Why CR7 Was Marketing Gold for Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s not just a player. He’s a marketing strategy. An ideology. A human entity whose name alone guarantees money and successful business. How do you replace the corporate spine of a football club?
Just to recap, Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Juventus, leaving the biggest club in the game, Real Madrid. It’s a thunderous move that has shaken the football landscape. There is now a cavernous, CR7-shaped hole in Los Blancos' marketing department.
Call me Mr. Corporate for even thinking this, but Real Madrid has a genuine branding problem on their hands. Allowing the world's greatest underwear model to leave the club for £80 million or whatever will cost them millions more in lost opportunities. He may need to pace himself on the pitch but off it no one can keep up with his endorsement mojo. Casual supporters chose Real Madrid and bought their shirts because he played there. I mean, will there suddenly be a mad rush for Gareth Bale kits or will the Juve no.7 now be the shirt in which to be seen? For the last nine years, success has followed Ronaldo on and off the pitch. Do you think it's going to say "go ahead without me" now?
The most obvious reason [next to the ridiculous six-pack abs] why the Portuguese forward is popular is his scoring talent. Who roots for a skilless player? Okay, Mourinho can't stop drooling over Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini and Jurgen Klopp has a poster of Jordan Henderson hanging over the pullout chesterfield in his office. Managers don't count. Even I tired of Nicklas Bendtner at Arsenal after he couldn’t score. People like a winner.
People also like the flashy style. Defending isn't an art. It's best practitioners are artisans, not artists. There's a difference. It takes a tactician or an old-school die-hard to keep a straight face when saying N'golo Kante is a better footballer than Eden Hazard. Goals win games and sell shirts. Ronaldo does both more than anyone else save Lionel Messi.
Proven Track Record
You don't walk into the Santiago Bernabeu dressing room on your potential. You first prove yourself at Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich. You know, small clubs. When Ronaldo arrived, he had scored 42 goals in a season for a Premier League club. He’d won a Ballon d'Or. Nobody expected four more or a battle for control of the universe with Messi, but everyone knew he was a great player.
Ronaldo was so successful at Real Madrid because he still had time on his side. Los Blancos supporters knew he’d be there a long time. Nine seasons, as it turned out. He was something of a disappointment in his first campaign, producing only 35 goals. In the eight following, his lowest total was 44. Fans were more than happy to buy his shirt knowing it would be relevant for a long time.
Supporters seldom spend money on ageing players whose future at the club is either short-term or uncertain. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was an exception even before he retired to MLS. Players need staying power.
I said psyche, not physique. Although that, too. There is something to be said for the player who keeps his head down and does the job, and many do, but they are hardly the most exciting characters. They come and go; we soon forget they were even here. If I say "Manchester United wingers," how many will you go through before you come to Park Ji-Sung? Ronaldo, Giggs, Best, Beckham, Lee Sharpe, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer...
We may tell a player to remember his place when he speaks out, but we grow to respect him when he keeps right on.. Did you watch the BBC/ITV joint coverage of the World Cup. Did you want to listen to Danny Murphy or Roy Keane?
Ronaldo has a history of being headstrong and independent. He proliferates commercial television with adverts for various brands, including his own, but he’s also known for his amicable work for charity and patience with pitch invaders and autograph seekers. He jealously guards his privacy but when he's in the public eye, he gives everything he has.
In order be commercially successful, you must take some risk.
Eye Candy and Catchy Name
All of the above features can be learned. It’s much harder to change your name and appearance. Both play a big part in marketability. You don't see Costel Pantilimon going viral and even with Twitter expanded to 280 characters there isn't much room left to say anything about Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. CR7 has the substance and the packaging.
And the name. Cristiano, or for that matter Messi, sound like savours who can walk on water. Messianic is a bit more indirect and the Argentine's given name ruins the effect. Lionel has come to save us? It doesn't quite roll off the tongue. Cristiano meanwhile shares a surname with another recently departed demigod, the original Ronaldo. And he has stayed healthy and surpassed his predecessor. A Christlike version of Ronaldo? Any marketing maven will tell you he can sell that.
This is tricky. Real Madrid isn't going to fully replace Ronaldo. On the pitch, Harry Kane might keep scoring 50 every year. He's only 24 and has that biblical thing going with his surname. On the other hand, he looks and sounds more like Stephen Lewis from On the Buses than David Beckham or Freddie Ljungberg. That's not going to fly with Madridistas. They're already all over Gareth Bale.
Eden Hazard combines the Judeo-Christian appeal with a strong element of danger. As we've noted, it's not just the good girls who fall for the bad boys. He's 27, though. His short shelf-life is concerning
There are those touting Neymar to roll back to Spain and go all Figo on Barcelona. That could work. He’s been a star in Barcelona and Paris and is still young. Florentino Perez's eyes must dilate at the thought of the money to be made. Ronaldo's fee would make a solid down payment on that transfer, but that's all.
You have to wonder why Real Madrid decided to let the golden goose waddle out the door. From a commercial standpoint, it just makes no sense.