Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo and his Olympic snowboarder mate Scotty James say they always think long and hard about the risks of promoting the wrong thing. 

And as brand ambassadors for crypto exchange OKX, that no doubt was at the forefront of their minds when FTX collapsed and markets crashed — mere months after they signed on.

The risks then became all too apparent in the acres of negative publicity and lawsuits over comedian Larry David and retired NFL quarterback Tom Brady’s endorsement deals with FTX.

Even Hollywood nice guy Matt Damon faced blowback from everyone from South Park to Stephen Colbert as a result of his Superbowl commercial for Crypto.com, encouraging normies to buy crypto right before the market crash.

Daniel Ricciardo, Haider Rafique and Scotty James onstage at Token2049.

Crypto already had a pretty mixed reputation when Ricciardo signed up in May 2022, and he admits it took a while to get comfortable with the idea. 

“I’ve been in the sport a long time where for sure, a lot of things get put in front of me, which is exciting.”

“But you kind of also learn when to say ‘no, that’s not right for me,’” he told Cointelegraph at Token2049, nursing a fractured hand that has taken him out of the Sept. 17 Singapore Grand Prix.

Ricciardo is one of the most popular F1 drivers in the world and has a team that ensures he doesn’t get into hot water. Minders struck out direct questions about FTX ahead of the chat, required approval for photos of the interview, and bustled him away after 10 minutes for his next appearance.

Trust in crypto wavered after FTX blow-up

OKX’s strategy to become the “first crypto lifestyle brand” was driven by Chief Marketing Officer Haider Rafique. The cryptexchange signed multi-million dollar sponsorship deals with sports franchises like F1 team McLaren and United Kingdom Premier League team Manchester United.

“We certainly get those calls,” Rafique said, “from McLaren or Man City. ‘Hey, is everything all right over there? Like the industry looks a little shaky?’ And we have to understand and put ourselves in their shoes and respond accordingly.” He says the exchange’s monthly proof of reserves reports are a big factor in gaining trust. 

But even after getting his old team on board (Ricciardo now drives for AlphaTauri) Rafique still needed to gain the F1 driver’s trust. “It wasn’t a transactional relationship, it was a personal relationship,” he said.

Ricciardo explained it worked as Rafique did “a really good job to bring us in on personal level to educate us and inform us.”

“I was curious and wanted to learn — I had a lot of comfort going in with them. I’ve seen enough now to know that this is good for me, and it’s safe for me to kind of get involved in this.”

Unfortunately, as Damon’s ill-fated Crypto.com deal shows, due diligence can only take you so far. The exchange wasn’t accused of anything and didn’t collapse but Damon’s reputation took a hit as markets crashed.

“The thing that was probably blowback for them was the message and it was poorly timed: ‘Fortune favors the brave,’ and then the brave crashed,” said Rafique.

Related: OKX crypto exchange enters final preparation stage of Hong Kong VASP license application

As a mate of Ricciardo’s, four-time Olympian James already had a personal connection when he signed on with OKX and was already interested in NFTs. But it still would have been a shock when FTX collapsed a month later.

Fans line up to get pics with Daniel Ricciardo and Scotty James at Token2049. 

“Until you understand something 100% at its full capacity, naturally you’re going to have reservations,” he said, but added that the platform’s attempts to simplify and educate about crypto and trading put him at ease. 

“I built trust over time with doing that, and we feel pretty good about it,” he said. “But to say 12 months ago, I would say the same thing? No.”

James said that snowboarding was a lifestyle choice that appeals to a “young demographic” and crypto is too due to its decentralization.

“I think my generation and younger than me are the ones that are really going to change that narrative for investing, whether it’s in cryptocurrency or other investments moving forward.”

While the pair joked about releasing NFTs during their onstage appearance at Token2049, that’s not going to happen until markets recover, said Rafique.

“For their NFTs, it’s certainly not going to be about a speculative asset. It’s going to be baked into how we can bring their fans closer to them through this asset that they can own. So I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.”

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