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Own goal for Arsenal FC as regulator bans crypto fan token ads

Clubs in European leagues have made hundreds of millions of dollars from token sales

Arsenal

It seems everyone’s into cryptocurrency these days, including Premier League soccer teams. But Britain’s advertising regulator was unimpressed with the branding around the latest token offering from Arsenal FC.

A ruling made Wednesday by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two web promotions for Arsenal’s crypto-based token on the grounds that they failed to explain risk and misled fans about the volatility of cryptocurrency assets.

The two ads promoted the $AFC token, one via a Facebook post and one on a web page, and were published in August of 2021. The Facebook post encouraged fans to claim a token in order to vote on what song would be played when the team wins a match.

“[Arsenal players] Ben White, Calum Chambers and Kieran Tierney have had their say,” the post read. “But what song do you want to hear when we win? Download the Socios app to get your token and vote.”

The Socios platform has become popular with clubs around the world for issuing tokens to fans. As with many cryptocurrency-based governance projects, holding tokens allows users to vote on the outcome of certain decisions made by the club.

To gain additional tokens, fans would need to first buy another cryptocurrency, Chiliz, and use this to purchase tokens. According to the text of the ASA’s ruling, the regulator took issue with the fact that risks associated with buying, trading, and investing cryptocurrency were not disclosed.

Even the use of the word “token” disguised the risk involved, the ASA said, with inexperienced customers “unlikely to understand that the ad referred to cryptoassets.”

“We considered that cryptoassets were a volatile investment, subject to frequent change and one that could potentially lead to large losses,” the ruling said.

In a statement, an Arsenal spokesman said: “We take our responsibilities with regard to marketing to our fans very seriously. We carefully considered the communications to fans regarding our promotions and provided information regarding financial risks.”

The webpage for the $AFC token now contains a substantial disclaimer on investment volatility.

Though the ruling from the ASA specifically concerns Arsenal, it will likely set a precedent for other clubs offering similar promotions.

Clubs in the five major European leagues have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling fan tokens, according to analysis commissioned by the BBC. The club that generated the most revenue was the Italian Serie A stalwart Lazio, which sold $130 million worth of its token to fans — but these were also the tokens that had dropped the most in value after the first day of trading.