Making History and Building the Future: A Conversation with Lou Frangella, VP of Partnerships at FTX
Cryptocurrency, NFTs, blockchain - these are all words you’ve probably heard countless times in the last year or so. Within the sports and entertainment industry specifically, this “Crypto Craze” has been catalyzed by technological evolution and the digitization of sport, fandom, and collectibles. We are now entering a new era in financial and blockchain technology in which we’re being challenged to reconsider the way we perceive traditional exchanges and transactions, engage with sports teams and figures, and most importantly, interact with one another.
While it can be very daunting for the average individual to wrap their head around what’s going on in this space, several brands have been making efforts to educate consumers and invest in initiatives that will make crypto and blockchain technology more mainstream and widely-accepted. One of the organizations that led the charge is FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange platform built for traders by traders.
In just one year, FTX has established themselves as a dominant player in this industry. They’ve signed countless partnership agreements with some of the most renowned sports and entertainment properties in the world, all while expanding their roster of talent with the best of the best.
Here’s a breakdown of FTX’s partnerships so far:
Teams & Properties
Major League Baseball (MLB)
International Cricket Council (ICC)
Riot Games / League of Legends
Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
FTX Arena (formerly American Airlines Arena)
Golden State Warriors
Monumental Sports & Entertainment (Wizards, Capitals, Mystics)
Team SoloMid (TSM)
Cal Athletics / FTX Field
A number of NIL / Collegiate Athletes
Shaq’s Fun House (Super Bowl Party)
Art Basel (a few events)
Sports Illustrated Awards
Oh and by the way, FTX has only been in the partnerships game for a year…let that sink in. What they’ve accomplished so far is, in my opinion, one of the greatest stories in recent memory. The team at The Sponsorship Space also recognized FTX in our “Top Five Partnership Campaigns of 2021” list in the last Sponsorship Roundup newsletter of the year (if you’re not subscribed, you can get plugged in here).
I had the chance to (virtually) sit down with my friend and mentor, Lou Frangella, to chat about his role at FTX, how the company has been able to achieve such profound success, and where he sees the industry moving in the future.
Lou has 10 years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry and is currently the Vice President of Partnerships for FTX.US. He previously worked with the sponsorship team at MLB leading activation strategy and execution for a number of the league’s corporate partnerships, across categories such as cryptocurrency, CPG, and sports betting. Lou also spent some of his career with American Express, BSE Global (Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center), and the NY Islanders. Frangella holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Fordham University in New York, NY.
I found the conversation with Lou to be very informative, educational, and inspiring. Enjoy.
There’s no question that the world of cryptocurrency has exhibited a tremendous uptick in interest and engagement. What reasons and/or factors do you attribute this to?
It goes beyond Bitcoin and Ethereum - it’s much deeper now with conversations around Web3 and the metaverse. The excitement is around the possibilities of what that future could look like and how this technology is going to shape it. I think the awareness and educational initiatives such as partnerships have shown to be successful, especially initiatives that we’ve done with some of the most beloved and recognizable properties. People that we partner with truly have genuine interest in the space, which I think translates very well. Other engagement initiatives that we have which have been more developed over the last year, such as NFTs, are exciting because they build communities. They become a more understandable gateway into the world of crypto through the various utilities that they have.
How does FTX approach partnerships in sports and entertainment? What are the key performance indicators or checkboxes that the firm looks to hit on each time?
I love this question because it allows us to highlight how we approach our business on a daily basis, especially when it comes to partnerships. There’s 4 key things: authenticity, trust, utility, and impact.
When it comes to authenticity, the mutual excitement from a partnership perspective on both sides to build and bring the future of finance to the masses is something that we look for at the very first clip. It has to be there and it has to shine through.
Trust - extremely important. We put security, safety, education, and regulation at the forefront of everything that we do. We want to build trust and I think crypto in general can be a very scary thing for a lot of people. The more trust we can build through a partnership, the better. It’s about building awareness, education, and embracement of crypto for the masses.
