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?

That question is going to very much be in play in the coming weeks as the alleged rape charges against Cristiano Ronaldo(@Cristiano) play out both in the courts of law and public opinion.

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 (@EASPORTSwhich 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.

The Portada Brands-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Where those [deals] go will be a big issue not just for athlete marketing, but could have implications on the fast-rising Serie A valuations…

Some brands, such as his CR7 underwear line with the Italian fashion brand Yamamay (@Yamamayhave 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

What: Brazilian all-time great Ronaldo has agreed to purchase La Liga side Real Valladolid for just over US $35 million.
Why it matters: His ownership gives immediate credibility to the squad, though the challenges of ownership are many, even for someone of Ronaldo’s noted business acumen.

Sometimes iconic figures as owner of clubs work out well, but sometimes they can be humbling. Ask Miami Marlins (@Marlinsowner Derek Jeter, whose first year running baseball operations as the main part of his CEO role and minority ownership how quickly cheers can turn to quizzical looks.

La Liga (@LaLigaEN), which has certainly made its share of waves and generated more buzz than usual as the 2018 season starts, did so again this week, when another of the world’s brightest stars assumed a new ownership position that can have global implications.

This week it was announced that Brazilian icon Ronaldo (@Ronaldois set to become the president of La Liga club Valladolid after paying €30 million (a little over US $35 million) to become their leading shareholder.

The move for Ronaldo is seen as a natural progression in the game for one of its biggest stars…

The deal will bring an end to months of negotiations between Valladolid (@realvalladolidand Ronaldo and will mean the former striker has beaten back Mexican businessman Ernesto Tinajero to take control of the club.

Valladolid, one of the clubs which can gain great value by aggressively pushing its brand around the world in the coming year, was promoted to La Liga this season and started by drawing with Girona and losing 1-0 to Barcelona.

The move for Ronaldo is seen as a natural progression in the game for one of its biggest stars, who previously had a stake in the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL before the league folded, and has expressed a desire to run a club in Spain or England before becoming involved in the Brazilian Football Federation. Having star power associated with a club not named Real Madrid or Barcelona will be a boon for LaLiga as it looks to grow its overall brand globally outside of those two elite clubs.

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The casual fan awareness of a club like Valladolid will only go up with Ronaldo in the boardroom, spending time on the business side vs. the pitch. It also can’t hurt the current push for La Liga to expand its window of matches beyond its borders, and is the exact type of club brand recognition that the league will need to attract larger media contracts and more global brand partners, especially in growth areas like the United States and China, into the future.

Now, of course, having Ronaldo at the helm is not the only answer for a club that is still in a mix of relegation going forward for the short term. A star player now off the field can only do so much, and the political football of signing and developing players is one of culture and overall business expertise for the long term.

However for a league looking to grow its footprint, having elite stars involved in club operations more widely certainly doesn’t hurt, especially as the push for new markets and new business opportunities becomes a much larger focus. Ronaldo the player was always one to watch; now Ronaldo the businessman is in the spotlight as well.

What: Recent reports peg the per-Instagram post fee for Cristiano Ronaldo at US $750,000, tops among all global athletes and third for all “influencers.”
Why it matters: Brands are increasingly utilizing direct social media networking outlets as viable marketing opportunities, reflected in the fees celebrities charge for this access.

There are many ways to define “celebrity” these days. “Q-Score,” for a personality, brand or company, is one measure. Social media “likes,” “retweets” and such are a form of currency. And then, there’s cold, hard cash.

A report last week in SportsBusiness Daily, via New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) noted that soccer star Ronaldo (@Cristianois near the upper echelon of celebrities in another category: fee for sponsored Instagram post, at a cool $750,000 per “SEND.” For fans who might have thought the Juventus forward just loved his good night’s sleep and body scent and new line of kicks, well, there’s a shroud in Turin we’d like to sell you, too.

Some of the brands associating themselves  with Ronaldo … are SleepScore, Nike, Sixpad and EA Sports

With noted “famous for being famous” celebs like Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner) reportedly pulling down $1 million per post, it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone of the global popularity and interest—and even outsized accomplishment—as the Portuguese star would command a significant figure for spreading sponsors’ word through social media. Still, Ronaldo is less than a household name in mainstream America, which shows that companies looking for global reach have identified him as a leading influencer. Per the same NZME item, the fee is almost twice the 2017 rate; the British Website Hooper estimates that it may double by next year. The outlet also estimates that only singer Selena Gomez has a higher per-post fee than Ronaldo.

Some of the brands associating themselves with Ronaldo—and his 139 million followers on the photo- and video-based social media outlet—are SleepScore (@SleepScore), Nike (@nikefootball), Sixpad (@SIXPAD_officialand EA Sports (@EASPORTSas well has his own offshoot brand, Cristiano Ronaldo Fragrances.

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Other sports stars identified as high earners via their Instagram feeds include soccer players Neymar, Lionel Messi and David Beckham amidst a celebrity influencer top-10 that also includes UFC’s Conor McGregor and NBA superstar Stephen Curry.

While the true “influence” of such posts is not always known (how many posts of Ronaldo stretching or practicing or signing for fans should fit in between Nike football ads?), there’s no doubt that marketers have bought in to the hype—literally.

What: World Cup activations and partnerships have begun as the tournament kicked off last weekend.
Why it matters: Companies are leveraging stars like Lionel Messi and Ronaldo while soccer interest is highest globally.

We will certainly see more brands looking to grab viral opportunities and ride the wave of success as the FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCupplays out. Here is a look at some of the early partnerships announced as we enter the first full week of group play.

