Real Bedford: The Bitcoin-Powered Football Team and Its Challenges
In a scene that could only be described as rock-n-roll, the team in bright orange, donning a skull and crossbones on their jerseys, entered the field of play. The anthem of choice? "Know Your Enemy" by the U.S. rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine, drowning out the cheers of the 150 or so fans in attendance. This was a fitting start to a first-round cup game for Real Bedford, a football team in Bedford, England, and notably, the world's first Bitcoin-funded football club. The brainchild of local owner and Bitcoin evangelist Peter McCormack, Real Bedford represents the fusion of cryptocurrency and sports.
Peter McCormack, host of the "What Bitcoin Did" podcast, a Bitcoin-based current affairs show, sees the club as more than just a sports team; it's a testament to the potential of Bitcoin to address socioeconomic issues like rising inflation and state debt. He passionately believes that every club should have a deep connection to its community, and in this case, that connection is anchored in Bitcoin's global community. However, running a football club backed by a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin comes with its set of complexities, primarily tied to the volatile nature of digital assets and market dynamics beyond McCormack's control. McCormack took over Real Bedford, previously known as Bedford FC, in April 2022, fueled by various Bitcoin-related business ventures. His vision was to elevate the club nine tiers to the Premier League, the pinnacle of English football, using Bitcoin-backed financing. Yet, this ambitious journey began during a turbulent period in the cryptocurrency market. The crypto industry entered a bear market, marked by a series of challenges, including the U.S. Federal Reserve raising interest rates, the collapse of stablecoin platform Terra-Luna, and the troubles at the FTX cryptocurrency exchange. Bitcoin's price, which had soared to nearly $70,000, plummeted to under $16,000 by the end of 2022, albeit with some recovery to around $26,000 by early September 2023.
The main headwind for cryptocurrencies, according to Samuel Lee, founder of U.S.-based SVRN Asset Management, was rising real interest rates. Lee suggests that a sustained resurgence in the crypto market is unlikely until interest rates drop and market trauma fades from memory. Amidst these challenges, McCormack remains unfazed by Bitcoin's price fluctuations, asserting his belief in Bitcoin's resilience compared to traditional currencies. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of ensuring the club's sustainability even if they don't keep winning on the field. The connection between Real Bedford and its local community remains a cornerstone of McCormack's vision. Unlike some other ownership models backed by digital assets, McCormack sees his deep roots in Bedford as an advantage. He aims to establish Real Bedford as an integral part of the community, positioning the club as a representative of the town in the Football League. McCormack points to Crawley Town, a fourth-tier English football team acquired by a U.S. crypto consortium known as WAGMI United in April 2022, as a contrasting example. While WAGMI United promised to elevate Crawley Town to the heights of English football using non-fungible tokens (NFTs), McCormack argues that they lacked a genuine link to the local community and prioritized NFT holders over local fans.
This approach led to on-field struggles for Crawley Town. Real Bedford, on the other hand, is committed to building a strong connection with the community, particularly through initiatives like youth and women's football. McCormack sees potential in the growth of women's football as a market and has merged the women's team with Bedford Ladies and Girls FC, aiming for equal commercial support for both the men's and women's sides. A crucial element of Real Bedford's success lies in its sponsorship deals with Bitcoin-related companies, including Iris Energy, Galaxy, and Gemini. These partnerships have injected significant funding into the club, enabling them to make substantial improvements and attract players. Furthermore, the Bitcoin connection has drawn fans from around the world to Bedford, benefiting the local economy. Despite the advantages, the club's reliance on Bitcoin-affiliated sponsors presents its own set of challenges. The ongoing bear market and Bitcoin's price fluctuations can impact the club's financial stability. Many crypto companies have faced layoffs and budget cuts, and sponsorship budgets have tightened. While McCormack remains confident in Bitcoin's long-term potential, he acknowledges the importance of achieving stability beyond Bitcoin backers.
To navigate the crypto winter and the Bitcoin bear market, McCormack emphasizes community building and a strong football brand that resonates with fans. He believes that offering fans a brand of football they can engage with, backed by the skull-heavy rebranding as The Pirates, can help attract and retain supporters. Real Bedford's focus is on expanding its fan base, growing crowds, and winning games in the short term. Beyond Bitcoin, the club aims to create a sustainable and enduring legacy within the local community, ensuring its long-term success as a unique fusion of cryptocurrency and football.