England’s crypto club takes plunge into the unknown

Thus, an American consortium bought an English football team with the ultimate goal of winning the Premier League title.

Nothing especially new there, right?

Well, when it comes to the recent purchase of Crawley Town, a little-known club located 28 miles (44 kilometers) south of London, there’s a big catch.

“The Dallas Cowboys in the NFL are the United States team; no matter where you live in the United States, there are always Dallas Cowboys fans,” said Preston Johnson, one of the business leaders leading the acquisition of the WAGMI United team. in the fourth division of England. “We want you to be where you live, if you have an internet connection, you’re a Crawley Town FC fan.”

This is because WAGMI United is a group of investors who are committed to “shaking the status quo” by using the world of cryptocurrency and “Web 3” technology to drive the rise of a sports team.

Cryptocurrency is a kind of digital money – bitcoin is the best known example – that uses decentralized databases known as “blockchains” to record encrypted transactions. Web 3 is a fashionable technological term used to describe an idealistic goal for a more democratic internet enabled by the growing use of blockchains and blockchain-based items as non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs.

The growing popularity of the currency and the meteoric rise in its value have been viewed with widespread skepticism because it is unregulated, making it suitable for widespread speculation among unsuspecting investors and market manipulation by scammers.

When buying Crawley Town, WAGMI United is among a dozen American homeowners in English football, but the group is believed to be the first in the cryptographic space to buy an entire professional sports team.

“That crypto audience, NFT, Web 3 … doesn’t have a sports team yet,” Johnson told The Associated Press in a video call. “We can give the Internet a team … it’s Crawley Town FC.”

Innovation is at the heart of what some describe as an “experiment” in a 126-year-old club with an average attendance of about 2,200 spectators and a reach that barely extends outside of Crawley, a town of 114,000, best known for being home. from Gatwick Airport and the rock band The Cure. It is also where England coach Gareth Southgate grew up.

The football team made headlines in 2011 when, as a non-league team, they were drawn to play for Manchester United in one of the biggest setbacks in FA Cup history. After a pre-match controversy involving a Crawley fan who mocked the plane crash that killed much of the Man United team in 1958, United won 1-0 in a match between two teams dubbed the Red Devils.

Among the ideas of WAGMI United, whose range of investors and advisors includes Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey and businessman Gary Vaynerchuk, is using the sale of NFT to generate additional revenue streams and offer buyers voting rights and the possibility of having a voice in some of the decisions made about the club.

Johnson, a former sports betting analyst, and Eben Smith, a former derivatives trader who is the co-founder of WAGMI United, are aiming for promotion to the third division within two years. To have full responsibility, they say that if that goal is not achieved, fans will be able to vote for a change of management among the group of owners.

For Johnson, the plan is to invest in analysis, sports science, sports psychology and nutrition to gain an edge over opponents. He also talked about setting up an amateur board.

Using the crypto world to expand the fan base and give fans, local or digital, a greater attachment to the club is at the heart of WAGMI United’s vision.

“This whole Web 3 move is just a matter of time and will exist,” Johnson said. “It will be part of everything, be it sport, the music industry, entertainment and art, what we have seen in the last year.

“I think he’s here to stay and we want to be the one to help unite crypto and NFT with sport.”

The first NFT crash is scheduled to take place sometime this month, and Johnson, the face of WAGMI United, at least when it comes to Crawley, spoke of “paying homage to part of NFT’s historical art of the past” by putting on one of those designs. . on the front of the shirt instead of a traditional sponsor.

Johnson has just moved from his home in Southern California to Crawley and will be there virtually full time at least over the summer to take on a practical role. It’s the kind of openness and commitment that fans of the club have received with satisfaction, even though there have been – and probably still are – concerns about owning the cryptographic space, which remains a mystery to many.

What may also be alarming is the price of bitcoin, the best-known cryptocurrency, which has been falling sharply since April.

“The word ‘experiment’ has been used a lot,” said Sam Jordan, president of the Crawley Town Supporters Alliance, “and that scares a lot of fans, to be honest. But if the experiment pays off, then fantastic.

“It could be two ways. It was always going to happen to a football club at some point. We are the football club of choice.”

Jordan said “apprehension is slowly turning into cautious optimism” about the purchase, despite knowing little about NFT and crypto.

However, he asked that “someone with experience in football” help the consortium run the club and that they be guaranteed what happens if the crypto “dries up”.

“The club is torn down,” Jordan asked, “and we just fell back like a ton of bricks?”

Johnson was anxious to point out that WAGMI United had acquired Crawley in cash, and there was a requirement for the consortium to “overcapitalize,” covering the expected losses for the next two years.

“Some people have the idea that we’re buying it with a currency that can go up or down and the club could be in financial ruin if it falls,” Johnson said. “That’s not the case. We don’t depend on selling NFT for the club to run continuously.”

It’s still a dive into the unknown for Crawley, with critics raising ethical and financial concerns about cryptocurrency and questioning whether new owners ’motivation will diminish if, for example, their NFTs are not sold. It is, after all, a club with deep ties to the local community and more than a century of heritage, even if only at the lower levels of the English game.

It turned out, then, that the new owners are proving that Crawley is not just a toy. And it was a difficult start for them.

They had to make the first major call-up of their term by firing team coach John Yems last week on charges of using discriminatory language and conduct toward the team, including discouraging black players from wearing the same clothing as the team. whites. Yems is currently being investigated by the English Football Association. Without a coach, Crawley has lost three of his last four games, tying the other, to end the Second League season in 12th place in the 24-team division.

However, this has to be a bigger picture for WAGMI, which means “We’re all going to do it.” And climbing the English pyramid to enter the promised land of the Premier League for the first time is the goal, although Johnson has made a note of caution.

“That’s the goal,” he said, “but we are aware that when it comes to the (second division) championship, everyone spends too much on that chance of reaching the Premier League.

“We need to have a structural foundation that is really solid to be able to keep us at the Championship level. We recognize that it is a very difficult task. We think that in the next 7-10 years, getting to the Championship is at least reasonable.”


More AP football: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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