Utility I think is important for a lot of people. Some people learn by seeing or listening, others learn by actually using things. So when it comes to the metaverse, crypto, Web3, or NFTs, it’s about understanding how we can showcase our products in a bespoke way. We want to educate and resonate with people from different audiences, so we need that different point of view for a lot of them.
Lastly, impact is at the very core of everything we do. It starts with Sam, our Founder & CEO, and goes down to Brett, our US President, and every one of our employees. You know, we want to make a true impact on the world. We want to, and are going to, change the world in a positive way and we’re passionate about partnerships that maximize the positive impact on the world. You can probably find articles on Sam and his POV and approach to life, and it’s that of an effective altruist, which at its core, is doing the most amount of good for the greatest number of people possible. Having the most amount of impact in a positive way. This speaks to every single one of us at FTX and it makes me really proud to work at this company. I think it differentiates us from others.
When it comes to KPIs, it varies by partnership for sure. But ultimately, it’s about staying true to our approach with the four things I mentioned earlier. Those allow us to achieve our KPIs and adapt when we need to by resonating with various audiences and utilizing different platforms that we’re building with our partners. What I always tell people in conversations when we get outreach, is that we want to meet you where you are. We don’t want to force anyone into crypto. We want to help educate and basically introduce ourselves. We recognize that everyone is on their own journey into crypto and we want to provide you with the tools you need to move at your own pace, be that guidance for you along that way, and then be there for you when you take that step in.
Can you speak about the role of data when it comes to strategizing and evaluating your partnerships at FTX?
As you can imagine, data is at the core of everything that we do. We have a number of opportunities that are put in front of us on a daily basis, and data is really important to ensure that we’re making the right decisions, evaluating opportunities, measuring the results and impact of our initiatives, and that we’re ultimately optimizing. We work closely with our internal teams to figure that out because we have a number of extremely smart, data-driven people. I think if you work at FTX you have to be data-driven. All of us work together to evaluate, plan, execute, measure, and optimize.
We also look at the potential of ROI, but back to the other question, we recognize that everyone's journey into crypto is different. We do track and consider as much data as possible to ensure that the partnership platforms that we’re building are effective. It’s the balance of measuring against ROI but also being strategic and tactical in understanding that we need to stay true to our four core values in our partnership approach, which data is also important for.
Out of all the partnership deals that FTX has signed in the last year, which one is your favourite and why?
I think you can probably guess how I’m going to answer this question - I’m going to say all of them, and I really mean that. I think all of them are very exciting and it’s because we’re so selective. You see a lot of news and announcements from us, but we are very selective with the partnerships we do because they need to match those four values, they need to make sense, and they need to excite us.
We’ve only been doing partnerships for less than a year which is crazy to think about. This time last year, unless you were trading high-volume crypto or you were a Blockfolio user, nobody knew who FTX was. The most exciting part about that is that we’ve been fortunate enough to build incredible alliances with some of the world’s biggest cultural icons and most successful sports and entertainment properties out there. That’s why it’s hard for me to pinpoint just one.
Going back to that crypto journey, some of our partners are more crypto savvy than others, and some are more curious than savvy. I think that we love that all of our partners want to tell that story in their own unique way of what their crypto journey is. Whether it’s through buying, selling, or holding crypto or NFTs, or using FTX Pay to transact with crypto for everyday purchases. I think it’s really exciting and it makes it so much more unique because everyone is able to tell their own story, whether they’re a property or an iconic talent.
When it comes to the athletes and icons that we partner with, they’re truly the GOATs of what they do - they can choose to work with anyone. Their brand is the most important thing to them, and I think choosing to work with us speaks volumes. Tom Brady for example, has his own NFT platform, Autograph. He’s savvy, but there’s others like Steph Curry, where we collaborated with him to build and launch his own NFT collection, which was the first time he ever did that. 100% of the proceeds from that NFT collection go to charity in perpetuity. What we’re doing with partners is really transforming the space and doing good.
