Benevolence toward fans one day. Making money off them the next day.
Champions League organizer UEFA faced criticism on Tuesday for monetizing supporter engagement by partnering with a company that sells fan tokens through largely unregulated cryptocurrencies.
The commercial deal was announced a day after the Football Supporters Europe group praised UEFA for giving away 10,000 tickets to the Champions League final this season, with thousands of fans also able to attend the other European club competition finals for free.
England’s Football Supporters’ Association said Tuesday’s announcement showed the “good and bad of UEFA summed up in two days.”
Socios said it was becoming the official fan token partner of main men’s competitions. Fans buying its blockchain-based tokens will be rewarded with “VIP trips” to the season launch events, the chance to visit UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, meetings with “legends,” match tickets, merchandise and memorabilia.
Specific UEFA tokens cannot be bought — they are only available as free “add-ons” for those who have purchased tokens for clubs Socios is in partnership with, including Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Manchester City. Socios later provided further clarification, including saying the tokens will not be tradable, despite emailing a news release about the UEFA partnership that highlighted its Chiliz cryptocurrency and the exchanges.
Football Supporters Europe said it was “appalled” by the Socios deal with UEFA.
“It is a clear attempt to monetize football’s responsibility to properly engage with representative fans’ groups and their concerns,” FSE said. “Since Socios began monetizing fan engagement through ‘fan tokens,’ they have met strong opposition from fans’ groups.”
The announcement from Malta-based Socios included no disclaimers about the risks. In England recently, Arsenal’s promotions of Socios tokens were ruled to have broken advertising regulations and were banned for taking advantage of consumers’ inexperience in cryptocurrencies.
“UEFA’s partnership with Socios legitimizes risky investments in highly volatile and largely unregulated financial assets,” FSE said. “The vast majority of Socios investors who hold ‘fan tokens’ are crypto-speculators, not football fans.”
Socios did not make anyone immediately available for comment, while CEO Alexandre Dreyfus did not respond to a message seeking a response to the criticism.
In Tuesday’s announcement, Dreyfus claimed the tokens enable fans “to become more than spectators and play active roles in the biggest club football competitions on the planet through fan tokens.” No details were provided how fans will play such an active role in the Champions League, Europa League, Europa Conference League and Super Cup.
Dreyfus appeared to be a FIFA guest at the Club World Cup final on Saturday. He tweeted a photo wearing a VIP lanyard and a Socios mask at the game in Abu Dhabi that was won by Chelsea. FIFA did not respond to questions seeking comment on who invited Dreyfus and if it planned to enter into a partnership with Socios as the global governing body.
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