World Cup 2014: battle of the brands
Veteran German brand Adidas and brash US upstart Nike go head-to-head this World Cup in Brazil as the competition for football market supremacy heats up.PT4M10S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-39dyg 620 349 June 2, 2014
It is a debate even the World Cup is unlikely to settle: who is the greater player - Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? No matter how they perform in Brazil, football will remain split down the middle as to which is the greatest footballer of his generation.
However, there is one area where there is no comparison, a domain in which one of them is now threatening to conquer not just the football universe but sport itself. When it comes to sheer marketability, there is not a footballer on the planet that comes close to matching CR7.
With more Facebook likes than Coca-Cola, 38 times more Twitter followers than British prime minister David Cameron and recognised, according to a recent marketing survey, by almost 84 per cent of the world's population - Messi clocks in with 76 per cent, and Wayne Rooney a comparatively paltry 56 per cent - the Portuguese's commercial influence is only rivalled by David Beckham. And even Leytonstone's finest will be left in the shade if Ronaldo makes a World Cup his own in the coming weeks.
A marketer's dream: Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Reuters
Forbes's annual list of the world's highest paid athletes saw Ronaldo confirmed as the Beckham's successor as football's highest-grossing star. The 29-year-old earned $US44 million ($46.9 million) in 2013, almost half of that in endorsements from his stable of sponsors.
Those now include a sportswear manufacturer (Nike), electronics firm (Samsung), airline (Emirates), bank (Banco Espirito Santo), cosmetics product (Clear) and charity (Save the Children). Tag Heuer, Herbalife and Ronaldo's own range of 'CR7' underwear complete the line-up of backers all poised to exploit his presence on sport's biggest stage.
Yet, if Beckham's earnings last year are anything to go by, Ronaldo has barely begun to realise his true money-making potential.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most recognised people in the world. Photo: AFP
The former England captain raked in £25 million alone in endorsements, twice as much as Ronaldo, who finished below him in ninth place in Forbes's list. A strong showing in Brazil, following on from winning the Fifa Ballon d'Or and the Champions League with Real Madrid, should change all that.
"The World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world and as such, big brands, official partners or otherwise, will, and are, using its global appeal to drive sales," said Paul Smith, founder and CEO of Repucom, who conducted the survey into the world's most marketable players.
"Ronaldo is an endorser's dream. His value is as important to the teams he plays for as they are for the companies that endorse him."
The Real Madrid star has a number of commercial endorsement deals. Photo: Supplied
Yet Ronaldo's rise from a nondescript suburb on Madeira to a cover star of Vogue and the unofficial face of Brazil 2014 has not happened by chance. Rather, it is the product of a carefully calculated strategy from the team behind him, led by his long-term agent, and godfather to his young son, Jorge Mendes: this has not only pushed Ronaldo through the traditional forms of marketing space - the billboards and television adverts - but, crucially, on social media, where Ronaldo puts all his rivals in the shade.
He is already the sports star with the most Facebook likes, with 83.3 million, while his Twitter account has attracted 26.6 million followers - 14th in the global standings, just ahead of Shakira but still shy of Jennifer Lopez.
And while @Cristiano reveals next to nothing about the man, the endless endorsements of his various commercial partners and photographs of himself at the many sponsors' events underline why he is considered such a precious commodity: this is a man who knows how to play the marketing game.
The result is a brand that appeals to a fan base well beyond his native Portugal.
"You have many, many people from around the world supporting Portugal because they love Ronaldo - it's a really interesting social phenomenon," said Eduardo Dias, co-founder and chief executive of bViva, and who runs 'Viva Ronaldo', a social website and mobile gaming app based around matches played by the forward, including those at the World Cup.
"When Portugal played Sweden in the play-offs in November, we had several Swedish fans very happy because Portugal went through.
"And if you go to our Twitter account, you will see Brazilian guys saying they want Portugal to win the World Cup. I thought, 'What's happening here? This so weird'. But it's true."
Part of the reason for Ronaldo's global reach lies in his lack of an obvious home: the boy from Madeira who charmed Manchester as a teenager and then conquered Spain.
As Dias points out: "In terms of marketing, it's good that he can go somewhere and answer anyone in English, and in Spanish and in Portuguese."
Words are one thing, but Ronaldo is also savvy enough to know that nothing sells him better than his body - hence the revealing Vogue photo shoot with his supermodel girlfriend Irina Shayk, and the carefully choreographed goal celebration after his penalty in the Champions League final, which saw him rip off his shirt and stand - muscles flexed - just long enough for the cameras to get their fill.
"In terms of his appeal to us, athleticism was a key part of it," says Brian McKinley, the senior director of worldwide alliances for HerbalLife, another Ronaldo sponsor. "He is somebody who embodies that athletic side of it and that's undoubtedly a great bonus."
Barring any unforeseen scandals, the World Cup in one of the globe's most rapidly expanding marketplaces, and a Portuguese-speaking one at that, and should only add another layer of gloss to Ronaldo's reputation, even if all but one of his personal sponsors - Emirates - are unable to associate their products directly with a tournament which has its own official backers.
Nike is best positioned to circumvent this thanks to shirt-sponsorship contracts and boot deals they have with various teams and players, and Ronaldo is spearheading the company's 'Risk Everything' campaign, launched in time for the World Cup in a direct challenge to their great rivals, and official Fifa partner, Adidas.
Sure enough, the most recent post on his Twitter account yesterday morning was a link to the video promoting the campaign.
"Cristiano's importance to Nike is clear," Jenny Simmons, the firm's UK communication manager, said. "He has been prominent in campaigns since he signed for the brand."
It seems inconceivable that a firm of Nike's influence will not have more developed plans to capitalise on Ronaldo's influence in Brazil, although Simmons declined to offer any specifics. Either way, Brand Ronaldo appears unstoppable.
"This tournament takes it to a whole other level in terms of his reach and exposure," McKinley said.
"He's in the prime of his career and at the pinnacle of the growth of football internationally."
So can he become sport's most bankable athlete? "You could say he already is."
The Telegraph, London