What: Allegations against Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo have made some of his partners take a pause until his legal issues are settled.
Why it matters: How those partners react should the allegations against the world’s highest paid athlete prove true will have a great effect on how brands view off-field transgressions moving forward.
Could pending legal trouble for one of the world’s most marketable personalities damage global brands beyond the field?
The new star of Juventus (@juventusfc), one of the world’s biggest and most marketable personalities, has already seen companies not just monitor but start to pull back from existing campaigns. The first has been EA Sports (@EASPORTS) which deleted his image from the cover picture of FIFA 19 on its website, while others, including Nike (@Nike) and DAZN have expressed “concern” over the accusations made by American woman Kathryn Mayorga in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2009.
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Some brands, such as his CR7 underwear line with the Italian fashion brand Yamamay (@Yamamay) have continued business as usual, with a full page ad in La Gazzetta dello Sport last Saturday. The team itself has been careful to point to “presumption of innocence” and monitors the goings on while the Serie A season continues along. However, the BBC reported that Juventus’ shares “dropped sharply on Friday” after criticism of the club’s handling of the allegations, after hitting record highs after his July signing.
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How devastating could the charges be should they play out? “Brands really are taking as hard a look now as ever on the issues of off-field behavior, and in an era of ‘Me Too’ any transgressions that involve women are going to be looked at even harder,” said Chris Lencheski, longtime sports marketing expert and professor at Columbia University. “Here we are talking about legal issues against one of the world’s biggest brand ambassadors and all of those involved are going to very carefully weigh risk and reward as this plays out. It’s going to be a very big story to follow, one of the biggest ever in terms of a global personality in the prime of his career in terms of endorsements.”
The 33-year-old was the highest-paid athlete in the world for the second straight year in 2017 pocketing £70m – including £25m in mega licensing deals. Where those go will be a big issue not just for athlete marketing, but could have implications on the fast-rising Serie A valuations, not to mention the global soccer marketing industry.
While no reason to panic yet, there could be some storm clouds on the endorsement horizon as one of the world’s biggest brands ends up in a limelight that neither he nor his partners have chosen.
cover image: credit Ruben Ortega