National Football League has been lobbying the SEC on blockchain technology

Technology

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

The National Football League lobbied the Securities and Exchange Commission on “issues related to blockchain technology” from July through December last year, according to disclosure reports.

Records indicate that the lobbying campaign represents the first time the NFL has attempted to influence the government agency that oversees financial securities. The league spent over $600,000 on lobbying both chambers of Congress and various government agencies, including the SEC, during the second half of 2021.

Beyond the SEC, the NFL lobbied the White House Office, Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce. The NFL targeted those government entities for a wide range of issues, including “federal regulation of sports betting,” according to the filings.

The forms do not give provide further details on the NFL’s lobbying efforts.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are built on top of something known as the blockchain, which acts as a digital ledger that keeps track of all transactions of a particular token. This global online database is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, and it is maintained by an international network of people who help to verify blocks of transactions.

The NFL, run by Commissioner Roger Goodell, is trying to determine whether crypto can be an integral part of the league’s business. The NFL made over $9 billion in annual revenue recently.

At last year’s NFL owner meetings in New York, officials told CNBC that crypto-related deals are still being examined. The NFL partnered with the National Football League Players Association and Dapper Labs to “create exclusive digital video highlight NFTs (non-fungible tokens) for NFL fans,” according to a September announcement. Numerous NFL stars have already become involved with crypto, including retiring quarterback Tom Brady, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and star Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

The SEC, which is chaired by Gary Gensler, has been attempting to determine how to regulate various forms of crypto.

For months, Gensler has promised to deliver a set of formal rules to oversee the crypto market. Gensler has said these guidelines would be designed with a view to protect investors, but for the moment, there are no explicit proposals.

In the absence of formal ground rules around crypto, the SEC chair instead weighs in on more of a case-by-case basis, defining what are registered securities, and therefore under his jurisdiction. That sometimes includes certain crypto investments and platforms. The SEC, for example, has repeatedly refused to approve a spot bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund over concerns related to investor protection and the potential for fraudulent trading.

The NFL and the SEC did not return requests for comment before publication.

Crypto is set to be heavily advertised during Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. Various cryptocurrency businesses are said to have spent millions to promote their products.

The NFL lobbyists listed on the disclosure report who are targeting the SEC are two Capitol Hill veterans.

Brendon Plack was hired by the league in 2019 to be the NFL’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs. Prior to taking that role, he was chief of staff to the then Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D.

Jonathan Nabavi was hired by the league in 2017 and is currently another leader of the NFL’s government affairs office, who once worked with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

– CNBC’s Jabari Young contributed to this report.

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