When exploring the modern-day footballer there are many things to consider in this day and age. It is not only the amount of influence a player yields through their exceptional talent, but also their ability to develop their own personal brand. With this in mind, we shall explore this further to see which players have the most valuable brand and how social media, endorsement deals and merch play a key part in ensuring their brands remain ever-popular.
Some of the key factors that have contributed to the modern-day footballers’ brand becoming increasingly valuable are the growth of social media platforms and their increasing users. As seen on Statista, the number of users on social media platforms has increased from 2.86 billion in 2017, to 3.6 billion in 2020. With the trend continuing to grow, estimates predict there will be 4.41 billion social media users by 2025.
Alongside the influence of social media, viewership of football by diehard fans further enhances a football player's brand, with many eager fans across the world consistently tuning in to cheer on their favourite player.
Looking at the Champions League final as an example, it brought in an estimated 350 million viewers worldwide, compared to an estimated 150 million viewers for the Super Bowl, with the Champions League final also being broadcast in over 200 countries worldwide. Due to this sheer worldwide reach and influence the modern-day footballer has, increasing their brand value has never been easier.
So, the question remains who is the football player with the most valuable brand? Having a look at social media followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook give us a good idea as to which football player has the most valuable brand due to their ability to interact with their fans at the touch of a button.
At the top of the most followed footballer charts is Cristiano Ronaldo with 418 million followers as of December 2020, followed by Neymar with 243 million followers, and Lionel Messi with 237 million followers. With such a huge number of followers, it is no surprise footballers can utilise these followers to increase their brand value by charging vast amounts of money for sponsored posts on Instagram.
As Ronaldo is the most followed individual on Instagram with over 200 million followers he currently earns the most per sponsored Instagram post compared to any other footballer at US$889,000 per sponsored Instagram post, followed by Neymar at US$704,000 and Messi at US$695,000. With the vast influence social media has in boosting a footballer’s brand value, Ronaldo currently sits atop as the footballer with the most valuable brand on social media.
Being a globally recognised footballer also means there are many different companies and brands vying to strike a partnership and endorsement deals. This enables footballers to build their brand further with lucrative contracts being awarded for loyalty to a particular product, service, or company. These endorsement deals can range from anything to sportswear brands, soft drinks companies, and even watch manufacturers.
Looking at the figures published by Forbes on the highest-paid athletes in 2020, it is no surprise to find Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar occupying places 2, 3, and 4 in those rankings. Roger Federer edged past Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the first time in the past four years, with the previous years being dominated by either Ronaldo or Messi alternating at number 1.
Looking at the breakdown of their endorsement deals in 2020, you can see that Messi earned 34 million dollars from endorsements, Ronaldo earned 47 million and Neymar, 18 million. In Ronaldo’s case, more than 40% of his income came through endorsement deals last year, including companies such as Tag Heuer, Clear Haircare, and Nike.
Messi, on the other hand, was paid from endorsement deals with Adidas, Pepsi, Gillette, and Turkish Airlines. Meanwhile, Neymar’s endorsement deals included Beats Electronics, Electronic Arts, Gillette, Mastercard, and Red Bull. With such extraordinary figures being paid by big-name brand partners, it only highlights the importance of a sports star's ability to procure a relationship with valuable brands relevant to their fan demographic.
Furthermore, there is also nothing more important than football shirt sales when defining brand value for a player, with many fans rushing to buy t-shirts with their favourite player's name on the back each season. Football shirt sales are also indicative of how far a footballer’s brand reaches across the world. For example, when Ronaldo secured a transfer to Juventus in 2018, he sold 520,000 shirts in 24 hours; equating to 60 million dollars.
To compare the impact of Ronaldo’s brand value, Juventus sold a total of 850,000 shirts throughout the whole season before Ronaldo's arrival. As another example, when Neymar joined PSG in the summer of 2017, he sold a total of 86,000 shirts in six hours, while Messi, according to a study by World Soccer Shop, sold the most football shirts in 2015. His figures were followed in second and third place by no other than Ronaldo and Neymar. Again, it is no surprise to see how much of an important role brand value plays for footballers in these times, especially around transfers and new season starts.
Comparing all the factors we have discussed, all three footballers mentioned have incredibly strong brand value; with a huge following on social media platforms, vast amounts of money earned through endorsement deals, and the popularity and influence to sell an unbelievable amount of merch. However, there only seems to be one name that consistently sits atop of the list, and that is no other than Cristiano Ronaldo, who reigns supreme as the footballer with the most valuable all-round image.