I think I mentioned this before, but each one of our partners has those core values and carry themselves on and off the field or court with that same mentality and they have the excitement and passion for building the future and how we interact with each other when it comes to payments. That’s why all of them are really exciting.
As evidenced by the events that have transpired over the last two years or so, the sports and entertainment industry is evolving at an exponential rate. What trends are you most excited about?
First and foremost, NFTs. That has been the buzzword, or “buzz three letters” of the last year. The rise and progression of NFTs over the last two years has been really exciting to be a part of, especially over the last few months and being a part of FTX. I think it’s pretty clear that NFTs are here to stay. We recognized that early on with consumers wanting to be able to buy, sell, and trade different NFTs on one platform - which is why we were the first NFT marketplace to have both Ethereum and Solana NFTs. We moved quickly to have that and are really proud of it. This allows users who are fans of certain blockchains to understand other technologies of different chains and protocols and communities through NFTs. I think the communities these NFTs are built on are very powerful and engaged, and that’s probably the biggest thing that has come from NFTs - the community aspect. They’ve become a vehicle for many first-time crypto users to enter the space as well, especially for folks who are more shy of investing money or their hard-earned funds into a type of cryptocurrency. Perhaps an easier way to get in and explore is through NFTs - and that’s for personalities of all types. Whether that’s someone like me who, you know, is just a regular person, or whether that’s a celebrity who wants to learn more by using the product and then becoming a part of a community.
We’re looking forward to seeing where we’re at towards the end of 2022. Giving it a year from where we are now, it’s going to be incredible to see how NFTs will become a utility for fans and consumers. Sports and entertainment entities can also create fandom in a way. If you think of specific collections where people may not be an avid fan of that sport, community, or item that the NFT is based on, it helps them become a fan and be able to root for something. It provides utility both in this world and in the metaverse, or wherever else.
It’s really cool and I think we’re just scratching the surface right now. It’s going to be exciting to see where we’re at 12 months from now.
What do you want readers and consumers alike to know about the FTX brand?
We’re building something incredibly special at FTX. The future of crypto, NFTs, payments, financial technology - we’re building that. And we’re having a lot of fun doing this with partners who truly care about the future.
I think the second thing is that we’re going to continue to lead the way and be advocates and thought leaders in this space. We’re really excited to meet everyone along that journey. We want people to reach out and be curious to learn more and we’re happy to be that tool, that place, and that entity that helps them become more educated on what we’re building and what this means. Whether that's at the next MLB game you attend, or during the next Steph Curry three-pointer that you witness that’s a new record or milestone - a Bitcoin trade or NFT mint, we’re here and we’re going to meet you where you are.
Lastly, everyone here at FTX is passionate about our mission. I’m truly honoured to work here and work for this company and be a part of what we’re doing. We’re making history and building the future - it’s pretty unbelievable. It’s really exciting and I’m honoured. I just really want people to take notice of that and reach out. Whenever we talk to people, it gets them excited about what we’re doing, and that’s because we’re truly passionate. I just want that to be noted.
As VP of Partnerships, I’m truly dedicated to making sure that the partnerships we have are mutually building that future. My goal is to make sure that what we said we’re going to build, is built. I can’t do that by myself, I work with everyone at FTX to make that happen and we’re all doing that together.
Hopefully you got as much out of this dialogue as I did. Lou and his team at FTX are operating at the intersection of technology and innovation to truly build the future and pave the way for many more to follow in their footsteps.
What FTX has accomplished so far is second to none and with every partner they brought on, they never once wavered from their four key values. My biggest takeaway from this interview is this: If you can stay true to your brand purpose and surround yourself with a team of individuals who are invested in the vision and are simultaneously working to achieve great things together, the possibilities are endless.
One thing is for certain - FTX’s mission to educate and inspire consumers will continue to be front and centre with everything they do.
Visit the FTX website here.
Download the FTX App for iOS.
Samir Bhatla is a Contributor and Community Manager for The Sponsorship Space. He is currently pursuing his MBA with focus in Sport Business in Toronto, Ontario.