Nikhil Gharekhan, Managing Partner, Presciant
The news of the renaming of the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, to Crypto.com Arena has sparked outrage, nostalgia, and memes. From a brand perspective, the deal violates three basic principles of partnerships and is the marketing equivalent of a flagrant foul.
- Brand fit:
The Lakers brand is about glamour and style. Closely associated with Hollywood, it stands for stardom and leadership.
The brand has consistently attracted the cream of basketball talent, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the 2000s, to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook today. When you think of the Lakers brand, you think of “Showtime”—an entire era and style of basketball as entertainment. You think of star power—the 2021 home opener was attended by Jack Nicholson, Adele, Kevin Hart, and Lil Wayne, among others. And you think of winning—17 championships, tied for most in the NBA.
By contrast, Crypto.com is far from being a leader in the world of cryptocurrency—it is merely #9 in terms of volume among crypto exchanges.
It is trying to make noise by signing sponsorships with multiple sports teams (Ultimate Fighting Championship, Formula 1), and getting Matt Damon to feature in advertising.
But the brand doesn’t have any distinct personality of its own—it uses an unoriginal theme of “Fortune Favors the Brave”, and its messaging has jumped on the Web3 bandwagon of giving power back to the people. In the absence of a distinct positioning, the Crypto.com brand simply signals what most people think of superficially when it comes to cryptocurrencies: spectacular growth, but somewhat shady, and shadowy. Not a brand fit with the Lakers.
- Brand complement:
Successful brand partnerships must be mutually beneficial. Both sides should gain, with each adding missing brand attributes and value to the other. In this case, the brand equity flow is decidedly one-way.
The Crypto.com brand will benefit immensely, gaining immediate credibility, respectability, and awareness from its association with the Lakers brand. Indeed, following the naming rights announcement, Crypto.com’s coin, called CRO, rallied and cracked the top 20 cryptocurrencies by market value.
But there is little brand equity to transfer in the reverse direction.
Sure, the venue operator AEG will pocket $700M for selling the 20-year naming rights and is expected to invest in refurbishing the building to match the state-of-the-art arena of hometown rivals, the LA Clippers.
But the brand impact on the Lakers franchise is already proving to be negative. Twitter is abuzz with jokes calling the arena “The Crypt”—it doesn’t help that the Lakers have the oldest roster in the league. Loyal fans are vowing to continue using the former name. And linguistically having a URL for a name is a mouthful.
- Brand risk:
Lakers is an iconic brand. Founded in 1947, it has proven its staying power over three quarters of a century. For the Crypto.com brand, the past is non-existent, and the future is uncertain.
In its short 5-year history Crypto.com has already changed its name, having started as Monaco. With over 10,000 cryptocurrencies, the industry is ripe for consolidation and failures—meaning most of the existing brand names will not survive into the future. Cryptocurrencies around the globe are facing governmental backlash—in 2021, the US, UK, China, India, and South Korea, among others have all announced regulations to curtail or oversee the use of such exchanges. Experts and lawsuits continue to compare it to Ponzi schemes. And the mushrooming of riskier and more dubious altcoins or “shitcoins” are contributing to the volatility of the industry.
This deal is putting the value of the Lakers long-term brand and franchise at risk.
All is not gloomy for this Lakers-Crypto.com deal. This is not the first cryptocurrency going after stadium naming rights. Earlier in 2021, FTX (the #3 crypto exchange platform) put its name on the home of the Miami Heat. And despite all the headwinds, the crypto industry is hot. Bitcoin-related ETFs have debuted on the New York Stock Exchange. More mainstream corporations like AMC, PayPal and Square are accepting Bitcoin payments, with giants like Amazon and Walmart actively exploring adoption. The global crypto market cap has grown from $578 billion to $3 trillion in November 2021—a 5x growth within one year. And there are already an estimated 300 million crypto investors worldwide.
But the future of the crypto industry is not what’s being judged here. What is on trial is the wisdom of a storied franchise hitching its reputation to an unknown brand which has little to contribute other than cold cash in the short term. The brand match is uneven. The Lakers brand is a leader, the Crypto.com brand is not. If the Lakers wanted to partner with a crypto brand that fits, it should be Bitcoin. The sporting world has seen its share of sponsorship deals going bust: Enron collapsing two years after securing the rights to the Houston Astros stadium, the dot-com CMGI going bust soon after its deal for the New England Patriots stadium, and likewise for PSINet’s deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Will the Lakers-Crypto.com deal head that way? The play is under review…
For more information, please visit: www.presciant.com