Eagle-eyed viewers of Friday night’s Celtics-76ers tilt in Philadelphia will have noticed a sudden absence of the ubiquitous Color Star banners recently seen splashed on every available flat surface inside the home team’s arena. This was not a glitch in the metaverse: Friday afternoon Spike Eskin reported that the 76ers organization had quietly terminated its relationship with Color Star Technology Co. Ltd., bringing to an ignominious and premature conclusion a marketing partnership that just a few weeks earlier team president Chris Heck had described as “a great honor” for the Sixers.
A 76ers team official confirmed to Defector Friday evening that the termination of the partnership was due to “breach of contract” by Color Star, but ignored a series of questions about the nature of the breach. Color Star Director of Communications Douglas Menelly did not respond to a text message seeking clarification; elusive and mysterious Color Star CEO Sir Lucas Capetian did not comment on the alleged breach of contract that led to the termination of the 76ers partnership. But out of the darkness did come a ray of glorious light: Defector, after almost a month of frustrating failure, finally established direct contact with Capetian.
Color Star’s brand new chief executive, a figure of near-obsession for those of us tracking the Color Star story, emailed Defector Monday afternoon—not to clarify the circumstances of the termination of his company’s marketing arrangement with “a top-level NBA team,” but to warn that his company will “seek legal procedures to pursue all your legal responsibilities and financial compensation” if Defector does not delete two Color Star stories within three days, and issue an apology “without reservation.” It is Capetian’s belief that Defector’s coverage shows “obvious racial discrimination” and has caused Color Star to suffer “great financial losses.” Most confusingly, Capetian’s letter asserts that Defector “did not get in touch with our company to ensure the correctness and accuracy of your written context,” when in fact Defector spoke directly to Color Star Director of Communications and Company Spokesperson Douglas Menelly for more than an hour on Dec. 22. What’s more, the address that Capetian used to send his email Monday is the very same one that Defector emailed seeking comment nearly four weeks ago, to no avail. Alas.
Confounding legal posturing notwithstanding, this would seem a strange time for the 76ers to end their contract with Color Star, the Cayman Islands-registered, Dubai-based ready-mix concrete outfit pivoting to Web3 technology and hyping the forthcoming launch of a celeb-populated metaverse. However delightfully unserious Color Star may still seem to this very day, the company and its signature Color World app are at least several times more tangible now than back when Heck sat down in late December with a non-Color Star employee named Jarom Heaps and inked the deal to bring the two entities into a working partnership “for years to come.” Color Star has recently flooded certain corners of the internet with press releases and paid advertorials; a recent salvo included actual video of the Color World metaverse, several screenshots of a player interacting with the Color World digital environment, and a photograph of Capetian himself.
Back on Dec. 20, when Heck and Heaps christened the deal, Color Star had a non-functioning app, a non-functioning English language website, a minimally functioning Chinese-language “primary site,” a non-functioning office telephone number, and a Gmail account as its sole operable point of contact. Look how far they’ve come!
Color Star now has images and videos of its metaverse; it has new celebrity partnerships to hype; it has an expanding online footprint that it has until very recently utterly lacked; it has a constantly shifting (Dec. 23 to Jan. 1 to Jan. 23 to Jan. 25 to Jan. 28) but tantalizingly close launch date for its signature app; it has a handsome young CEO with a freshly non-digitized face; and it has—or at least had—LED signage all over the 76ers’ arena. Yes, it still has the New York address and phone number, and a Gmail primary account, and the websites remain borked almost beyond belief. Still! It means something that this vastly realer version of Color Star is the one the 76ers want nothing to do with.
What relationship did the Sixers envision in the first place? In a conversation with Defector a day after the partnership was announced, the team spokesperson characterized Color Star’s as merely a “middle-of-the-road deal” for the Sixers, financially speaking; they were not a company that would rate among the Sixers’ top-tier corporate sponsors. The deal, as outlined by the spokesperson, offered Color Star a pretty basic package of courtside and in-bowl LED signage, radio spots, social media support and hospitality benefits, along with access to Sixers executives whose business insights—How To Vet Corporate Sponsors, perhaps—would be featured on the Color World app.
