The Portuguese joined the Al Nassr club in Saudi Arabia for a staggering salary. He what to continue his thriving business from a working point of view, failing to remain competitive on a sporting level.
Vincent Chaudel is a marketing expert and co-founder of the Sport Business Observatory, the Think Tank of the In&Sport company whose vocation is to provide analyzes and decryptions on the evolution of sport, both in its economic and social dimensions. Article written in collaboration with François-Xavier Gérard, member of the Sport Business Observatory and expert in organizational management.
Between the failure to qualify for his Champions League, then a “violent” departure from Manchester United and his bench in the selection, 2022 will have been a particularly difficult period for Cristiano Ronaldo. In any case sportingly. Because professionally, the Portuguese has carefully built a network of multi-sectoral and thriving companies. Something to reassure anyone worried about his future, if there was one… before yesterday’s news broke: CR7 has signed with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr for €200m.
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Traces of the genesis of his career, which began at the age of 17 under the orders of Laslo Boloni at Sporting CP on the eve of his 38th birthday, will remain: 949 club games, 701 goals, 223 assists and countless records and awards. But his divorce from ManU on 22 November the latter precipitated the already largely initiated questions about his future, without his whims having so far been able to succeed. His request to sign for a top European club had annihilated any attempt to seduce more “exotic” formations. His sudden unemployment has certainly changed the situation, especially since at the end of the World Cup, CR7 declared that he wanted to accompany the Seleção for Euro 2024.
The misfortune of some was the happiness of others, the clubs of the Gulf countries were able to take advantage of his presence in the region during the World Cup to come and dry his tears. Faced with the closure of the doors of the European summits to the candidacy of CR7, the flavors of the Middle East therefore have a different flavour. Saudi league club Al-Nassr hit the jackpot on a 2.5-year lease for a €200m salary, a nice inflation compared to his €30m annual touchdown with the Red Devils. Double blow for the Saudis who recorded a “victory” against the Qatari neighbor because according to the Portuguese newspaper DiskAntero Henrique, the current sporting director of the Qatar League, would also have entered into discussions with the Lusitanian… but too late.
The incredible leverage of social networks
The European purposes of inadmissibility and the oriental mania converge towards the same diagnosis: if CR7 is close to the end of its high-level sporting competitiveness, it remains bankable at a purely entrepreneurial level. Because Cristiano is now and above all a very powerful brand. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has developed many partnerships as he has developed his image and presence around the world. Social media records started very early. In 2016, hookit revealed that the number of Portuguese followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms was 200 million, more than LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry combined (187 million in total), and far more than NBA, NFL , MLB, NHL and MLS combined (126 million). It is clear that he has blown away the competition as the second most followed athlete in the world, Lionel Messi, then had “only” 122 million subscribers.
From the same source, his 2.3 million interactions and views per post across all platforms would generate $1.8 million worth of sponsored post. A boon for its partner brands such as Nike, which did not hesitate to sign a lifetime contract estimated by Forbes at between 22 and 28 million dollars a year in 2016. A rare event given that the swoosh brand had only done so two times before: in 2015 with LeBron James for an estimated 450 million dollars and probably already amortized (only in 2016 the NBA player’s sneaker line had brought Nike 400 million dollars), and from 1988 with Michael Jordan not on a contract but on a collaboration with his brand.
The Even Juventus has not complained about the notoriety of CR7. In just 7 days after announcing her arrival in Italy, the Old Lady had registered +3.4 million followers for a record engagement rate of 27.58%. In 2019, her planetary Aura allowed them to sell 520,000 tunics in the first 24 hours of their releases for $62.4 million. Even if the club usually only earns between 10 and 15% on the sale of shirts, the net profit in a day for the Turinese was still around 9 million dollars.
On a personal note, “El Bicho” also benefits from its loyal and growing community. In the same year 2019, he received more income through Instagram than through his contract with Juventus. Paid $34 million by his club, his sponsored income on the Instagram platform alone was $47.8 million, with an average of $975,000 received per post. The culmination of building his image, his brand and his communities in parallel with an already intense sports career. In May 2022, Ronaldo became the number one influencer in the world, with over 700 million followers. Each of his sponsored Instagram posts is worth $2.4 million.
A fast and consistent monetization strategy
And Cristiano Ronaldo’s appetite didn’t stop there. In 2015, he joined forces with Portuguese hotel giant Pestana ($1.4 billion in revenue) for a reported $40 million to found the Pestana CR7 chain. The factory in Funchal, the player’s hometown, supported by its CR7 museum, was the first to see the light in 2016. And since this boy leaves nothing to chance, today the brand is present in Lisbon, the city of its first club , in Madrid, where he spent 9 seasons and in Times Square in New York, which would demonstrate his interest in Major League Soccer… At the beginning of the year, the Marrakech complex was added to the list and a brand in Paris is been mentioned for some time. Through its other brands, also widely present and marketed in its hotels, the marker enters the daily life of its consumers: underwear, shoes, glasses, perfumes, jeans, blankets, etc. most often in the form of joint ventures with well-established players in their sector.
Other sectors, Cristiano Ronaldo has collaborated with Rafael Nadal and Paul Gasol in restaurants and real estate projects of the Madrid investment fund Marbel Capital. The first two would have invested almost 1 million euros according to Sports World, in particular for a high-end restaurant “Toto and Tatel” in… Dubai in Qatar! His joint venture with gyms has also given rise to the CR7 Crunch Fitness centres, which now have 13 locations out of the 100-150 announced in 2016. The Portuguese has also acquired a 50% stake in the Insparya company, which specializes in hair transplants and whose total investment would be around 25 million euros. The group has 10 centers in Spain, Portugal and Italy, managed in part by his partner, the Argentine-Spanish model Georgina Rodríguez, who has been appointed administrator. Finally, the businessman owns a private jet charter company. Count €3,000 per hour, for an estimated profit of €1 million in the year 2018.
It’s hard to know how much these different activities cost and carry. In any case, Cristiano Ronaldo seems to position the pricing of his brands at a relatively accessible level, suggesting aiming for a fairly large target that perfectly corresponds to the income level of his followers. This cross-selling strategy allows the player to attract his sports fan base towards the consumption of his personal products. Huge savings on customer acquisition costs for brands able to “buy” this super ambassador.
One thing is certain, the transition between his sporting career and that of an entrepreneur has been conscientiously built upstream and shows perfect coherence in terms of personal branding. Known for being first in training and last out, and for adhering to an irreproachable lifestyle, CR7 has succeeded in the challenge of monetizing his powerful brand arguably better than anyone to date. For once, let’s get out of the eternal sterile debates of the best player in the world or not, and recognize the investment and professionalism needed to embark on successful sports and non-sports careers, so far.
Last example, his shot for Louis Vuitton, unimaginable a few years ago, on which he plays chess alongside his lifelong rival Lionel Messi. An illustration of the end of his purely sporting interests and the rise of his purely business interests. With over $55 million in sponsorship revenue and his new Saudi contract, Ronaldo reiterates that he is the king of football… of business.