‘Beber água!’ Tuesday night saw Cristiano Ronaldo do his talking both on and off the pitch in a week which has raised two very pertinent topics within the sports sponsorship landscape. The power of sports stars as influencers and what this may mean for the future of sports sponsorship.
Coca-Cola have every right to feel aggrieved that the highest profile sports star, in a tournament they have sponsored for over 30 years, has contributed to the most talked about incident off the field in the European Championships so far.
The simple act of removing two Coca-Cola bottles from his press conference table and demanding the audience (and his followers watching) drink water sent a very loud and clear message to clubs, rights holders and events globally – be more responsible when it comes to both selecting commercial partners and accepting the way in which brands are able to activate their sponsorship deals.
Whether Ronaldo was controlling his own brand narrative, given that he featured in an ad for KFC in 2013, I’ll leave to you to decide. But one thing is clear. If the most marketable athlete on the planet can create such noise and make such a significant impact with a small gesture, it is remarkable think to think what athletes worldwide could achieve should they insist the sports they partake in be more responsible when investigating and selecting their commercial partners moving forward.
Brand resonance and relevance to partners and events has never been more important in the age of such culturally powerful sporting influencers.
With the increased scrutiny of sponsorships in sport even before the European Championships, most notably gambling sponsorships, there has to be a responsibility that now falls on rights holders to promote best practices, good health and inspire younger generations – everything that Cristiano Ronaldo does.
The sponsorship landscape is rapidly changing and major professional clubs and rights holders must continue to investigate their sponsors’ human rights records, explore the dangers of promoting betting products to their fan base and now satisfy themselves with the ingredients from products in their F&B partnership category.
Fan bases and athletes carry more power than they ever had. Get sponsorship decisions wrong and it won’t just be share prices that fall in the future.
While we don’t know the commercials on the deal, maybe at the next Euros, we will see Coca-Cola promote their smartwater brand instead!