Cannabis ETF Meets UFC Star Alexey Oleynik in This Unusual Sponsorship Arrangement

Posted on: June 8, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: June 7, 2019, 12:32h.

ETF Managers Group (ETFMG), the fund issuer behind the world’s largest exchange-traded fund (ETF) dedicated to marijuana equities, is looking to drum up more notoriety by sponsoring an Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight star.

UFC star Alexey Oleynik
UFC star Alexey Oleynik is now sponsored by a marijuana publicly traded fund. (Image: Twitter)

New Jersey-based ETFMG is the firm behind the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF(NYSEARCA: MJ), and the company has agreed to be the official training sponsor of Alexey Oleynik. Oleynik, a Ukrainian-born Russian nicknamed “The Boa Constrictor,” is the ninth-ranked heavyweight fighter in the UFC.

The Alternative Harvest fund has $1.13 billion in assets under management and holds stocks of 44 companies with exposure to the legal medicinal and recreational cannabis industries.

Unique Deal

Financial services companies have long been sponsors of various sporting events, venues, and leagues. For example, brokerage firm Charles Schwab sponsors the PGA Champion Tour, while TD Ameritrade has the naming rights to Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA Celtics and NHL Bruins.

Last year, three of the six major college football bowl games were sponsored by financial services firms. Among ETF sponsors, Invesco, the fourth-largest US issuer of the products, sponsors the Invesco Series QQQ tennis tour. Still, the cannabis ETF/UFC partnership is unique by the previous standards of Corporate America stepping into the sports world.

Tricia Vanderslice, ETFMG’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview with Bloomberg that the sponsorship agreement with Oleynik is targeted at individual investors that may not be big consumers of traditional financial media, but are avid UFC fans.

Oleynik’s Twitter feed confirms he is on board with ETFMG. Since May 27, the fighter has tweeted several posts including pictures of himself wearing ETFMG apparel, such as hats and t-shirts. Some of those tweets have been directed to the @ETFMG account and @ETFMG_CEO, the Twitter handle for ETFMG CEO Sam Masucci.

On Thursday, June 6, Oleynik retweeted a post with the aforementioned Bloomberg article on his sponsorship pact with ETFMG.

Interesting History

Just like casino operators, which are steering clear of the cannabis industry, fund issuers are regulated at the federal level where marijuana is still considered illegal in the US. MJ was born in 2015 as an ETF dedicated to Latin American real estate companies, but ETFMG altered the fund’s investment objective in late 2017.

That helped the fund sponsor avoid some of the thorny legal issues associated with introducing new marijuana ETFs in the U.S. Among those issues are federal regulation of custodian banks, the banks that holds shares of the underlying companies featured in index funds.

U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB), a publicly traded company, was MJ’s initial custodian bank, but ETFMG replaced the firm as its MJ’s custodian, administrator and transfer agent last year. Privately held Wedbush Securities, a Los Angeles-based broker-dealer, is now MJ’s custodian.

That move is seen as potentially opening the door for more cannabis ETFs to list in the US, but with the drug still illegal at the federal level, some fund issuers remain apprehensive about running afoul of regulators.

At the end of April, US-listed ETFs had $3.84 trillion in combined assets compared to $133 billion in Canada, but Canada has more than triple the number of cannabis ETFs as the US has because marijuana is legal north of the border.