, Cal Bears Sports Properties, was integral in getting the deal done, and Learfield, for the first time, will receive its payment fully in cryptocurrency on behalf of the school. Cal will receive its cut in U.S. dollars. Athletic Director Jim Knowlton said the school had been working on landing a field naming-rights partner for a while. 

“After last year when we did not sell tickets and we did not get our full media rights distribution from the NCAA or the Pac-12, we’re looking to fill holes,” said Knowlton, “and this comes at a great time to help us support student athletes and our program.”

Knowlton said the two sides are already discussing the possibility of introducing incentives for Cal fans to use cryptocurrency in the stadium.

“This partnership will grow and grow fast once people see FTX and get to know FTX,” he said.

The move into the college realm follows FTX’s aggressive foray into sports sponsorship this year. Nader joined FTX, which has separate international and U.S. branches, last fall and has been central to the sports sponsorship effort, which has been pieced together through personal networks and organic outreach.

The company turned heads in March with a $135 million deal to put the FTX name on the Miami Heat’s arena, then announced Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen as brand ambassadors — they both received equity stakes in the company. A five-year deal with Major League Baseball, which, among other activations, put FTX’s brand on MLB umpires, and a $210 million deal to rename the TSM esports team TSM FTX followed.

Data from Similarweb showed that web traffic to FTX’s U.S. site (FTX’s official headquarters are in Antigua and Barbuda) was up 66% from June to July, the biggest jump among the top-20 crypto exchanges, though that figure didn’t include app usage. According to Cryptowatch, FTX and FTX U.S. boast nearly $1.4 billion in liquidity.

Nader explained that one of FTX’s major goals with its sports sponsorship program is to reach beyond what he called the company’s “power users” base and into the mainstream. College sports, with its demographically diverse but educated, and often affluent, fanbase is a perfect fit.

“It’s very reasonable to expect that we’ll do more in the collegiate space,” said Nader.

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