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FTX.US exchange gets naming rights to Berkeley stadium as crypto, NCAA football collide

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College football kicked off this weekend, amid a growing number of COVID-19 cases throughout the country, and uncertainty over how the Delta variant will impact games this fall.

But for the University of California-Berkeley’s Golden Bears, players opened the season on a newly rebranded FTX Field. And at least in this case, two hot worlds — cryptocurrency and college sports — have collided.

FTX.US, an affiliate of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX, signed a $17.5 million deal with U.C. Berkeley for naming rights to their football field, marking the first-ever cryptocurrency collegiate sponsorship in the nation.

“I’ve had a number of current Cal athletes, both on the football team and other sports teams reaching out saying how excited they are,” Sina Nader, FTX.US’s COO, told Yahoo Finance on Friday.

The sum, according to Nader, will go toward the athletic program and other charitable initiatives to help the homeless community of Berkeley, as well as underrepresented student groups.

This 10-year partnership is the latest in a string of sports ties for the crypto exchange, which was valued at $18 billion in its most recent round of fund-raising.

Recently, the company signed sponsorship agreements with the Miami Heat, e-sports franchise TSM, and Major League Baseball — which was also the first cryptocurrency exchange sponsor in professional sports.

“FTX is leading the way in sports. We believe that sports are a natural way for us to reach more people,” Nader said.

In addition, football star Tom Brady and wife Gisele Bündchen took an equity stake in the company earlier this year, as part of a long-term partnership. And in August, the company also signed Shark Tank Star Kevin O’Leary as an official ambassador.

But as for the Cal athletics deal, it was chosen for its personal connection to Nader.

“I was biased,” he joked. “It's my Alma mater.”

In fact, Nader was a walk-on member of the Cal Golden Bears football team during his undergrad years in 1999.

The deal comes as Cal Athletics continues to explore new revenue streams. In September of 2019, the university said its sports program faced a $19 million deficit linked to the stadium renovations, which was heavily subsidized by the department for years.

Meanwhile, the game is changing in college sports. Under the new NCAA rule that was passed in early July, incoming and current student athletes can get paid for their names, images and likeness. That has opened the door for more college athletes to explore payment options, particularly through the blockchain space.

“We're also working with a number of athletes across the country at different schools so it's something that we expect to see a lot more of,” Nader said.

“You can expect to see more things coming soon, perhaps something additional in the Bay Area. We're very excited about what can be done here,” he added.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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