Ronaldo’s Coke moment signals the change of balance of power in the sport

Cristiano Ronaldo’s refusal of Coca-Cola bottles strategically placed at a press conference at the Euro 2020 football championships this week has left sponsors and tournament organizers struggling to limit the damage on the support business.

The gesture of the Portuguese star, who on Monday took a bottle of water saying “Water … without Coca-Cola”, was imitated by other players including the Italian midfielder Manuel Locatelli, while the Frenchman Paul Pogba he pulled out a bottle of Heineken during media engagements later in the week.

Uefa, the governing body of European football, has contacted national federations to tell teams to avoid actions that could affect tournament sponsors, who each paid about $ 30m to approve the competition.

But there are no specific rules for policing as players should discuss corporate partners for the Euro. And there has been no reproach from Ronaldo that, according to a senior European football manager “he is so powerful, no one can tell him what to do”.

This admission is a reflection of change power balance on top of the world’s greatest sports. Highly paid athletes seem more willing to challenge the media and marketing businesses affected by the laws and competitions in which they play, whether those financial imperatives meet their own carefully tailored corporate image or sincerely held beliefs.

Ronaldo’s viral momentum has led some media to claim that the incident has swept away billions from the market value of the American beverage company. But Coca-Cola shares fell about 1 percent in the morning trade even before the press conference began, a drop that accounts for most of the day’s losses.

The stock has been falling steadily over the past few days, although it has managed to recover some ground Thursday, closing higher for the day at $ 54.95.

While Locatelli appeared to be joking following Ronaldo’s lead, Pogba is a practicing Muslim who on Tuesday fired a bottle of Heineken placed in front of him at a post-match press conference, even though the article was about the alcohol line of Dutch breweries. beer.

Muslim athletes have cited their religious beliefs for refusing to participate in marketing activities with brands of alcoholic beverages and gambling groups. “We fully respect everyone’s decision when it comes to their beverage of choice,” Heineken said.

Last month, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open tournament rather than participating in mandatory press conferences, suggesting they were detrimental to their mental health. Post-match media access to players is considered key to the value of television business for tournaments.

Ronaldo he is known to have shared photos of his intense training regime on Instagram, where he has about 300m followers, and expressed his disapproval to his children who drank fizzy drinks.

Many of his sponsorship deals fit into this image of a lifetime, as with the Nike sports group and nutrition society Herballife – supports that have helped him become the first player to earn $ 1 billion for the his career, according to Forbes.

However, the player also appeared in commercials for Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“I have to say that there has been a collective growth of eyebrows in the industry over Ronaldo, who has a long record of brand approvals, some of which do not fit into his apparent approach to life,” he said. Tim Crow, a sports marketing expert. “There was a lot of cynicism.”

Ricardo Fort, a former Coca-Cola executive who spent the past two decades managing the company’s sports partnerships, said the incident was an example of a violation of rights, with the sponsor having the right to give damage.

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka leaves the French Open instead of attending mandatory press conferences © Martin Bureau / AFP via Getty

“Sometimes [rights infringement] it can come from a competitor hosting the event, sometimes it can come from the organizers, sometimes it’s a player, ”he said.“ Overall this is a big distraction for the event and the companies have invested a lot. ”

Although using the bottles as a product placement is a contractual obligation of the business that Uefa has done with Coca-Cola and Heineken, no brand has demanded compensation, according to a person close to the discussions.

Uefa said players “can choose their favorite drink” at the tournament. Coca-Cola did not respond to a request for comment.

England director Gareth Southgate defended corporate sponsorships on Thursday, saying “their money at all levels will help the sport work”. This position was supported by his team captain, Harry Kane, who added: “Obviously sponsors have the right to do what they want if they have paid the money to do it.”

There have been previous times for athletes to promote their own marketing efforts over the groups for which they play. At the 1992 Olympics, American basketball player Michael Jordan chose to cover the Reebok logo on his official uniform with a layered American flag, a gesture of loyalty to Jordan’s personal sponsor, Nike.

But more recently athletes have gained greater control over which brands they partner with, thanks in large part to their direct link to fans on social media.

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Osaka, the highest paid female athlete in the world, has accumulated a number of its own sponsors and a great social network that continues thanks to his splendid game record, but also a frank defense against racial injustice and mental health.

This race of independent-minded athletes at the top of the sport is forcing them to rethink the long-standing marketing strategies adopted by competition organizers and their sponsors.

“There will always be a billion servings of Coke poured today, tomorrow and the next way,” Crow said. “But the question is: is there a better way to do it?” I suspect there’s a better way to get their message across than to pat the bottles in front of the athletes. ”

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