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Tom Brady’s NFT Bump, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Bitcoin ‘Pump’

The Information | July 21, 2021, 7:27 p.m.

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While Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and other high-profile crypto cheerleaders tried to shore up confidence in bitcoin during an online event on Wednesday, several sports stars made a bigger splash. Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter, Naomi Osaka and Tony Hawk said they signed exclusive, multi-year deals to produce non-fungible tokens with Autograph, the NFT-producing startup co-founded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. The move showed how celebrities are continuing to be drawn to NFTs even as transactions for such digital art remain low and some investors remain skeptical about their staying power.Some rival NFT startups and their financiers were quick to criticize Autograph’s star-powered announcement, which also said the young startup would launch NFTs with Lionsgate, the TV and movie studio behind the “Twilight,” “Power Rangers” and “Saw” franchises.  “It feels very Hollywood,” said David Pakman, a partner at venture capital firm Venrock, which has invested in NFT startups including Rarible and “NBA Top Shot” creator Dapper Labs. He called Autograph a “licensing business” that’s trying to grab as much intellectual property as it can, but doesn’t necessarily have the technology and consumer marketplace know-how to facilitate NFT transactions. Instead, Autograph outsourced that part of the business to sports betting firm DraftKings, which has less experience in that realm.“The sort of business and technical effort of successfully launching and managing NFTs and marketplaces is non-trivial,” Pakman said.Similar to the way cryptocurrency-related startups have continued to receive record funding despite crypto price drops, institutional funding and support for NFTs, which are minted using blockchain technology, is at a record level too, despite a lull in demand for such digital art. On Tuesday, the amount of money spent on NFTs was 90% lower than in April, when the value of daily transactions spiked to $3.7 million, according to NonFungible.com, which tracks NFT sales on the Ethereum blockchain. At the same time, several leading NFT-related startups collectively raised around $1 billion in equity funding so far this year. And clearly, celebrities like the idea of having a more direct economic relationship with fans.Autograph hasn’t disclosed much about itself or its financing in the three months since making its first announcement, but senior Apple executive Eddy Cue—who oversees the iTunes Store and Apple Pay—is among its board directors. And despite the naysaying by Pakman, the rise of Brady’s Autograph could potentially invigorate the market for NFTs, and by extension Pakman’s investments, by making the category palatable to a broader audience.SpaceX’s Bitcoin BuyDorsey and Musk joined some of bitcoin’s biggest bulls for a virtual, crypto lovefest cosponsored by Dorsey’s Square, called “The B Word,” but their show of support didn’t boost crypto prices. And the bold-faced names at the event avoided talking about one of the most pressing issues surrounding crypto, its connection to ransomware, though they provided other revelations. Musk expressed enthusiasm for bitcoin once again, despite previously criticizing the environmental impact of bitcoin mining and ending Tesla’s practice of accepting payments in the cryptocurrency in May. Musk wore an “evolution of money” T-shirt with a bitcoin logo during his video chat with Dorsey and others, saying he personally owns bitcoin, ethereum and dogecoin, with bitcoin making up the vast majority of his crypto holdings. It was a surprising comment from the self-proclaimed “Dogefather” who’s been promoting the ironic currency, which was started as a joke with no practical purpose in mind.“If the price of bitcoin goes down, I lose money. I might pump but I don’t dump,” Musk said, adding that he wants to see bitcoin succeed.  He also said for the first time that his rocket development firm SpaceX, like Tesla, has bitcoin holdings. Tesla bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin around the start of the year and booked a $101 million profit by selling some of it before the end of March, and Musk said the company had no intention of selling more. Musk also added that Tesla probably would accept bitcoin payments in the future, as crypto continues to move away from coal-powered mining. Musk gave Dorsey a gentle ribbing by twice asking the Twitter CEO if his company would accept advertising payments in crypto. Dorsey avoided answering him directly, though he said that if cryptocurrencies had been mainstream when Twitter was founded, the company might have avoided an advertising business model altogether because it would have been able to facilitate commercial transactions more easily. Crypto enthusiasts might initially be excited about having Musk firmly back on team bitcoin, but the fact that his renewed support didn’t move markets could indicate that his sway over the industry is waning quickly. Still, for a market plagued by volatility, having one less market-moving wild card in the mix is probably better than the alternative.DEALSCrypto investment platform Titan raised $58 million in a Series B funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Titan was previously backed by Y Combinator.Virtually Human Studio raised $20 million in Series A funding from investors that include TCG, Andreessen Horowitz and Red Beard Ventures. The company operates an NFT horse racing game called ZED RUN. Decentralized finance protocol Visor Finance raised $3.5 million from investors that included 1confirmation, Digital Currency Group and Blockchain Capital.Vincent, a search engine for investing in alternative assets like crypto, raised $6 million in funding from investors led by LAUNCH. WHAT WE’RE READING“The Ultra-Rich Are Turning to Crypto After Driving the SPAC Boom” (Bloomberg)“Tether Hasn’t Printed New USDT in Weeks” (CoinDesk)Thank you for reading the Crypto Global newsletter. I’d love your feedback, ideas and tips: hannah@theinformation.com. About Crypto GlobalWe unpack the fast-changing world of cryptocurrency and blockchain and delve into how digital money is reshaping tech and finance from Silicon Valley to Wall Street to Asia.Read the Archive | Subscribe for FreeAbout Hannah MillerHannah Miller writes The Information's cryptocurrency newsletter. She previously worked for the Financial Times, CNBC and CNN. Her reporting has examined growing interest in crypto among institutional investors and the potential uses for blockchain within financial services. She has also worked in breaking news, podcasting and digital video. Based in New York, Hannah graduated from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. She can be reached at hannah@theinformation.com or followed on Twitter @hgmiller29.Email Hannah

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