Mar 26, 2021 - Economy

Celebrities and the SPAC boom

Illustration of a woman looking over a pair of sunglasses with a blank check in the reflection.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Celebrities are becoming as endemic to SPACs as are warrants or vague areas of focus.

Why it matters: In most cases, it's an effective marketing ploy. Window dressing for retail investors and, even more importantly, for acquisition targets.

Behind the blank check: The type of celebrity is largely irrelevant, so long as it's a household name. Someone who will garner attention. Pro athlete, singer, politician, etc.

  • These celebs are almost always directors on the SPAC. Or, even less significant, advisers to the SPAC.
  • In most cases, their job is just to exist. Tempt the media write the headlines, investors to buy the stock and CEOs to take the meeting. And if you don't believe that last point, you've never perused a tech founder's Instagram or been backstage at a conference where CEOs try to corner that actor from that Netflix show.
  • Once the SPAC acquires a company, they effectively disappear. The new board is mostly the acquired company's board, usually plus the SPAC's chair and/or CEO. The celeb walks away with some money, stock and (Wall) street cred.

The SEC is concerned enough about this trend that it recently issued an investor bulletin, even though it's certain to fall on deaf ears:

Celebrity involvement in a SPAC does not mean that the investment in a particular SPAC or SPACs generally is appropriate for all investors.  Celebrities, like anyone else, can be lured into participating in a risky investment or may be better able to sustain the risk of loss.

Caveat: There are some hands-on celebs. Former baseball star Alex Rodriquez, for example, is the CEO of Slam Corp., a SPAC that last month raised $500 million. But he's very much an exception to the rule.

The bottom line: This isn't about peak SPAC. It's about peak cynicism.

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