(Bloomberg) -- Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange FTX held talks to sponsor English Premier League teams Manchester United and Liverpool earlier this year, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The discussions underscore the now-bankrupt company’s ambitions to expand its global reach, and its willingness to spend significant sums of money to do so.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have begun investigating FTX’s collapse, a decline that included an unexplained $8 billion shortfall in funds, and the US Justice Department’s bankruptcy watchdog has called for an independent probe. Bankman-Fried is facing class-action lawsuits and regulatory probes by the SEC.
The numbers associated with each of the potential multiyear deals ranged from close to $100 million to north of that, according to people with knowledge of the matter who requested anonymity discussing confidential information. Manchester United’s proposed package was more costly than Liverpool’s, one of the people said. A spokesperson for the Manchester-based club declined to comment.
FTX ultimately decided against sponsoring either team. In a message on Slack posted in February and reviewed by Bloomberg News, Bankman-Fried himself expressed confusion regarding the value of such sponsorships. “I’d love to see a comparison to other deals we’ve done, estimates of how many users those have given us, and what that implies about this - e.g. FTX Arena,” he wrote, referencing the company’s partnership with the home of the Miami Heat. He also asked for a survey about each club, and questioned customer conversion rates of such deals.
There was internal disagreement about sponsoring a football club, per the Slack exchange, in which Bankman-Fried said colleagues “are probably getting too emotional and combative about this”, noting that there had been skepticism regarding perceived return on investment of such a transaction.
Prior to its spectacular collapse, FTX had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in sports sponsorships. These ran the gamut of the football stadium at the University of California Berkeley to the Formula 1 racing team Mercedes-AMG Petronas. Its logo appeared on the patches worn by umpires for Major League Baseball and it had been the title sponsor for an esports team called TSM.
For Liverpool, a presentation viewed by Bloomberg proposed FTX taking over as the football club’s main partner for 2023 and beyond. The deal outlined in the presentation would feature jersey branding, FTX logos on interview backdrops, pitch signage as well as social media promotion. In return, according to the document, FTX would raise its brand awareness in key global markets with a focus on both business-to-business and business-to-consumer postioning. That would, according to the document, lead to user acquisition, conversion and retention.
Representatives for Liverpool flew to the Bahamas to meet with FTX, and certain of the exchange’s employees received team shirts with their names on them, people familiar with the discussions told Bloomberg.
In a slide titled “our stock is going to the moon,” Liverpool positioned itself favorably against Manchester United on key metrics including trophies won since 2019, Premier League points earned in that same period, and social media follower growth. Other slides described the media benefits of being associated with “the most valuable shirt in the world” and “the most watched team in the Premier League” among global television audiences. A spokesperson for Liverpool declined to comment.
A spokesperson for FTX did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative for Bankman-Fried, who resigned as chief executive officer for FTX after the bankruptcy filing, declined to comment.
--With assistance from Olga Kharif.
(Updates with additional legal and regulatory context about FTX collapse in second paragraph)
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