There are 15 minutes to go. The ball speeds across the penalty area. And Cristiano Ronaldo — arguably the best footballer of his generation who Juventus have just bought for €100m— fluffs his lines, misses his shot and loses the opportunity to score on his home debut for the Italian club.
Yet, among the crowd of 40,000 fans at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Andrea Agnelli, president of Juventus — and the man who signed the cheque — stands to applaud. It helps that a teammate rifles the ball into the net after Ronaldo’s slip, but the real triumph, says Mr Agnelli, was luring the Portuguese striker to the club in the first place.
“It was the first time that the commercial side and the sporting side of Juventus came together in assessing the costs and benefits [of a signing],” says Mr Agnelli, a scion of the billionaire family that has owned the club for 95 years. “The opportunity of Ronaldo was thoroughly assessed . . . and it made sense, both on and off the pitch.”
On the pitch the team does not need Ronaldo to dominate Italian football. Juventus, the country’s most successful club, has won seven consecutive Serie A league titles. It has, however, fallen short in recent seasons of the Champions League, losing twice in the final of Europe’s most prestigious tournament in the past four years. Ronaldo, in contrast, has won the last three Champions League finals with Real Madrid.
Off the pitch, Juventus believes the player presents an unparalleled financial opportunity, described by executives as “the Ronaldo effect”.
The Turin club is looking to invert the business model that has prevailed in football for decades. Elite clubs rely on large crowds and lucrative broadcasting deals to convince sponsors to pay to be associated with their teams. Under the new model, the global celebrity of Ronaldo is expected to drag fans and corporate groups to Juventus, with higher broadcasting money to follow.
There are early signs the bet is paying off. While in secret talks to sign Ronaldo, Juventus increased average season ticket prices by 30 per cent. All 29,300 have been sold. On match day the Juventus stadium superstore is doing a brisk trade in Ronaldo replica shirts, costing up to €154.95 — among the highest prices in Europe. For his home debut, fans travelled from all over the world while television networks spent days trailing his arrival in Turin.
Investors seem to agree that the Ronaldo effect will provide exponential value to Juventus. The club’s share price has more than doubled, raising its market capitalisation to €1.5bn, since July.
“Ronaldo brings a level of stardust that is difficult to find in any sports person,” says Gareth Balch, co-founder of the digital sports marketing company Two Circles. “In the sponsorship buyer’s mind, there is a level of irrationality that exists in every human . . . which is that having Ronaldo elevates Juventus into a group of football clubs that it was not in before. If executed correctly, Juventus can really profit from its investment.”
Mr Agnelli took over the running of the club in 2010 and set about attracting a new, global audience. He believes Ronaldo is the catalyst for the club to achieve a grander ambition: become the world’s pre-eminent team. That means winning the biggest trophies, while earning more in revenues than any other club. “We will plan, one after the other, the last remaining steps to become number one,” says Mr Agnelli.
Juventus, however, trail well behind the sport’s financial leaders. The quartet of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich earn €150m-€250m more than Juventus in annual revenues. Other clubs, fuelled by rich owners, such as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, also generate more income.
The club believes Ronaldo can help it climb up football’s financial ladder, betting that his appearance in its famous black-and-white striped shirt will convince corporate sponsors to pay more to be associated with the player and club. Mr Agnelli points to Real Madrid’s “Galactico” policy of hiring marketable superstars such as David Beckham, and PSG’s recent €222m signing of the Brazilian forward Neymar , as precedents.
The strategy is not without risk. At 33 Ronaldo is coming to the end of his playing career. A dip in form or a lay-off from injury would damage the team’s prospects. Some argue the short-term imperatives should not be mixed with a club’s long-term commercial strategy.
“At Bayern Munich, if they buy a player, it has to fit in from a sports perspective and not from a brand perspective,” says Jörg Wacker, a board member at the German club. “Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo is an ambassador for the brand . . . [but] he was ambassador for Real Madrid. Maybe in five years, he’s gone. For us, the number one focus is the club and not the player.”
Estimate of cost to the Turin club of Ronaldo’s four-year contract, including an annual salary of €55m but excluding the cost of his transfer
To sign the striker Juventus agreed to pay Real Madrid a €100m fee over two years, a further €5m in payments that will ultimately be paid to clubs that trained him as a young player, and about €12m in fees to his agent, Jorge Mendes. Ronaldo’s four-year contract provides a salary worth more than €50m a year after tax, according to reports. The remuneration package will also allow Juventus to use his “image rights”, so that the player — who earns an estimated $47m a year in personal endorsements — can also be used in Juventus promotional campaigns.
Financial services firm KPMG estimates that, in total, amortised over the duration of his contract, Juventus will pay around €340m, or €85m a year for Ronaldo’s services.
