#360business: Neymar growing into football's biggest brand

Andy Lewis 08:01 15/06/2015
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Nike ambassador: Neymar Jr.

When Neymar stroked home the clinching goal in the 2015 Champions League final, he did so wearing a swoosh on his Barcelona shirt and with the help of the brand new Nike Hypervenom II boots on his feet. Such facts exist as a rudimentary method for the American sportswear giant to quantify the bang they get for their buck, and with Neymar the returns are already stacking up.

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The Brazilian is not just a member of the exclusive club of ‘Nike athletes’, he is quickly becoming the poster boy of their football division. For now Cristiano Ronaldo remains intact as Nike’s leading man, but at precisely seven years his junior (the two share a birthday), Neymar is very much his heir apparent.

Indeed, to be in Berlin over the weekend of Barca’s treble-clinching 3-1 victory over Juventus was to be in the grip of Neymar’s burgeoning ubiquity. In the heart of the German capital he hovered above the thronging Europaplatz, an almost unfeasibly vast billboard depicting the footballing wunderkind and his gleaming new boots.

It’s a level of exposure he has long been earmarked for by Nike. Neymar signed his first sponsorship deal with the Oregon firm in 2009, aged just 17, after a breakthrough season with Santos. Two years later, by then a fully-fledged international and widely regarded as the brightest young talent in world football, he signed an astonishing 11-year multi-million dollar renewal which will run up until 2022.

Signing the world’s top athletic talent is seminal to Nike’s model and Neymar was viewed as a blue chip investment. Four years into that new contract and he has already sealed a blockbuster move to the Nou Camp, won virtually every title club football can offer and been the face of the 2014 World Cup in his homeland.

He turned 23 on February 5. Neymar is already a global icon and Nike know they have potentially the most marketable player in the game on their books.

“Personally, I think what we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg for him,” explained Max Blau, Nike’s vice president of football footwear. “I think this is just the beginning and we are all looking forward to working with him more in the years ahead. 

“He is so young, if you think about it, yet he has moved to Barcelona from Santos and is already playing in the Champions League final on the back of an incredible season.

“And from that standpoint, yes he is extremely young, but he is also very rich in terms of experience with everything he has done so far – coming from Brazil, playing in the World Cup and now with Barcelona – so there are already many achievements and it is a privilege to work with him and get our ideas and inspiration from him.

Neymar's Hypervenoms.

“He is an extremely marketable individual and is also very inspiring to our designers. We are going to start talking a lot more about who he is as a player (in the future).”

Nike’s confidence in the Brazilian is abundantly clear, and the figures back up their judgement. Last week when Forbes released their annual list of the world’s richest athletes, Neymar’s wideranging commercial appeal was laid bare.

First of all he was the youngest person in the top 100, with his $31 million (Dh114m) haul placing him 23rd overall. That also made him the fifth-highest paid footballer in the world behind Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale.

However, where Neymar differs from the rest is that he is the only player among football’s super rich elite who banks more from sponsorship and endorsements than he does from his salary. The Selecao star collects $14m a year from Barca, but tops that up with a further $17m from his various partnerships, including those with Red Bull, Panasonic, Unilever, Volkswagen, Konami, Beats by Dre and, of course, his long-standing relationship with Nike.

That figure represents around 55 per cent of his total income and in real terms only Ronaldo ($27m) and Messi ($22m) brought in more in endorsement revenue.

As a proportion of total income, the closest anyone gets to Neymar is Ronaldo’s 33.9 per cent. In both 2012 and 2013 SportsPro, a leading authority on the subject, acclaimed him as the most marketable sportsman on the planet based on his age, charisma, the strength of his lure in Brazil (one of the world’s most important emerging markets) and his crossover appeal. Neymar scores highly in every category.

As Forbes point out: “Neymar banked more from sponsors than from Barcelona, something marketing juggernaut David Beckham perfected before him. The difference: Neymar is doing this at 23, before his playing career peaks.

“Part of the reason for the tilt was a bump in sponsorships that came on the heels of the World Cup held in his homeland. His Nike and Beats By Dre commercials were lauded as two of the event’s most memorable.”

As for Nike, so far they have bestowed two custom-designed boots on Neymar, while he was also hand-picked to front the new Hypervenom II campaign.

Signature boots are not just given to any old player as Nike seeks to retain that sense of exclusivity. It’s the sort of special treatment which in the past has only been reserved for Ronaldo, and is a situation bringing great delight to the man himself.

“I have always been a Nike fan, ever since I was a kid, because my idol Robinho always wore Nike,” said Neymar. “This is why I was always a fan, because of him. After a few years I got a sponsorship which made me very happy because it is a brand that I have always liked.”

The mention of Robinho, whose career had probably peaked by the time he was Neymar’s age, seems particularly apt. As you feel while he continues to live the life of an elite footballer and produces the goods for Barcelona, Neymar’s potential, in both a sporting and commercial sense, is limitless.

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