Updated: May 24
APRIL 25, 2023
Lockerverse founders Carlos McFall (left) and Trey McDonald, and NFL prospect C.J. Stroud (in conversation with B/R's Drew Jones, second from left) see the company as an ideal platform for fans, brands and athletes. Courtesy of Lockerverse/Simeon Kelley Jr.
A new company named Lockerverse is looking to connect big names in sports and entertainment, using innovative technology, to fans who wouldn't usually get the opportunity.
Launched in 2022, Lockerverse gives athletes, entertainers and creators a place to share their stories on their own terms, both through its online platform and in real life. The company positions its technology and network as open and inviting to a fanbase that might otherwise be shut out—a "first-of-its-kind community platform and cultural hub for the future of the internet."
The online base for this is web3, using the blockchain technology that advocates see as democratizing the internet. From there, Lockerverse is striving to "bring projects to life" in the forms of NFTs and social forums, but also with physical events. Their partners so far include Bronny and Bryce James, and former Ohio State football players C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
"I grew up in East Dallas, hard neighborhood," says one of the company's founders, William A.I. "Trey" McDonald, "... and saying, 'Hey, you can actually have the opportunity to meet C.J., you have the opportunity to actually jump on a track with [DJ] Chase B or the opportunity to get some exclusive merchandise from Morehouse—those are things when I was growing up that didn't seem plausible."
C.J. StroudMichael Hickey/Getty Images
"When we talk about community-building," says another founder, James Carlos McFall, "we wanted to enable the app for folks from our neighborhoods to actually be a part of building community around the entertainers and brands that they're already attracted to."
Aside from its promise of connection to notable names and brands, Lockerverse features website social channels where users can discuss music, sports and specific topics like Fan Controlled Football, HBCUs or even "wtf is web3?"
McDonald and McFall worked together as sports and entertainment lawyers prior to jumping into the tech industry. The two and a third founder, Marcus Rance, met while students at Stanford.
"I think in the same way that I got enjoyment out of representing those top-tier brands or individuals in the courtroom and battling out for them, I see this as just a new opportunity to do that in a different room," McFall says. "… If this technological revolution [of web3] is happening, we felt uniquely suited to be at the forefront of that."
For Savannah James, wife of LeBron James, leading her sons in a "founding member" partnership with Lockerverse was about creating a platform that "links various communities to new technologies" and helps "up-and-coming cultural icons grow and build wealth on their terms," as she put it in a release.
From left, Bronny, Bryce and Savannah James.Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
Last summer, Lockerverse was one of six companies selected for development under the Disney Accelerator program.
"I like to say it was a mix of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games," McDonald jokes. The trio of founders met with top executives on Disney's senior leadership team and pitched every business unit at the company.
"At first we were very intimidated," McDonald admits. "But we quickly realized that we could meet the challenge, make the moment, and we had multiple offers at the end of that process."
"We thought we brought something unique to the table in terms of these culture-defining stories ... and I think that fit perfectly into the Disney ecosystem," McFall adds. "What it really did, too, was sharpen our skill sets and sharpen our overall mission."
Lockerverse later collaborated with ESPN to launch a free digital collectible of the Celebration Bowl Trophy, offered exclusively at last season's Celebration Bowl, the unofficial national championship game for HBCU football.
In Stroud, a top draft prospect, Lockerverse has a face of the brand as they look to align themselves with individuals who are "cultural drivers," with stories to tell.
"When you look at a young man who's got the world by the tail, true leader on the field and off the field … we said, 'This is the person we want to be associated with,'" says McFall, who was a college football player himself.
Stroud says of the partnership: "I think the feeling that I had of not only just trust, but of a brotherhood, I think that was really important to me."
He also liked the team's willingness to share his story the "right way" and in a fashion that can help other people.
Stroud says the partnership has already helped to elevate his brand: "I'm carrying a backpack of a lot of companies and things that I represent. I represent Ohio State, I represent Lockerverse. … So I act as such, and that's something that's helped me a lot with my brand—was just being able to be wholeheartedly myself but understand who [I'm] representing."
Lockerverse will be unveiling Stroud's "first official digital collectible" exclusively on their platform next month. Fans will also have the chance to receive autographed college and NFL jerseys and even meet with him in person.
As Lockerverse grows, McDonald boils down successes to one mantra: "How do we win the day?" The company doesn't have traditional titles like CEO and president because it is "one team," and he hopes that idea permeates as it expands.
"We're a unicorn," McDonald says. "Hopefully giving opportunities to people of color who want to get into tech ... but then also bringing that next wave of creators to market."