Kellogg’s Serves Soccer: Taking advantage of the early start times on the East Coast of the U.S., Kellogg’s (@KelloggsUS ‏) NYC Café teamed with Eat Soccer (@EatSoccerTV), a soccer lifestyle agency, for a Morning Match breakfast experience. The event kicked off on June 15 for the Egypt vs. Uruguay match at 8 a.m., and continues on weekdays through Friday. The store will feature multiple TVs broadcasting the games, as well as what Kellogg’s described as an “immersive kitchen.” The café will open an Instagram-friendly nook with lighting, props and different angles for visitors to snap photos in their soccer jerseys.

Fans can reserve a spot with $20-tickets offering unlimited access to Kellogg’s cereal bar, milk, coffee and tea. The café will have more than 30 ingredients, including rum-roasted bananas and marshmallows, on hand for the event.

In a series of immersive videos, viewers are shown a playful side of Messi and local social media influencers as they share a series of unexpected moments.

Messi’s Mark: Before Saturday’s penalty miss against Iceland, Ooredoo (@ooredooand Lionel Messi teamed up for a new campaign. In a series of immersive videos, viewers are shown a playful side of Messi and local social media influencers as they share a series of unexpected moments.

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China Activation:  FIFA partner Dalian Wanda (@DalianWandareleased a new short film that tells the story of a group of young Chinese footballers who will be given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Russia. The film documents a group from Wanda’s “Rising Stars” program who will have the opportunity to step onto the pitch at the World Cup as one of the official World Cup flag bearers. The players carried the official FIFA flag onto the pitch during Spain vs. Portugal on Friday and Belgium vs. Panama on Monday.

Sleeping with Ronaldo: Cristiano Ronaldo was announced as a brand ambassador for SleepScore (@SleepScore). The move comes after SleepScore, which specializes in sleep measurement and improvement, launched a new mobile app, which Ronaldo will help promote.

Picture This: Vivo, the official smartphone sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup has launched its music and photography marketing activations for fans, empowering them to be more than just part of an audience, under its global campaign titled, “My Time, My FIFA World Cup™”, which comprises Vivo’s Super Time project and Vivo Super Fan photographer program. It calls upon fans to make this tournament one to remember, to be truly extraordinary and fully experience, capture and share extraordinary moments around them through their smartphones.

Cover Image: Ooredoo

What: Cristiano Ronaldo tries his hand at American football in a new Super Bowl ad.
Why it matters: Ronaldo’s star status is unassailable internationally, but still emerging in the U.S. beyond soccer fandom.

First we saw him in his underwear in a hotel hallway, now he is trying to play American football in a spot that ran in select markets during the Super Bowl. There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo is a high priced, and highly visible, figure that is trying to get Altice USA some great and humorous exposure in markets where the media company is looking to continue to grow brand.

Wikimedia Commons/Soccer.ru

However, there is a question with both spots, one in which the star is locked out of his room and gets photographed by a maid who then splashes the photo on social media, and the other in which he is using his soccer skills in American football garb. Does the general public actually know who he is through the spots? It’s a pretty big question, and an assumption that is still TBD.

Ronaldo’s global brand and his place on the world stage as a World Cup and Real Madrid star does make him a household name in the United States IF you follow global soccer and IF you are paying attention to the sports marketing business. It is an audience that is surely growing as soccer takes even more hold in the U.S., and with the coming World Cup, it will grow even more. But he does not play in the States, and La Liga’s deal with beIN SPORTS as their main rights holder in the United States limits the weekly exposure to an English speaking audience that can see Premier League matches on NBC and Bundesliga on FOX.

Soccer is growing, the World Cup is coming, and the growing Latino demo in the U.S. has a much better affinity toward image recognition of a star than fans of the NFL or even MLB or the NBA.

Is the assumption in the spot that the mainstream audience does not know who he is? A quick poll of non-soccer fans thought he was everything from a pop star to a model to a baseball player, with those with an interest in “The Beautiful Game” knowing immediately who he was. Still, that may be a fraction of an audience, while the bigger group can probably be grasped with a little better brand identification during the spots, which run very regularly in areas where Altice is available.

Ronaldo is as big as it gets

“There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo has perhaps one of the greatest followings of any athlete on the planet today. Altice USA is smart to be able to take advantage of his star power, especially as they market towards millennials and a Latino audience,” said Ray Katz, co-founder of ROI Sports Group and professor at Columbia University. “However Ronaldo is a superstar in a sport that is still emerging at least in the U.S. Consequently assuming that the television viewing audience, particularly in non-soccer programming, knows who he is and what he is doing is still a pretty broad leap. That can easily be addressed in a little more identification in either or both of these highly visible spots. The best practice here would be total integration with respect to planning and execution between brand managers, the sports agency, the media buying agency, and the creative agency.”

Now going forward is Altice USA making a strong gamble with Cristiano Ronaldo? For sure. Soccer is growing, the World Cup is coming, and the growing Latino demo in the U.S. has a much better affinity toward image recognition of a star than fans of the NFL or even MLB or the NBA. The spots are also humorous, which highlight another part of the elite star’s personality and give the images a viral play that will go beyond the regular spot run. They also set Altice USA apart from the other potential providers doing the same old, so there is a good amount of recall.

It is certainly different to see a global star engaged in promotion, and more will surely be coming. Seeing Ronaldo discover American football also plays well, what might be a little better is if everyone knew who he was, and a little better ID could do the trick.


Image at top: Wikimedia Commons/Ruben Ortega