#360business: Cristiano Ronaldo aiming to conquer Asia

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Star attraction: Cristiano.

Last week saw a key announcement in regards to Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s future. It was nothing to do with summer transfer rumours or incessant gossip related to the identity of his latest girlfriend. Instead, it was something to be found in the staid business sections of a newspaper rather than the more salacious parts.

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The 30-year-old took the plunge and sold all image rights not related to his club for six years to Singaporean tycoon and Valencia owner Peter Lim, through his Mint Media company. For a man whose face has adorned a thousand billboards, the announcement marks a notable step as Ronaldo grants control about how his name is utilised commercially in exchange for a cash-settlement.

“I am very excited to announce my latest deal with Mint Media, owned by my good friend, Peter Lim from Singapore, to acquire my image rights,” a statement on his official website read. “This is a very strategic move for me and my management team to take the Cristiano Ronaldo brand to the next level, especially in Asia.”

Image-rights deals are nothing new in the sport, being regularly factored into contracts with clubs for more than a decade. Fellow Manchester United alumnus David Beckham was one of the first at the turn of the millenium, working out a percentage value of each commerical deal split between himself and the Red Devils.

The decision marks the latest chapter in the increased commercialisation of football, elite players cashing in on the huge fame gained by their incredible sporting aptitude.

For determining his monetary worth, Ronaldo’s 36.3 million followers on Twitter and 103m fans on Facebook are now as valuable as his 313 goals for Madrid. It is these characteristics which Hong Kong-based Mint will now aggressively promote as they search ways to make good their investment in the FIFA Ballon d’Or holder.

For Ronaldo, the deal is all about maximising earning potential as his career ticks slowly towards the end – with a new focus on the burgeoning Asian scene.

“Asia is a huge and fast growing market in which Ronaldo already has a presence, but has yet to realise the true financial potential of his brand,” Professor Simon Chadwick, Chair in Sport Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University and Consultant Research Director at Qatar’s Josoor Institute, told Sport360.

“Lim and his company bring specialist knowledge and an existing presence in these Asian markets. The Ronaldo brand is now a mature one that has delievered a huge amount of value. But the brand probably needs the added impetus that only specialised, expert representation can bring.

“It can only be a matter of two or three years before Ronaldo starts to slow down as a player and is potentially taken over by younger, more commercially appealing players. By selling his image rights now, Ronaldo secures income while maximising the returns from what is now an ageing brand.

“There are likely to be performance clauses with him which will motivate them to market Ronaldo even harder. As for Ronaldo, brand awareness in Asia is very high – for instance, the number of followers he has on Chinese social media [Ronaldo had 11.5m followers on microblogging website Tencent Weibo by World Cup 2014].

“This link-up is a way of trying to monetise the brand awareness and fan engagement that he already has, while also building new business in the region.”

Ronaldo has never been shy in joining up with sponsors, his long-term Nike boots deal going alongside past-and-present associations with Coca-Cola, Castrol, Konami, Banco Espirito Santo, Motorola, Jacob & Co, KFC, Tag Heuer, Emirates Airline and Samsung.

Recent developments have even seem him pop up in video game ‘Ronaldo & Hugo: Super Skaters’, while his CR7 fashion line has been going since 2006. But there is still significant scope for growth.

Forbes magazine’s ‘2015 World’s Highest-Paid Athlete’ list named Ronaldo the third-highest salaried on $52.6m but only the 10th-highest earning in endorsements – his $27m less than half of tennis star’s Roger Federer’s leading $58m. With this in mind, how will Mint proceeed to make this a financially-lucrative partnership?

“They will be selling the Ronaldo brand as far and as wide as possible,” Chadwick said. “More specifically, they will be seeking to tie-up exclusive deals in different territories – not unlike what Manchester United has been doing by signing different sponsors in different Asian countries.

“In addition, I suspect that they will be seeking to sign deals that last for as long a time as possible. Both they and Ronaldo will be looking to harvest revenues while there is still significant value left in his brand.”

Ronaldo’s fame and the success of his brand has made him one of the most widely-recognised people on the planet. Chadwick believes his achievements make him sport’s most-marketable asset.

He said: “A recent top-50 produced by magazine Sports Pro identified female tennis star Eugenie Bouchard as the world’s most marketable athlete. While I think she and her representatives have a keen appreciation for marketing and the revenues it can generate, I don’t think she is the world’s most marketable star.

“Roger Federer just keeps on going and remains hugely powerful from a commercial perspective. David Beckham too – if one can still call him a sports star – continues to pull-in the money, while Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has certain attributes that maintain his global appeal.

“All that said though, right now I think Ronaldo is the one.”

The dominant storyline in football in recent years has been Ronaldo v Lionel Messi. The pair have swapped the Ballon d’Or/World Player of the Year award since 2008, while their club sides Madrid and Barcelona have battled for dominance.

The 28-year-old Argentina forward has a smaller list of sponsors including adidas, Electronic Arts and Gillette, their value in 2015 estimated by Forbes at $22m. As with all things about this interconnected pair, Chadwick thinks Messi is likely to follow suit in the coming years.

He said: “Messi has never been a stellar commercial property in the same way as Ronaldo. He has never pursued such revenues as aggressively as Ronaldo, nor is his brand as well defined or developed.

“A major reason for this situation is that Messi has preferred to focus on football rather than commercial activity. However, as Messi too heads towards 30-years-old and his playing career begins to enter its twilight, he might be more predisposed towards cashing-in on his ‘brand’.

“This is especially more likely to be the case if he stays at Barcelona. After all, Messi hasn’t had any of the transfer-fee pay days that most other players have had during their careers.”

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