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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

The Risk of Sponsorships.

Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time and inarguably one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.

But more importantly, he seems to be a genuinely decent person who uses his fame and fortune for good.

In 2011, when he was awarded the European Golden Boot (an award presented each season to the leading goalscorer in league matches from the top division of every European national league), Ronaldo opted to sell it for charity. The trophy raised £1.2m at auction and the funds went towards building a number of schools in war-torn Gaza.

In 2014, when he led his team to its tenth Champions League victory and picked up a £450,000 bonus, he donated it to three charities for which he serves as an ambassador: Unicef, World Vision, and Save the Children.

That same year, when a family (desperate to raise the equivalent of $83,000 to cover their 10-month old son's surgery) asked Ronaldo to donate a pair of cleats and a jersey they could auction off... Ronaldo chose to simply pay for the surgery.

He regularly donates blood and is reportedly so devoted to doing so that he refuses to get any tattoos so he can donate more frequently. (You can't donate blood immediately after getting a tattoo due to the risk of infection; guidelines suggest you should wait four months before doing so, which apparently is too long between donations for the soccer superstar.)

And those aren't the only instances of Ronaldo's charity that exist; a quick Google search will yield many more examples.

In short, Ronaldo isn't just a superstar athlete: he's a role model both on and off the field.

That's why what happened earlier this week at a UEFA EURO 2020 press conference, when Ronaldo noticed two bottles of Coca-Cola on the table in front of him, is so significant.

Notice 12-seconds into the clip how Ronaldo extends his arm to get those Coca-Cola bottles as far away from him as possible, lest anyone mistakenly believe he supports the brand by its proximity to him.

And if his displeasure wasn't clear enough from that, you only need to watch another few seconds to know how he really feels: he hoists an unbranded bottle of water up into the air and defiantly proclaims "água não coca-cola"... Portuguese for "water, not Coca-Cola".

Coca-Cola's products were on that table because they paid to be the Official Soft Drinks sponsor of UEFA EURO 2020... and as a sponsor of an event, this is not what you want to see happen at a press conference.

But Ronaldo's reaction shouldn't have been a surprise: he's previously spoken about his dislike of soft drinks and was recently quoted saying, "I'm tough with my son... Sometimes he drinks Coca-Cola and Fanta, he eats crisps and he knows I don't like it."

And the markets didn't like Ronaldo's reaction, likely because they know how much influence the superstar athlete has with his fans around the world: following the incident, Coca-Cola's share price drooped 1.6%, eliminating $3.5bn from the company's market value.

Ronaldo isn't the first to shun a corporate sponsor. Another recent example happened during the Super Bowl 2021 trophy presentation when Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Tom Brady looked up at the video board and noticed the Nike logo on his undershirt was showing. Brady couldn't avoid wearing the Nike logo during games because Nike is the official uniform and apparel provider for the NFL. But the athlete is sponsored by Nike-rival Under Armour, and Brady wasn't going to allow Nike to benefit from an association with him if he could do anything to prevent it... so he pulled the neck of his championship t-shirt up so as to hide the famous swoosh.

These two examples aren't the only times an athlete's personal opinions have conflicted with the promotional efforts of an event's corporate sponsor, and they're unlikely to be the last.

That's the risk of corporate sponsorships.

To be clear, I'm not against corporate sponsorships: they're a valuable tool in a marketer's toolkit, and the right sponsorship can drive awareness, trial, revenue, loyalty, and goodwill.

But you have to be aware of the risks.

And having superstars and role models publicly express their displeasure at the thought of being associated with your logo, for whatever reason, is a pretty significant risk.


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