Cristiano Ronaldo snatched the last world soccer player of the year title from Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, and the Real Madrid forward is winning the competition to be the sport’s top endorser on Facebook Inc. as well.
A post by the Portugal national team player is worth an average of $143,750 of advertising for the brand he’s endorsing, twice that of four-time player of the year Messi, according to research by Cologne, Germany-based consultancy Repucom using fan engagement and online advertising rates. A post by Argentina’s Messi is worth an average of $62,500, Repucom said.
Soccer players are dedicating time to social media with a view to commanding bigger endorsement deals, Max Barnett, Repucom’s head of digital in the U.K. who has advised footballers on strategy, said by telephone.
“Ronaldo is the king in Facebook,” Barnett said.
About “five or six” people work on Ronaldo’s social media, according to Luis Correia, chief executive officer of Lisbon-based Polaris Sports Ltd., which manages his image rights. A spokesman for Messi’s affairs who spoke on the condition of anonymity said by phone from Barcelona said he also has a “small team” focused on his Internet presence.
Ronaldo has 102.5 million Facebook followers to Messi’s 75.7 million, and the value is also created because the Real Madrid forward gets more “likes” and comments, according to Barnett. Only pop singer Shakira has more followers than Ronaldo, Barnett said.
Ronaldo’s social media team seeks optimum times to make posts, such as before the so-called “El Clasico” match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and is more sophisticated than many athletes whose social media is “managed by their mates” or deluged with advertising, Barnett said.
“If players are serious about monetizing their fan base they have to tread a narrow path” between behind-the-scenes photos and showing off sponsor logos, which turns off followers, Barnett said.
Ronaldo’s sponsors include Nike Inc., (NKE) airline Emirates and watchmaker Tag Heuer. He earns $22.5 million a year in endorsements compared to $21.5 million for Messi, according to Repucom, which based those findings on media reports. Correia, whose uncle Jorge Mendes is Ronaldo’s agent, said he is already tapping Ronaldo’s “digital footprint” when negotiating deals with sponsors.
“People like Cristiano because he has a strong personality,” Correia said. “His popularity goes beyond soccer.”