Without knowing all of what was contained in the fine print of the deal between the 76ers and Color Star—and with the team cannily terminating the deal, with minimal explanation, after business hours ahead of a holiday weekend—it’s hard to know exactly how or when Color Star breached its contract. One possibility: Color Star published an advertorial on the website of something called Luxury Travel Magazine on Jan. 12, boasting that the 76ers deal “will see the NBA team’s elite professional players enter the Color World themselves, giving fans the opportunity to interact and shoot hoops with their favorite athletes within the walls of the Color World.” This seemed to overstate the nature of the partnership between Color Star and the Sixers, or anyway raised some questions about how many of Philadelphia’s players had agreed to have their likenesses produced in the metaverse and to use those likenesses to interact directly with users. Neither the 76ers nor the National Basketball Players Association responded to emails sent Jan. 14 seeking clarification on how this exciting new feature came together, but sometime later that same afternoon the team reversed course pretty severely and terminated the Color Star partnership.
Eskin reported that Color Star had been “promoting initiatives that violated the terms of their contract,” and speculated that it was Color Star promoting the participation of 76ers players in its upcoming Color World metaverse that may have finally pushed a wary 76ers front office to nuke the deal. Whatever the case, at some point after this boast was brought to the team’s attention, Luxury Travel Magazine deleted that section of text from its article.
A quick and forgettable buck for the NBA team, maybe. But to the young entertainment technology company, hoping to make a name for itself in the U.S. market, the partnership represented the first of potentially many with other North American franchises. “The company is in talks with other major sports franchises,” Menelly, the Color Star communications director, said when he spoke with Defector in late December. “I can’t mention the actual sports or the names of the franchises at this time, but I can tell you that there are a number of discussions with not just one but a handful of major well-known athletes as well as major franchises, like the 76ers.”
Menelly celebrated Color Star’s “engagement with Shaquille O’Neal and other NBA / sports franchises” in a December LinkedIn post that included a photo taken inside the Washington Wizards’ home arena where a Jumbotron message welcomed Color Star on behalf of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Wizards, Capitals, and Mystics. That photo showed a Color Star representative—a man also present at the Sixers signing ceremony—posing with Jim Van Stone, the chief commercial officer and president of business operations at Monumental. It’s not clear when the meeting was or whether anything came of it. Van Stone was unavailable when Defector reached out to Monumental last week, but an MSE spokesperson has promised to follow up soon. If nothing else, it appears Color Star has indeed been shopping for backups.
With the 76ers deal now kaput and no real North American marketing presence to fall back on, the question becomes where Color Star goes from here. The answer—beyond threatening to sue several self-employed bloggers even further into oblivion—for now appears to include more sketchy advertorials, like the one Color Star recently placed in The Guardian Nigeria News, boasting that they are “soon set to turn the world’s once long-shot hopes of stardom into a truly feasible digital reality.” There is something adorably sincere about this regular stream of press releases and advertorials: A recent one published with Cision PR Newswire demonstrates a capacity for delivering a functional scrollbar, a level of technical complexity that often appears to thwart Color Star’s in-house webmasters. Capetian also appeared Tuesday on video for a short interview with something called SNN Network, which bills itself as “the Official YouTube Channel for the Small-, Micro- and Nano-cap markets,” further fueling our desire to find and shake hands with this tech entrepreneur.
Defector has once again used Color Star’s provided QR codes to download the latest version of Color World to a mobile phone. Long gone is the howlingly bizarre 90-second autoplay self-advertisement; gone, too, is the boring and insane 11-minute autoplay David Villa biopic. Color World now presents 60 autoplaying seconds of cycling graphics announcing the Jan. 28 launch of the metaverse, and nothing else. There is still no menu of celebrity-led educational courses, nor any other indication of a functioning, interactive service, to say nothing of the coffee shop, Central Park, and shopping mall that evidently constitute “the three points” of the Color World metaverse. Now that Capetian has established contact with Defector—and once and for all verified that there is a real person on the other end of our unanswered emails, direct messages, and phone calls—we look forward to finally getting some answers to our many questions about this app! If all else fails, we now have a physical address, via the signature on Capetian’s threatening email:
Update (4:36 p.m. ET): In response to emailed questions about the termination of the partnership, Lucas Capetian told Defector on Wednesday afternoon, “Our company visits require an appointment, not a private phone call, which is not called an interview. That is harassment. We are happy to be interviewed by friendly media.”
Douglas Menelly, who spoke to Defector at length about Color Star in his role as the company’s spokesperson on Dec. 22, replied to a text message seeking comment on Wednesday afternoon to let us know his corporate communications firm’s relationship with Color Star ended in December. Menelly declined to respond to further inquiries about Color Star now that he is not currently providing Color Star with “any investor relations services or any spokespersons services or contracting with them in any capacity.” He recommended contacting Color Star directly to have our questions answered.
Know anything about Color Star, the now-dead 76ers partnership, or anything else related to this bizarre continuing story? Contact information for this story’s authors can be found here, or please feel free to contact us via Defector’s tips line.