RONALDO vs. MESSI: Choose your brand!
On one of my latest trips to Brazil while working with several football teams, I learnt that many ex-football players have a common problem: they are not able to maximize their value using their ‘popular image,’ and a few years after their career was over, they found themselves almost back at their starting point. It’s not a secret that when football players become popular, they are approached by many people who want to take advantage of their popularity. These people often suggest different kinds of investments; the football players usually have absolutely no idea whether they will prove profitable. Most of the time, in fact, they have absolutely no idea how to run these side projects, and they leave it completely to their agents or other third parties. Because football players do not have direct control of these activities, they risk failure and an incredible waste of money.
In this era of digital transformation, where becoming popular on social media has become extremely profitable (think about Chiara Ferragni, Tim Ferris, and many others), every football player now has the chance to start a parallel business while still playing, something they can continue to build on and where they have more control, even after retiring from the game.
Most football players are already extensively using social media, but how can they make it profitable in the long run? The answer is clear: they have to go beyond being just a football player and become a brand that is a lifestyle icon.
Let’s take as an example two of the biggest brands in football today: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Two different backgrounds, two different personalities, two different brands.
Born on February 5th, 1985 in Funchal, the capital and chief port of Madeira, Ronaldo is the youngest of four children. He grew up in a humble family; his mother Dolores was a cook and his father a gardener. At the age of 12, he left Madeira for Lisbon where he played for Sporting Lisboa. It was here that he started his fantastic career as a professional football player. He was FIFA’s World Player of the Year five times and won the Champions League four times, being the all-time top scorer of this competition, followed by Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo likes to portray himself as the perfect athlete. He enjoys a rigorous diet, extremely intense training, a multitude of treatments to improve his performance, plenty of sleep, and an entire staff of people that helps him to be always in perfect shape.
Focused on his looks and image, every detail of his outfit is always carefully selected to stand out. His smile is always shining, and his hairstyle is always perfect, even after 90 minutes on the pitch. It’s been rumored that he has a personal hairstylist who takes care of his hair before the game, and even during half-time.
His image, combined with the extraordinary performances of his teams, has rewarded him with a huge number of fans all over the world. He’s been able to leverage his influencing power to build his business empire. Cristiano Ronaldo, aka CR7, is not only a football superstar, he’s also an extremely successful entrepreneur and one of the most famous celebrities in the world.
LIONEL "LEO" MESSI
Messi was born on June 24th, 1987 in Rosario, Argentina, and is the third of four children. His father Jorge was a steel factory manager and his mother Celia worked in a magnet manufacturing workshop. At the beginning of his career, he was diagnosed with a hormonal deficiency that slowed his growth. In fact, despite his incredible talent, he was smaller than most of his peers.
At the age of 13, FC Barcelona offered him the opportunity to move to Spain and they also paid for his hormonal treatments. For this, Messi is very grateful to Barcelona and this is one of the main reasons why he has always played there. Humble and grounded, he is very attached to his family. Every time he scores, he raises his arms to the sky and dedicates the goal to his grandmother Celia, who died when he was only 11 years old but was the most important person in his life.
Messi is considered by many experts as one of the best football players in the history of the game and he has become famous all over the world, just as his colleague Ronaldo has.
Like a Harley Davidson driver will never drive a Ducati, people who support and love Ronaldo will never be big fans of Messi, no matter which team they play on. Their brand personalities are so different. Indeed, supporting one of the two goes beyond the colors of their jersey: they are not just amazing football players, they are brands that communicate certain values and portray a specific lifestyle (like Ducati and Harley Davidson).
I’ve always been a huge supporter of SSC Napoli (my home town), and at the same time a big Roberto Baggio fan. It was not only about how he played, but also about what he represented. He was extremely humble, very family oriented, and always involved in socially responsibility activities. His ‘pigtail’ was famous all around the world and I never stopped being his fan, even after he missed the penalty against Brazil in the final of the World Cup in 1994, or when he played for Juventus (which for a Neapolitan is even worst).
So, what are the advantages of going beyond being a football player and becoming a brand?
Popularity: Using social media effectively can help to reach a consistent number of followers that will help the player to become more popular, access to a bigger audience, and be rewarded for any brand they promote on their pages. Ronaldo, for instance, has 123 million followers on Instagram (nearly the population of Turkey and Spain combined).
Additional revenue: Becoming a brand helps to create additional revenue streams that can continue even after their playing career is over. In fact, it extends that career off the pitch.
Fan engagement: Football players will be able to engage with their fans about issues other than their sports results and the color of the jersey they’re wearing. Stan Smith (Adidas), Jordan, R9 (Nike), CR7, RF are just a few examples of names that become actual brands that now are part of our daily life. Some of them become even more popular after their playing career ends.
Sponsorship: It will be easier for them to attract more sponsors from brands that are in line with the lifestyle they want to portray. From the company’s perspective, it becomes very important to choose testimonials or brand ambassadors that are in line with their strategic positioning and target group. IKEA would never use Zlatan Ibrahimović as a testimonial despite having a nationality connection (they’re both Swedish); the two brands have very different values. IKEA is very family oriented, warm, and inclusive, and altruistic. Ibrahimović is tougher, more competitive, and more focused on himself. Creating a partnership, in this case, would damage both images.
Defining which the best player is, Ronaldo or Messi, is debatable and questionable. Even the top football experts are divided between those who prefer the Argentinian, and those who prefer the Portuguese. On the other hand, in terms of marketing and self-branding, the decision is easier, as the strongest brand is clearly Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo's numbers on his social networks represent his (and his team's) ability to communicate the values of his personal brand to millions of fans across the globe. Hookit, an American agency that measures the social and digital media value for brands, recently shared key figures about the value of every post published by CR7 vs. Leo Messi. Ronaldo is generating roughly 4 times more interactions (likes and comments) than Messi. But, what does this means in terms of revenue? Brace yourselves because the numbers are gigantic: The average value per post shared by Ronaldo is more than $1.6 million while a post shared by Messi is ‘only’ valued $383,000.
Moreover, Ronaldo is much more active in sponsoring brands with 580 posts against 146 posts from Messi; thus, the total value for the media generated by Ronaldo in one year is about… well, you do the math.
You might hate them, or you might love them for what they stand for, but you can’t be indifferent towards them. This is common with any successful brand (like Apple, Coca-Cola, Diesel, Beckham, etc.). Alfred Adler, a student of Freud, mapped the key personality dimensions of brands (or human beings). Marketing teams often use this map to describe the positioning of their brands (in the car industry, for example, Aston Martin would go in the area of Power, BMW close to Vitality, Mini Cooper near Enjoyment, Toyota at Conviviality, with Volvo in Security). While doing the same work for some of the most important football players, we can clearly see how different their brands are.
Such self-branding work applied to football players will help companies to see with whom they should partner in a sponsorship deal worth millions of dollars to create values for their customers. After all, popularity is a terrible thing to waste, and wasted it will be if not monetized and extended. Companies are looking less and less for football players and more and more for lifestyle icons who can become brands that positively align and enhance with their brand.