FTX Head of Marketing Nathaniel Whittemore
In just two years, leading crypto exchange FTX went from zero to 100 in sports marketing partnerships.
Now the FTX brand is synonymous with sports, having snapped up deals with the biggest athletes on the planet from star NFL quarterback Tom Brady to basketball legend Steph Curry. It also secured naming rights for the home of The Miami Heat, one of the top sports stadiums in the US, for a reported $135 million.
Its move into sports began with the acquisition of Blockfolio back in 2020, a deal forged with the aim of expanding its reach to more retail traders. FTX head of marketing Nathaniel Whittemore worked as a consultant at Blockfolio and moved into a full-time role after the acquisition.
“It took us a couple months of discussion, but it became pretty clear pretty soon that if we were going to compete for that type of retail investor, that we really needed to do a lot to get our brand out there, to build brand awareness,” Whittemore told Insider. “And so it naturally followed from that, leaning on really big partnerships that could help supercharge that brand awareness really quickly.”
The team was able to move quickly in securing deals because they had buy-in from the very top. FTX’s CEO Sam Bankman-Fried is an intensely passionate sports fan known for having games displayed on at least one of his multiple computer monitors while he works.
“Sam was one of the folks who originally had a very strong instinct towards stadiums,” Whittemore said. “Part of the reason being that there is just so much free exposure that comes from that, so many people are experiencing it, broadcast partners who just reference it casually and so you have that repetition.”
Plus, he added, FTX’s short, three-letter brand is well-suited to an arena, where people won’t give it a “shortcut name.”
Bankman-Fried also played a key role in pursuing superstar quarterback Tom Brady, Whittemore said.
“We wanted to be partnered with people who had really iconic brands,” Whittemore said. “Over the years, our goal is to make FTX an iconic brand, but you can’t just come out and say, ‘Hey, we’re an iconic brand.’ You have to go build that.”
FTX was among a crop of crypto brands featured in this year’s Super Bowl telecast. The spot starred comedian Larry David as a time-traveling crypto skeptic and carried the tagline: “Don’t be like Larry. Don’t miss out on the next big thing.”
“I think that if we make the barrier to entry into crypto being that you’re already super sure that crypto is really important, we are stuck with the people that we already have,” Whittemore said. “And if we make the barrier to entry super complex or feeling like you have to have that complex knowledge, I think we also lose part of what makes it disruptive.”
Whittremore described last year as a “mad dash” to get its sports partnerships set up; now the emphasis is on engaging with the fans at the heart of the partnerships.