Before Cooperstown, David Ortiz Expands Eyeglass Deal And Holds Fast On Crypto

Dressed in a black and gold yacht hat, a peacock coat and yellow rain boots, former Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz is using a walkie-talkie to shout, “Ahoy, you’re approaching a lighthouse.”

The off-field appearance is a part of a new advertisement for e-commerce eyewear platform Zenni that features Ortiz, wearing prescription sunglasses, warning a fishing boat 30 miles offshore of a possible collision.

“Retirement?” he says when the action freezes. “Not for Papi.”

Ortiz, 46, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in January and will be honored at the 2022 ceremony later this month, spoke about life after baseball in a video interview with Forbes.

The former All-Star has kept a presence in Boston, where Ortiz makes appearances on behalf of the Red Sox, and in baseball generally as an analyst for Fox Sports. He’s also cofounded a private-equity firm that invests in consumer product companies and started Ortiz34, a baseball equipment brand for kids, and he is one of the athlete endorsers of crypto platform FTX.

“I like to stay busy,” Ortiz says. “I don’t like to sit still. … I guess it’s the habit that you create as a baseball player.”

Ortiz played in the major leagues for 20 years and hit 541 career home runs, 17th all-time, while earning more than $160 million on the field, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contracts. He spoke to Forbes from his native Dominican Republic as he prepares to launch a branded eyewear collection with Zenni as part of his expanded agreement with the company.

“It’s affordable,” Ortiz says of the glasses, priced under $50. “I made sure they had prices that people can approach.”

Business With ‘Big Papi’

Launched in 2003, Zenni serves the online eyewear marketplace. It told Forbes it reached revenue of roughly $400 million in 2021. That figure would be an increase from approximately $329 million in total revenue in 2020 and $250 million the year prior, according to Pitchbook.

The company linked up with Ortiz last year via an endorsement deal. Financial terms of the agreement are undisclosed, but Ortiz doesn’t have equity. The California-based firm competes in a global eyewear market expected to reach $197 billion by 2027, according to market data company Statista.

The July 11 promotion with Ortiz, entitled “PapiVision: Lighthouse,” follows an August 2021 commercial that starred Ortiz as a restaurant food inspector. Ortiz wears the glasses to discover a flaw in one of five clam chowder dishes. That commercial amused Red Sox and Fenway Sports Group owner John Henry.

“When he first saw it,” says Ortiz, “(Henry) texted me right away. He was laughing at it.”

During a 14-year run with the Red Sox, Ortiz won three World Series championships, was selected to ten All-Star teams and led the American League in 2006 with 54 home runs, a career high. He lured endorsements with Coca-Cola, JetBlue, Mastercard and sports apparel line New Balance, and in his final year as a player, in 2016, Forbes estimated Ortiz was making $6 million from endorsements—a total that would be the third-best in baseball in 2022.

“My personality,” says Ortiz, “has brought attention to so many different companies. But at the same time, the secret in being involved with so many companies is your effort.” He adds: “I want my personality to pop. I want to give you 100% of what I am.”

In 2016, Ortiz joined former MLB stars like Nolan Ryan, Vernon Wells, Barry Larkin and Torii Hunter to start Dugout Ventures, an Austin-based private-equity firm that invests in consumer product companies. The firm initially raised $10 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“I’m all over the place,” Ortiz says of his business portfolio.

Dugout has a stake in Performance Kitchen, an e-commerce food delivery platform that sells nutritional meals to insurance providers and has raised $81 million to date, including $12.3 million in 2018 from Dugout, according to Pitchbook. New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter is also an angel investor in Performance Kitchen.

In 2020, Dugout sold its stake in Marucci Sports in a deal that valued the sports manufacturing company at $200 million. Ortiz, who is a director at the PE firm, pointed to authenticity as a key when exploring companies to provide capital.

“Your product,” Ortiz says, “has to be legit. I don’t like to get behind a product that is fake.”

Ortiz Says Crypto Will Bounce Back

The Hall of Fame ceremony is rapidly approaching, though, and Ortiz admits he is stressed out. Ortiz isn’t a fan of the extra commotion that’s coming with the honor. There’s a plethora of requests from family, friends, “anybody that knows you and wants to come see you.” Still, Ortiz plans to cherish the moment because “it’s something that doesn’t happen every day. And it doesn’t happen to every player.”

The stress doesn’t hinder Ortiz’s optimism, though. He still believes in a sector currently striking out—cryptocurrency.

In June, the crypto marketplace dropped below $1 trillion for the first time since 2020, and Bitcoin’s value was less than $24,000, down from a high of more than $65,000 in November 2021. Ortiz has supported digital currency since signing with crypto platform FTX last October as an ambassador. He joined top athletes in NFL quarterback Tom Brady and NBA superstar Stephen Curry in partnering with FTX.

“The economy,” says Ortiz, is in a “critical” period amid fears of a recession and inflation. But although rival platforms like Coinbase have reduced staff because of the crypto crash, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who Forbes estimates is worth $20.6 billion, tweeted in June that the company would continue to expand.

Ortiz suggests patience and offers a positive outlook. Crypto, he says, is “going to bounce back. When? You don’t know, but it’s going to happen.”

“Trust me,” he adds. “All you have to do is be patient.”