CLEMSON — There are two kinds of professional athletes: Those who move the needle, and those who do not. Trevor Lawrence, so far, appears to be a needle-mover. Companies have taken notice.
In the week leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, the presumptive No. 1 pick signed endorsement deals with mega-brands like Adidas, Gatorade and Bose.
And then there was Blockfolio. The former Clemson quarterback announced his deal with the company that’s a portfolio management app for cryptocurrency, which is a digital currency secured by cryptography and distributed across a large number of computers via a photo on social media.
There was the golden-haired Lawrence, set up against a blue background, with a football in his hands and “Invest in the Future” splashed across his broad chest in white letters.
Search engine results showed the Lawrence ad did move the needle. On April 26, the day the deal was announced, the term ‘Blockfolio’ reached its highest-ever interest on Google, according to Google Trends data.
The deal represented a bold push by Lawrence into the new frontier of personal finance. Diligent searchers learned about Blockfolio, about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that exist on “blockchain” digital databases outside of government control.
Their value has exploded in recent years, with one Bitcoin trading for the equivalent of about $56,000.
Part of Lawrence’s signing bonus with Blockfolio was paid in cryptocurrencies: In addition to cash, he received an undisclosed amount of Bitcoin, ethereum and solana in his Blockfolio account.
Then, the night of the draft, Sam Bankman-Fried, the chief executive officer of FTX, the cryptocurrency company that owns Blockfolio, deposited $25K worth of solana into Lawrence’s account as a “gift.”
The partnership was mutually beneficial. Lawrence, in addition to potentially bolstering his finances, got painted as a forward-thinker with his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. And Blockfolio — and the cryptocurrency world at-large — inched a little bit closer to the mainstream. Experts agree Lawrence’s influence could be a boon for cryptocurrency.
“He’s not just some random NFL backup. He’s the No. 1 draft pick,” said Danny Nelson, a reporter for Coindesk. “These guys, I’m sure they get thrown all different kinds of offers for sponsorship deals. The fact that he and his people thought this one was worth it speaks to the power crypto is starting to pursue in professional sports.”
Cryptocurrency is about more than maximizing the value of one’s portfolio. In the United States it has a philosophical appeal, and aligns with the wave of populist sentiment crashing across traditional investment worlds. Fans of cryptocurrency want to see it reach mass adoption, at which point it will be used by the public on a massive scale as a regular payment method.
Many analysts think it’s a shaky investment.
“I don’t own any cryptocurrency,” famed Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett said in 2020, “and I never will.”
Others believe Lawrence will push interest.
“Just the magnitude of Trevor, he’s the No. 1 overall pick, he’s obviously got a massive platform marketing wise,” said Joe Pompliano, who writes the daily money and sports email newsletter Huddle Up. “That’s huge and important. But every day it’s becoming more normal within the world of sports.”
The intermingling of sports and cryptocurrency can be traced to former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Russell Okung, who in May of 2019 famously tweeted, “Pay me in Bitcoin.”
Okung got his wish — kind of. When he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2020, he arranged for half of his $13 million salary to be converted to Bitcoin via Strike, a product by the company Zap that converts dollars to the cryptocurrency via direct deposit.
Kanas City Chiefs tight end Sean Culkin is using the same service to convert the entirety of his 2021 base salary of $920,000 to Bitcoin.
Teams are getting involved, too. On May 5 the New York Giants announced a partnership to make Grayscale Investments the official digital currency asset management partner of the franchise, the first deal of its kind in the league.
The Oakland Athletics and Dallas Mavericks accept different cryptocurrencies as payment for tickets sales, and in April, FTX won the naming rights for the Miami Heat’s arena. Starting with the 2021-22 season, American Airlines Arena will be called FTX Arena.
For FTX, Bankman-Fried and Blockfolio, the impact of the partnership with Lawrence cannot be overstated.
“He’s been great to work with, and he’s also excited about crypto,” Bankman-Fried said in an interview with Cheddar News. “We don’t want people who don’t care for what we’re doing to be the spokespeople for it. We want to partner with people who are excited about us.”
Lawrence has also ventured into the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a form of cryptocurrency often used to represent exclusive digital versions of real-world items like artwork. In April, Topps launched a collection of six NFT trading cards designed by Lawrence’s brother, Chase, and sister-in-law, Brooke, in the same vein of the physical 50-card trading cart set released by the company in March. The NFT collection sold for roughly $225,000.
And on May 6, Adidas held an auction for an NFT featuring Lawrence, with all proceeds going to Jacksonville charities. It sold for $53,000. Two other NFTs of Lawrence sold by Adidas, valued at $100, sold out all 1,211 copies.
Nelson said it’s difficult to chart Lawrence’s impact on the market, especially with bitcoin. But solana, the lesser known coin in which Blockfolio paid Lawrence, took a leap the weekend of the draft.
At 8 p.m. on May 1, about 48 hours after Lawrence’s name was called, the token reached a value of $49.90, a record high.