Chris Heck discovered a new hobby while spending time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 76ers president of business operations spent each day reading about the world of cryptocurrency, wowed that tens of millions of Americans were already participating. Then, he watched NBA Top Shot, a platform for virtual basketball art and entertainment collectibles called non-fungible tokens (NFTs), explode in popularity with fans around the world.
Now, those digital innovations are at the core of the Sixers’ new jersey patch sponsorship with global cryptocurrency company Crypto.com. As part of the partnership, the Sixers will also roll out special NFTs on Crypto.com’s platform in conjunction with their new city edition jersey that will debut in November. A source confirmed to The Inquirer that the multiyear deal is worth eight figures annually, and is a top-five jersey patch deal in the NBA.
“Some people thought it would be a fad,” Heck told The Inquirer, “and then, all of a sudden, it just continued to grow in value and it’s not going anywhere but up. That was super exciting for our team to not only see this space grow, but also figure out how we can participate in it for our fans in Philadelphia and beyond.”
The jersey patch will debut for the Sixers’ Oct. 4 preseason opener at Toronto. The following month, the organization will launch a series of NFTs for purchase to pair with a new jersey as part of the NBA’s season-long 75th anniversary celebration. Heck teased that both elements will commemorate an era that is “unique to Philadelphia and dear to our hearts.”
“What that means for fans of the Sixers is that they get to be a part of it, too,” Heck said, “because that’s who it’s for.”
Crypto.com, which was founded in 2016, has more than 10 million users worldwide and is regarded as the fastest-growing cryptocurrency app. Though this is the company’s first NBA partnership, it has worked with the UFC, Formula 1 Racing, the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, and French soccer club Paris-St. Germain.
Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek, who is from Poland and based in Hong Kong, said these partnerships are not just designed to fulfill his company’s mission to “drive the global adoption of cryptocurrencies,” but to counsel these brands on how to apply this rapidly expanding technology.
So Marszalek and Heck understand if many Sixers fans are still cryptocurrency neophytes.
Heck describes it as “digital currency that is universal” and used via the Internet. He also compares NFTs to limited-edition prints of basketball cards or other forms of physical art — except NFTs live on someone’s computer and can be bought, sold or traded virtually. The basketball market boomed last season thanks to the NBA Top Shot platform, which Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou said in May had surpassed more than 1 million users and totaled more than $700 million in sales of highlight-reel “moments” in less than a year.
Much like social media 10 years ago, Heck believes the crypto space is the “next big frontier” to grow the Sixers brand and connect with fans all over the world. Marszalek concurs, predicting “this decade belongs to crypto.”
“It represents kind of the fandom of sport — and, quite frankly, our world — has become more inclined and more engaged with each other,” Heck said. “These digital currencies, they really do have no boundaries.”
Marszalek sees parallels between his company and the Sixers. He said both have used a forward-thinking approach to grow during the past half-decade.
For the 2017-18 season, the Sixers became the first major American sports team to secure a jersey patch sponsorship, with StubHub. Since then, the Sixers have evolved from a team fully immersed in The Process and struggling to gain local relevance, to one that finished first in the Eastern Conference standings behind Joel Embiid’s MVP-caliber season in 2020-21. That has increased the Sixers’ global appeal.
“This is a young team, but one with tremendous upward trajectory and an ambitious one,” Marszalek said ofthe Sixers. “We think that, during the course of this partnership, the 76ers are going to make history, so we just wanted to be a part of it …
“For me, the ultimate goal is to be in the arena when the 76ers win the championship. We believe these guys can pull it off.”
Included immediately in this partnership is a “Crypto.com school” that will educate Sixers fans about cryptocurrency. Someday, Heck envisions those supporters will use cryptocurrency to purchase tickets to games at the Wells Fargo Center. That might not be far off as the Dallas Mavericks already became the first NBA team to accept Dogecoin.
After that? Marszalek notes technology is evolving so quickly that it’s difficult to project exactly how cryptocurrency will be applied to the sports landscape in the future. But linking with Crypto.com will allow the Sixers to be on the forefront of this new digital frontier.
“That is a testament to our city and how it has grown,” Heck said. “It really is an honor that Crypto.com considers us one of these brands that are big enough already, right now, to be instantly recognized throughout the globe. But also we’re on our way to being an aspirational brand. ...
“Having partnerships that are strategic and smart and always go back to the benefit of our fans, that makes us different and gives us an advantage.”