Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried accumulated an impressive number of high-profile celebrity brand ambassadors for his empire, but he was especially dogged in his devotion to securing a nod from Taylor Swift.
FTX filed for bankruptcy after users discovered that the company was likely intertwined with Alameda Research, a trading firm controlled by Bankman-Fried. Among other aggressive marketing efforts, FTX solicited a number of cultural icons to participate in advertisements featuring the exchange platform; Taylor Swift could have joined the ranks of Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry and celebrity investor Kevin O’Leary, as well as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and supermodel ex-wife Gisele Bündchen.
The singer-songwriter and the digital asset startup neared the late stages of negotiating a $100 million sponsorship deal that never came to fruition, according to a report from the Financial Times. Discussions included a ticketing scheme based on digital certificates known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). According to one unnamed employee, Bankman-Fried is “a fan of Tay Tay.”
Fellow executives disapproved of the idea and questioned the value of previous celebrity marketing efforts. “No one really liked the deal. It was too expensive from the beginning,” one person familiar with the negotiation told the outlet. “That’s front of the soccer jersey level prices.”
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Swift may have dodged a legal bullet even as she dodged her unlikely fan. Brady, O’Leary, and other former celebrity ambassadors are the subject of a class-action lawsuit claiming that they participated in a “fraudulent scheme” against unsophisticated investors. The lawsuit contended that the brand ambassadors, many of whom received equity stakes in the company, neglected to perform “any due diligence” before marketing FTX to the public, adding that their failure to disclose “the nature, scope, and amount of compensation they personally received” in exchange for promoting FTX is “a violation of the anti-touting provisions of the federal securities laws.”
Another report from CNBC showed that Bankman-Fried was incredibly determined to cut a deal with Swift, who recently made headlines for crashing Ticketmaster as millions of fans tried to purchase seats for her next tour. Three individuals close to FTX told the outlet that Bankman-Fried ignored his lieutenants’ admonitions to refrain from the sponsorship deal, despite the company’s worsening business environment.
Bankman-Fried, who cultivated a public image as an unkempt and easygoing young executive, was reportedly “insular” in his leadership style, blaming underlings for his mistakes when angry and lecturing dissenting employees, according to CNBC. The would-be wunderkind allegedly ignored messages from top executives if he disagreed with them and avoided face-to-face confrontations. He lived in a luxury penthouse in the Bahamas with a handful of FTX employees who may have been part of a romantic network called a “polycule.”
The 30-year-old former billionaire told CNBC that he disagrees with the description of his leadership style, but did not offer comment on his desire to collaborate with Swift. “Partnerships were an area that was more contentious and on the margin I originally was in favor and ultimately started pushing back on new ones,” he remarked.
FTX emerged three years ago as an overnight success. Headquartered in the Bahamas and incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda, multiple leaders within the cryptocurrency empire donated extensively to Democratic and Republican campaigns. Bankman-Fried was the second-largest contributor to the Biden campaign during the 2020 election cycle and the sixth-largest overall contributor during the recent midterm elections.