Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, is joining the $4.3 billion blockchain-based fantasy soccer game Sorare as a board advisor. In September 2021, the Parisian soccer fantasy company received the fifth largest ever funding round in the crypto industry, hauling in $680 million in cash at a $4.3 billion valuation.
Sorare is a fantasy soccer game that runs on the Ethereum blockchain. It allows users to buy NFTs of famous soccer players such as PSG’s Lionel Messi or Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, field them in fantasy leagues, and trade them with other users.
By the end of December 2021, Sorare had 1 million registered users, of whom 270,000 were active monthly, and 90,000 had purchased in-game NFTs using fiat or cryptocurrency to unlock more functionality (beginning leagues are free). Founded in 2018, Sorare’s trading volume ballooned from $7 million in 2020 to $325 million in 2021. In November, Bonhams auctioning house in London sold a Sorare NFT card of Cristiano Ronaldo for $400,313.
For the France-based Sorare, Williams’ appointment coincides with a planned push into the North American market – with a specific focus on women’s sports. For now, Sorare has IP licence deals with 230 men’s soccer clubs and leagues, including Spain’s LaLiga, Germany’s Bundesliga, Japan’s J League, North America’s MLS, and Juventus, Italy’s record champions.
In 2022, the company plans to add at least two American sports, including women’s sports. Sorare CEO Nicolas Julia told Forbes that the timing is perfect to bring on an athlete of Williams’ stature. “When you have the ambition to build the biggest entertainment group in the world of sports, and you have the opportunity to partner with one of the greatest athletes in history, you want that perspective.”
At Sorare, the 40-year old athlete and financier will advise a board featuring SoftBank CEO Marcelo Claure, who owns Spain’s second division side Girona FC and sits on the board of WeWork and T-Mobile, as well as German fintech investor Christian Miele, Benchmark’s Peter Fenton (famous for his early investments in Twitter and Yelp), and Sorare’s CEO Nicolas Julia and COO Ryan Spoon.
For Williams, Sorare falls within the sweet spot between her interest in crypto and sports. In addition to her board role, she made a personal investment in Sorare, she told Forbes, rather than investing through Serena Ventures, her own venture capital firm. She did not want to disclose the sum.
“I actually was introduced to Sorare through my husband,” said Williams about Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, who also runs the venture capital firm Seven Seven Six, and invested in Sorare as part of its $50 million series A round in February 2021. Speaking of her motivation, Williams added: “Sorare does more than just collectibles. They deliver meaningful interactions between users and their favorite teams or players, which I thought was different.”
The tennis player laughed and said “I pushed [Sorare CEO] Nicolas for tennis since the day I met him.” Recently, the Australian Open made headlines through a partnership with metaverse platform Decentraland, creating a virtual replication of the tournament grounds for fans to explore. Williams said she sees a great range of future crypto applications for tennis and appreciates that Sorare takes multiple approaches, which include gamification and NFTs.
”When we think of web3 and we think of crypto: that’s going to be the biggest space for the next several years in terms of growth,” Williams said.
In 2014, the 23-time Grand Slam winner quietly launched her own venture capital firm, only revealing five years later in an April 2019 Instagram post that she had founded Serena Ventures. “Yes, I know I can keep a secret,” the tennis star wrote on Instagram.
Today, Serena Ventures has invested in 50+ early stage start-ups with a portfolio market cap of $33 billion. “When I’m talking about Serena Ventures, we invest in women, we invest in people of color, that’s our thing,” Williams told Forbes. “68% or 70% of our portfolio are companies founded by women or people of color.”
In 2021, Serena Ventures funded multiple crypto companies. In March, SV invested in a pre-series A round for Lolli, an e-commerce site that gives customers rewards in bitcoin for their purchases. In April, SV participated in a $19 million series A round for Bitski, an NFT marketplace, alongside rapper Jay-Z and Andreessen Horowitz, perhaps the world’s best known VC firm.
And in December, Crypto.com, a cryptocurrency exchange, signed on as the founding sponsor of Angel City FC, a women’s soccer club founded by Serena Williams and fellow celebrities Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach, Julie Uhrman and Ohanian, her husband.
Meanwhile, Williams remains committed to furthering the role of women and people of color in crypto-related industries including decentralized finance (DeFi), NFTs, web3 and the metaverse.
Williams told Forbes that she also holds many NFTs by female artists – and plans to reveal one in a tweet soon.
“As web3 and crypto continue to grow, everyone’s trying to figure out how to make the experience more diverse and inclusive – and everyone is trying to get involved,” she said.
At the 2021 Met Gala in New York, Ohanian wore a lapel pin of a Serena-lookalike CryptoPunks NFT – part of the world’s original avatar art NFT project launched in 2017.
Sporting a tennis-like headband to boot, Ohanian purchased the avatar for 85 ETH – $263,000 at today’s exchange rates – as a gift to his wife.
On January 5, 2022, Serena changed her Twitter profile picture to the very same CryptoPunk #2950 and tweeted “gm” – an abbreviation of “good morning” – friendly lingo among crypto enthusiasts.