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The NFL announced today that it will allow teams to seek limited three-year sponsorships from blockchain companies, but the league kept in place a ban on promotions featuring a coin or token.
"Clubs will continue to be prohibited from directly promoting cryptocurrency,” the league said in a memo obtained by CNBC.
The NFL said it decided to allow promotional relationships with blockchain companies like Crypto.com, Coinbase, and FTX due to the growing popularity of cryptocurrency, NFTs, and the NFL's own evaluation of blockchain technology.
"We're extremely bullish on blockchain technology," Joe Ruggiero, head of consumer products for the NFL, told CNBC. “We think that it has a lot of potential to really shape innovation, shape fan engagement over the course of the coming decade."
While the news of the NFL's change of heart may surprise some, the league has been tentatively looking into blockchain-related sponsorships for some time. Last year, the league lobbied the SEC on "issues related to blockchain technology."
"In this evolving regulatory environment," part of today's memo read, "it remains essential that we proceed carefully when evaluating potential commercial opportunities involving blockchain technologies, and conduct appropriate diligence on all potential partners and their business models."
But while the NFL is just beginning to explore blockchain sponsorships, other leagues, and athletes in those leagues, have already jumped in. Last year, NBA star Kevin Durant, an early investor in Coinbase, signed a deal with the crypto exchange to appear as the face of the brand. Coinbase is the "exclusive crypto partner" of the NBA and WNBA. FTX is the official crypto exchange of Major League Baseball, and has its logo patch on every MLB umpire's uniform.
Other athletes have partnered with, invested in, or become ambassadors for crypto companies, including NFL quarterback Tom Brady (FTX), tennis star Naomi Osaka (FTX), MLB pitcher Shohei Ohtani (FTX), and NBA champions LeBron James (Crypto.com), Steph Curry (FTX) and Metta World Peace (Blanksoles on Solana).