Not every crypto company can be like FTX, buying the naming rights to the arena of perennial playoff contender the Miami Heat and signing seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady as a pitchman.
Sometimes, it makes more sense to sponsor a team that hasn't made the playoffs since George W. Bush was president—if that team has the technological pedigree of the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings and crypto startup Ankr, which lacks the name recognition and cachet of FTX but sports millions in investments from Pantera Capital and trades on Coinbase, have announced a "multi-year partnership" to "produce educational content, host events and create innovative projects that showcase ways to support the growth of the blockchain industry."
Kings President of Business Operations John Rinehart told Decrypt that the team plans to create an annual event for students, developers, and the Sacramento faithful at the Golden 1 Center to learn what's new in blockchain tech. "Using the most technologically advanced arena as a backdrop, it is a perfect setting to discuss what the future holds," he said.
The sponsorship is partially designed to draw further attention to the Kings' extant MiningForGood charity. With its launch in 2018, the Kings became the first professional sports team to officially mine cryptocurrency on the premises; it says the Ethereum rewards it receives go to local workforce development programs.
As part of the deal, which Ankr CEO Chandler Song referred to as a "co-branding and paid sponsorship," Ankr's name will now adorn the baselines of Golden 1 Center.
The team-up makes sense, especially from the perspective of Ankr, which provides decentralized infrastructure for dozens of proof-of-stake blockchains. While the Kings on-court product has been lackluster over the last decade, its technological game has been on point.
Named the "most innovative company in sports" by Fast Company in 2016, the organization spent the next five years pushing into blockchain technology. It was doing NFTs back in 2019 before they were cool—before, even, NBA Top Shot launched and put the digital collectibles on every basketball fan's computer.
That fall, it also created its own cryptocurrency, the Kings Token, which integrates with the arena app to increase fan engagement. The introduction of Kings Token came just over two years after the Dallas Mavericks became the second NBA team to accept Bitcoin as payment. The first team to do so? The Sacramento Kings back in 2014.
Ankr's Song told Decrypt via email that the partnership stemmed from the technological prowess of Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who founded TIBCO Software: "We were really inspired how the owner infused his passion for technology to the team. Overall, Sacramento Kings already have an integrated blockchain strategy, running nodes and mining crypto as part of their commitment to the ecosystem, and there are many ways we will be able to support their future initiatives as they continue to immerse themselves in this space."
The respect, according to Rinehart, was mutual: "Ankr has established a brand and a reputation that leads the way in blockchain technology, and we feel we can leverage their expertise to create engaging content for our fans and build upon what we’ve already established on the technology front."