Crypto.com hires LeBron James in its $1 billion bid to become as big as Instagram

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Basketball star LeBron James is the latest celebrity to team up with cryptocurrency exchange Crypto.com on its splashy marketing blitz that already includes actor Matt Damon and naming rights for a Los Angeles sports arena.

On Friday, Crypto.com and James’s nonprofit, the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJF), announced a multiyear partnership to support Web3-related “educational and workforce development opportunities” that help students and families build a “strong foundation in Web3 and…blockchain-based decentralized applications.”

Web3—or Web 3.0—refers to what some envision to be a fairer and more equitable internet. Supporters pitch it as decentralized, thereby giving users more control.

Crypto.com’s partnership with James continues its major marketing offensive of recent months, which has roped in Hollywood stars and cost the firm more than $1 billion.

In November, the Singapore and Hong Kong–headquartered exchange inked a $700 million deal to emblazon its name on the former Staples Center—home to the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers (James’s team) and Clippers. With the arena naming rights deal, the company receives a portion of audience transactions at the venue—more if the transactions are made through Crypto.com’s app.

In October, Crypto.com premiered TV commercials starring Damon, an investor in the company who’s become the face of the brand. The company spent $100 million to produce the Damon-led series of ads, which will also feature NBA star Carmelo Anthony, mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, and South Korean rapper Lee Chae-rin, aka CL.

Crypto.com had no comment on whether James, under the new partnership, would appear in a commercial.

The company has also poured another $400 million into various sports endorsement deals, according to Bloomberg, including with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), motor racing championship Formula 1, and elite ice hockey, football, and soccer clubs.

Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek told Fortune in December that his goal is for the platform to become the next “killer app…like Instagram, but for the crypto space.” During the April to June 2021 quarter, the company was profitable on $500 million in revenue, he said at the time. A year ago, Crypto.com had 10 million users, but a spokesperson said the number has since grown significantly. Earlier this month, hackers stole over $30 million in crypto from 483 Crypto.com user accounts; the company subsequently reimbursed those users.

Crypto companies, metaverse platforms, and digital asset initiatives—like non-fungible token (NFT) projects—are increasingly tapping celebrities to gain attention. NBA star Steph Curry, for example, released a digital sneaker NFT collection last month and is the owner of an NFT from the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a popular NFT collection of bored-looking digital apes that come in different colors and outfits. Meanwhile, reality TV star Paris Hilton and DJ Steve Aoki recently held concerts in the metaverse. And Warner Music is building a concert-focused theme park in the Sandbox, one of the most popular metaverse platforms.

But celebrities hawking crypto and other buzzy internet-based projects have also faced criticism. In early January, investors filed a lawsuit alleging that the celebrity promoters of crypto token EthereumMax misled investors through false and deceitful social media posts. Reality star and influencer Kim Kardashian and boxer Floyd Mayweather were named in the suit.

Skeptics also raise concerns about an impending “crypto winter,” which refers to a sharp drop in the price of cryptocurrencies followed by months of downturn. Since November, the price of Bitcoin and Ethereum—the two most popular cryptocurrencies—have tumbled nearly 40%.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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