S'pore-based firm to rename Lakers' home

Cryptocurrency platform Crypto.com's deal as arena's new title sponsor worth $950m

LOS ANGELES • National Basketball Association (NBA) star forward LeBron James and his teammates are getting a new name for their home court.

Crypto.com will replace Staples as the title sponsor of downtown Los Angeles' iconic arena, the most recent high-profile sponsorship move by the Singapore-based cryptocurrency exchange.

Owned and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the venue will unveil its new name on Christmas day during a Los Angeles Lakers home game, according to a statement from the company.

"If I had to pick one place to have naming rights, it would be Staples Centre in the world's cultural capital," said Kris Marszalek, Crypto.com's chief executive.

"This is in line with our ambition to be a top brand in the coming years, next to Nike and Apple."

While the financial terms were not disclosed in the statement, two people familiar with the deal said it was worth more than US$700 million (S$949.5 million) over the span of 20 years. It is believed to be the richest naming rights contract in sports history, according to ESPN.

Marszalek also told the Financial Times the deal would eventually be seen as "the moment that cryptocurrencies kind of crossed the cosmos into the mainstream".

"There may be some initial resistance to the idea of (the name) change, I think that's quite natural," he was quoted as saying.

"But we are ready to work with the local community and prove to them that this is a change for the better and help build a better future for LA and the fans."

Cryptocurrencies have attracted a surge of interest in recent months, as mainstream investors and companies embrace bitcoin and other digital tokens, while Crypto.com is a company dedicated to promoting the use of cryptocurrencies.

It has aggressively pursued sponsorship in the sports world, backing teams and leagues across basketball, hockey, football, mixed martial arts and e-sports.

The NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, National Hockey League's (NHL) Montreal Canadiens, Italy's Serie A football league, Formula One and the Ultimate Fighting Championship all have deals with Crypto.com.

They mirror the rising awareness around cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, and a desire by the leading brands to get themselves in front of a young, affluent audience that gravitates towards watching sports and playing video games.

Outside of sport, the platform recently started a US$100 million global advertising campaign featuring actor Matt Damon.

At the same time, politicians are alternately promoting their crypto bona fides while remaining wary of the volatility and largely unregulated nature of the technology.

Cryptocurrency exchange FTX Trading Ltd replaced American Airlines Group this year as the sponsor for the arena that is home to the Miami Heat in the NBA, and it also rebranded the football field for the University of California at Berkeley's Cal Golden Bears.

Some of the biggest professional athletes in the world are also investing in cryptocurrency, including American football legend Tom Brady, who has an equity stake in FTX.

Recently, French football club Paris Saint-Germain announced Lionel Messi's signing fee included some cryptocurrency fan tokens.

The soon-to-be-named Crypto.com Arena opened in 1999 as the Staples Centre - named after the office supplies retailer Staples Inc. - and has been a centrepiece of an effort to revitalise downtown Los Angeles. It is home to the Lakers and the Clippers in the NBA, the Women's NBA (WNBA) side Sparks and the NHL's Kings.

The Clippers, however, are moving out to a new home arena in Inglewood called The Intuit Dome, an 18,000-seat venue set to open for the start of the 2024-25 season.

The 20,000-seat Staples arena also plays host to awards ceremonies like the Grammys, as well as concerts, boxing matches and All-Star games.

All told, the arena hosts about four million visitors a year across more than 240 events.

"It's the biggest of stages," said AEG chief executive Dan Beckerman. "We're in the epicentre of the sports and entertainment world."

The deal also gives Crypto.com about 3,300 sq ft of space at the arena's entrance to promote its brand, as well as a presence throughout the venue and at the adjacent L.A. Live entertainment complex, said the statement.

After the Christmas unveiling, AEG will spend about six months swopping the arena's external signage ahead of 2022-2023 seasons for the NBA, WNBA and NHL teams. The arena is also slated for use as a basketball venue when Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympics.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2021, with the headline S'pore-based firm to rename Lakers' home. Subscribe