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Arsenal and Barnsley deal issues put crypto sponsors back under spotlight

Complaints against Gunners’ Socios adverts upheld, as Tykes ditch deal with Hex.

12 August 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • ASA rules that Socios ads on Arsenal’s Facebook page breached CAP Code
  • Barnsley end shirt sponsorship deal after investigation into discriminatory and abusive social media posts

The long-term viability of cryptocurrency sponsorships in sport has again been questioned, after English top-flight soccer club Arsenal and third-tier outfit Barnsley were hit by issues.

This week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints against select adverts from Socios on Arsenal’s Facebook page promoting fan tokens in August 2021, following an independent review.

The ASA had initially investigated whether the adverts took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity and trivialised investment in cryptoassets. The watchdog also looked at if the adverts failed to illustrate the risk of the investment and did not make clear the token was a cryptoasset, which could only be obtained by opening an account and exchanging with another cryptocurrency.

The ASA concluded at the time that the adverts ‘trivialised investment in cryptoassets and took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity by not making clear that CGT [Capital Gains Tax] could be payable on profits from investing’. It added that ‘the ads were irresponsible and breached the code’.

Arsenal had argued against the ASA challenge. The Premier League side’s response included the belief it made clear that fans might not be able to get their money back because, once purchased, the value of fan tokens could go down as well as up. 

Arsenal added that they urged fans to only purchase what they could afford, and reminded fans that they only needed to own one fan token to vote in polls and participate in competitions, so as to discourage over-spending.

However, the ASA upheld the complaints but on revised grounds, stating that they breached various areas of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

As a result, the adverts must no longer appear again in the form complained about.

‘We told Arsenal football club to ensure that they made sufficiently clear that the value of investments in paid-for fan tokens was variable and as cryptoassets they were unregulated,’ stated the ASA.

‘We also told them to ensure that they did not mislead consumers by omitting material information in their ads, including that free fan tokens would require a consumer to open up a cryptoassets exchange account and that paid-for fan tokens were a cryptoasset that had to be bought using another cryptocurrency.

‘We told them to ensure that their future ads did not trivialise investment in cryptoassets by omitting appropriate and prominent risk warnings and did not irresponsibly take advantage of consumers’ lack of experience or credulity by not making clear that CGT could be due on cryptoasset profits.’

Meanwhile, third division club Barnsley are trying to end their new front-of-shirt sponsorship agreement with a crypto brand amid a backlash from fans, as well as an investigation into discriminatory and abusive social media posts.

The League One club only announced the deal with Hex last week but are already seeking to terminate the partnership after the supporters’ trust raised concerns over online posts, which they believed had come from individuals who claimed to have brokered the deal.

Barnsley announced on 9th August they were investigating the posts and on 12th August released a statement which read: ‘Barnsley football club value our fans and our core beliefs above everything else.

‘Following recent events and a subsequent investigation, the club has assessed its relationship with its front of shirt sponsor and has taken steps to end that relationship with immediate effect.

‘The Hex.com logo will not appear on the team’s kits going forward. Further comment will be issued in due course.’

The supporters’ trust is working with the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) to call on the soccer authorities to create a set of common standards for any deal a club or league enters into with a brand in the cryptocurrency space and to lobby clubs to carry out due diligence on any current or future cryptocurrency partners.

Cryptocurrencies are not currently regulated in the UK.

Reporting on Barnsley’s shirt sponsorship deal was provided by PA.

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