• DigitalBits said to owe Inter €17m
  • Club president Steven Zhang denies reports club could be sold soon

Inter Milan are in negotiations to terminate their principal partnership with cryptocurrency firm DigitalBits over missed payments and the Italian soccer giants have now begun discussions with potential replacement sponsors.

In September 2021, the Serie A club announced a multi-year partnership with Zytara Labs worth €85 million (US$100.7 milion) which saw DigitalBits initially become the club’s sleeve sponsor. The brand later became front-of-shirt sponsor, replacing blockchain-based fan engagement specialist Socios.

However, reports earlier this year emerged that DigitalBits had failed to pay an installment of its long-term agreement and, as a result, the deal’s future was uncertain. Before the start of the 2022/23 season, most of the blockchain company’s branding inventory was scrapped, including on the playing kits for the women’s and youth teams, but Digitalbits did retain its men’s first team shirt sponsorship.

With DigitalBits still in financial trouble, Inter’s corporate chief executive Alessandro Antonello has now confirmed that the cryptocurrency brand owes the club “around €17 million” (US$16.9 million).

“[This] has not yet been paid by the sponsor, for which they have provided reasons that our lawyers deem unfounded,” Antonello said at Inter’s recent AGM.

“Negotiations are currently underway to find a friendly resolution to the dispute. At present, it is not possible to predict whether these negotiations will be successful or not. If it is not possible to reach an agreement, the club will consider taking legal action to protect our interests.”

Antonello confirmed that Inter have now formally suspended all of DigitalBits’ branding elements included in the deal, except for the men’s first team jersey as that is deemed “appropriate” to keep it for the time being. He also said that the club have forged forward with finding a replacement for the struggling blockchain network.

“The club has already taken all the necessary actions on the market, initiating several discussions to find a possible new shirt partner through its own commercial structure so that the new partner can take over as soon as possible,” Antonello added.

The precarious nature of the club’s main sponsorship will undoubtedly have an impact on finances, but Inter president Steven Zhang has denied reports that the Serie A outfit is seeking new investment. Inter recently reported an overall loss of €140 million (US$136 million) for their 2021/22 financial year results.

The Financial Times (FT) recently reported that the club’s owner Suning Holdings Group had asked two US banking firms, the Raine Group and Goldman Sachs, to initiate a sales process for the club.

Speaking at Inter’s annual shareholders’ meeting, Zhang rejected any doubts over Suning’s future. He said: “The reality is that the club’s future has never been in question and our vision for Inter has been crystal clear since 2016. Our commitment is long term, to guarantee a future that is in line with the club’s illustrious history.

“We are not talking to any investors. We did not sign any contract with any [advisers].”