Fans Divided Over Sports Team Tokens

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In Brief
  • An increasing number of major soccer clubs launched digital tokens to engage fans, some of whom are not won over.

  • Many have issued these tokens to make up for this lost revenue and renew engagement with fans.

  • While some enjoy the engagement, others see it as an attempt for clubs to rip off their fans.

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An increasing number of major soccer clubs launched digital tokens to engage fans, some of whom are not won over.

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The bottom line of major soccer clubs were also hit hard by the onset of the pandemic. Sales at Europe’s top 20 revenue-generating clubs dropped 12% to 8.2 billion euros ($9.9 billion) last year. With fans unable to attend matches, many were played in empty stadiums. 

In order to make up for this lost revenue and renew engagement with fans, many of these clubs have taken to issuing fan tokens. These fan tokens enable teams’ supporters with benefits, such as exclusive merchandise or access to certain polls. 

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Some of the most popular clubs in the sport have taken to issuing fan tokens. For instance, English Premier League champions Manchester City, Italy’s AC Milan, and Spain’s FC Barcelona. National teams have also gotten on board, such as Spain’s national team as well as the French national team.

Fan token creation

To issue these fan tokens, teams usually collaborate with crypto technology firms who do the actual issuing. They then get a share of revenue from their initial sale. Although prices vary, several higher profile clubs initially launched their tokens at roughly $2 each.

Several well-established European clubs have partnered with Chiliz, who also operates the sports crypto platform Socios.com. According to Chiliz Chief Executive Alexandre Dreyfus, the company pays a fee to the club and shares revenue from the initial sale of tokens. The company is targeting sales of  $200 million this year.

Roughly half of this it intends to share with its partner clubs. Chiliz has launched fan tokens with 20 soccer teams, and another 8 with teams from other sports, with plans to expand into the United States. 

Fans on the fence

Although the tokens have proven to be popular with some, others interpret the move a bit more cynically. For instance, Katia Gigliotti, a fan of Italy’s AS Roma, said she initially was hesitant about paying for the tokens. However, she has come to appreciate being enabled to engage with the team and other fans during lockdown.

On the other hand, some resent having to pay even more for this type of engagement. Sue Watson, chair of West Ham United Independent Supporters’ Association, said it adds to existing costs of following a team, on top of buying season tickets and soccer strips. Meanwhile, Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters’ Association, had a more jaded perspective.

According to him, clubs are either trying to make money from giving supporters more of a voice in club decisions or “they’re trying to squeeze extra money out of supporters by making up inconsequential ‘engagement’ online polls,” he said. “Neither is a good look.”

Ultimately, some fans like the tokens simply for the reasons of feeling more involved. “It’s nice that the song you voted for is the one you hear, and you think ‘I participated in that’,” said Juventus fan Giuseppe Bognanni.

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Nick is a data scientist who teaches economics and communication in Budapest, Hungary, where he received a BA in Political Science and Economics and an MSc in Business Analytics from CEU. He has been writing about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology since 2018, and is intrigued by its potential economic and political usage. He can best be described as an optimistic center-left skeptic.

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