Cristiano Ronaldo signs NFT deal with crypto exchange Binance

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of football’s biggest stars, has inked a sponsorship deal with crypto exchange Binance, becoming the latest celebrity to strike a lucrative partnership with a digital asset firm despite the crisis gripping the sector.

The legendary Portuguese footballer, whose career has spanned Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid, will work with Binance to create a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that will be sold exclusively by the exchange.

Ronaldo’s crypto deal comes as the price of Bitcoin has fallen more than 70 per cent from its peak last autumn, wiping out five years of gains for investors. The sell-off has triggered a crisis for some of the digital asset industry’s largest traders and lenders, prompting warnings of a “Lehman moment” for the sector.

“My relationship with the fans is very important to me,” said Ronaldo. “So the idea of bringing unprecedented experiences and access through this NFT platform is something that I wanted to be a part of.” 

Digital asset companies have become some of the biggest sponsors of sport stars and franchises during the recent crypto boom, with multimillion dollar deals including Crypto.com’s $700mn renaming of Los Angeles’ main arena and a series of celebrity TV advertisements at the Super Bowl.

Crypto prices have continued to tumble from their highs last November despite the millions spent to attract new investors. Punters who bought Bitcoin after the February Super Bowl would be nursing a 50 per cent loss.

The decline in prices and slowdown in trading has hit the revenues of crypto exchanges. Major exchanges Coinbase, Gemini and Crypto.com are among many to announce lay-offs in recent weeks. However, Binance has said it remains financially healthy and is pushing ahead with a hiring spree and more splashy deals.

“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world’s best footballers, and has transcended sport to become an icon in multiple industries,” said Binance chief executive Changpeng Zhao.

Ronaldo’s great rival, Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina, became a global brand ambassador for crypto fan token company Socios in March.

High-profile sportspeople promoting digital assets has provoked a backlash from financial regulators in several countries. Binance was embroiled in a clash between Spain’s National Securities Market Commission and football star Andrés Iniesta over social media posts. The exchange said Iniesta had failed to disclose he was paid for the posts promoting the exchange due to a “misunderstanding”.

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority in May warned consumers about the risks of investing in crypto assets, just days after retired footballer Michael Owen promoted NFTs that he claimed “can’t lose their initial value”. 

“We have seen some recent social media posts regarding crypto assets and non-fungible tokens”, the FCA said, warning there were no consumer protections for these assets, and adding “if you buy crypto assets you should be prepared to lose all the money you invest”.

Earlier this month, Zhao criticised other crypto businesses that spent heavily on sports advertising before the fall in digital asset prices. “It was not easy saying no to Super Bowl ads, stadium naming rights, large sponsor deals a few months ago, but we did,” he wrote on Twitter on June 15. “Today, we are hiring for 2,000 open positions for #Binance.”

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