For all the fear that football has slipped from the hands of supporters and into the hands of corporate greedBarnsley’s willingness to listen to arguments from fans and cut ties with shirt sponsor, cryptocurrency company Hex, is a reminder that the channels of empathy between the terrace and the boardroom remain open.
last week, League one club broke ties with the brand featured in the shirt for just two games. The catalyst was a movement from the bottom up – through a statement from the Trusters’ Trust, the club’s LGBTQ+ fan group and many supporters who made their voices heard online – which made it clear how far from the club’s values, the new partnership fell. .
It has, at heart, a story of the power of the supporters, of a club that listens to the concerns of its fans and has the courage to say “we are wrong”. But it also raises questions that go beyond Barnsley and Hex. The world of sports sponsorship has long been plagued by the issue of what is not an ideal commercial partner. The debacle at Oakwell has opened a new front in the struggle for the life of football.
“Because [cryptocurrency] This is decentralization, you can ask for some horrible people,” said one supporter who drew attention to disturbing social media posts made by someone seen as central to securing the Barnsley deal. He asked not to be named after receiving threats. “And you can’t do anything to stop it. Anyone can participate.
“What doesn’t sit well with me is that the club is not very transparent about who the people are raising money from. It seems like a very quick decision to do this deal. How much due diligence was done?”
Barnsley FC Supporters Trust, a few days after the deal was announced, announced that they had sought clarification from the club on this point, particularly parties from the loosely defined “Hex community”. Concerns were also raised about the ethics of encouraging backers to invest financially in unregulated ventures over “many claims online that it’s a Ponzi scheme or a hoax.”
In the end, it is social media posts from two Twitter users who, representatives of Hex claim, have been key to securing the sponsorship that brought the house of cards down. The post included a series of homophobic slurs. After concerns were raised, posts thanking and acknowledging the contributions of the two unnamed account owners were removed, and their involvement actively denied.
“We’ve got a huge LBGTQ community,” supporters said. “Oakwell must feel like a safe place for them. The ‘Rainbow Reds’ group issued a statement, then one of the main Hex people replied which also caused attention and abuse in the group.
Part of the problem with corporate deals with crypto companies is that there are no such companies. It exists as a decentralized collective, and as a standard of common behavior it is difficult to define and hard to implement. That there is no mechanism to identify who made the Barnsley deal further highlights the lack of accountability in the system.
“After I highlighted this stuff online, I had a Hex attack. I didn’t sleep for two days straight, with all the abuse I got.
“I’ve had people threaten to sue me. If you ask about people involved in cryptocurrency, everyone has an investment, so they protect that investment.
“You have a working-class city where the cost of living is through the roof, and you’re really advertising a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme.”
In Barnsley’s defeat at Derby County last Saturday, he wore a plain red shirt with only the club badge. It’s unlikely to stay that way for the rest of the season. But for the rest of the evening, it served as a visual reminder of the enduring impact of fan power.
“It shows that the fans are still valued by the club. It shows that hate will not win, despite the money. Our morale is not for sale.
“Other clubs should see this example. They should understand that they made a mistake. As long as it is corrected and you listen to your fans.