To satisfy financial fair play regulations designed to force clubs to break even, Juventus has offloaded other players on expensive salaries. But the impact of the Ronaldo transfer, which will be realised in the current financial year, is expected to push the club into a second season of losses.
Ronaldo commodified 01
Possible broadcasting revenue this season if Juve does well in the Champions League, up from €200m
Higher estimate for average match day revenue at Juventus, up from €56.4m last season
In the year to June 30 2018, Juventus made a loss of €19.2m on revenues of €504.7m, compared to a profit of €42.6m on revenues of €562.7m the previous season.
Executives believe the Ronaldo transfer will pay for itself over time by counteracting the club’s biggest commercial weakness: playing in Italy. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Serie A was considered the best league in the world. But it has since been overtaken.
According to Deloitte, the English Premier League receives €3.3bn a season for domestic and international broadcasting rights. Spain’s La Liga generates €2bn each year from television rights deals. The Italian league, however, makes just €1.4bn a season. Though watched avidly in its home country, Serie A has yet to attract significant international audiences.
Ronaldo commodified 02
Potential value of Juve’s commercial deals within three seasons, up from €114m last year
Followers of Ronaldo on social media. Juventus gained 10m followers in the month of his signing
Juventus is gambling that the global adoration of Ronaldo will build interest in the division. But as Serie A is locked into broadcast deals until the end of the 2020/21 season, there is little immediate upside from any surge in viewers for Italian football.
“Let’s face it, there are clubs in the bottom half of the [English] Premier League who could potentially pay for the services of Ronaldo,” says Stefan Szymanski, a sports industry academic at the University of Michigan. “That’s not to do with the strategy of these clubs . . . it’s entirely to do with the Premier League having global dominance.”
Unlike many of its Serie A rivals, Juventus plays to a packed house in a ground that it owns. The club’s modern stadium cost €150m to build and opened in 2011. It is set to increase the €56.4m earned in 2017-18 from ticket sales including corporate seats.
A strong run in the Champions League — Juventus opens with an away game against Valencia on Wednesday — is essential. The club has reached the knockout rounds of the tournament for the past five seasons. Winning it could be worth up to €130m in broadcast rights and prize money. Like some of his peers, Mr Agnelli wants the sport to be rearranged to allow for more money-spinning ties between Europe’s football titans and fewer against local minnows.
“The Champions [League] is a difficult and unpredictable competition,” says Massimiliano Allegri, head coach at Juventus. “With Ronaldo, we are far more likely to win it.” Yet, even club executives accept that his arrival cannot guarantee on-pitch success.
The real hope in Turin is that Ronaldo will ramp up the value of Juventus sponsorship deals. In 2017, thanks to strong performances in Europe, the club earned more from broadcast rights than Manchester United, the world’s richest club by revenues. Yet, while the English club has struggled on the pitch in recent years, it earned nearly €200m more than Juventus in commercial deals.
Being considered part of football’s elite matters. According to research from Nielsen, the overall market for football sponsorship, worth €11bn, is growing by 2 per cent a year. But the growth rate at the biggest 10 clubs, including Juventus, is 12 per cent.
This money mostly comes from the kit manufacturer and shirt sponsor. In the case of Juventus, these are German sportswear company Adidas and the carmaker Jeep, owned by Fiat Chrysler in which the Agnelli family business has a 30 per cent stake. The deal is worth a combined €40m a year, according to KPMG. By contrast, Manchester United’s deals with Adidas and Chevrolet bring in €156m.
Ronaldo may help bridge that gap. Without providing figures, Juventus says it is on course to achieve record replica kit sales this season. While it receives only a small percentage from such sales, the increase should allow it to negotiate better contracts next time.
“There is a very, very strong and clear correlation between the number of shirts sold in a year around the world and the value of your deal,” says Giorgio Ricci, co-chief revenue officer and the head of global partnerships at Juventus.
The club is already discussing a renewal of the Adidas deal on improved terms, according to people close to the talks, who add that Jeep is expected to do the same in coming years.
Ronaldo also brings a different type of star quality. He is among the world’s most tracked personalities on social media, with a combined following of 330m users on platforms from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram. Juventus gained 10m more social media followers in July alone.
Mr Ricci says this helps make the case to sponsors about the club’s growing popularity. The club is in talks with six potential new “regional” sponsors in China and south-east Asia, with other multinational corporations keen to open discussions, he says.
Yet, Mr Szymanski suggests Juventus will continue to be hampered by Italian football’s relative lack of global exposure. “Broadcasting brings the sponsorship, rather than the other way around,” he says. “I can understand that Juventus, in trying to develop a strategy for a club located within Serie A, may not have a lot of choices. This may be their best shot. But is it likely to succeed without a renaissance in Italian football generally? I think it’s tricky.”
For Juventus it is a challenge. It wants to become a global club and Mr Agnelli believes Ronaldo will help it secure a permanent position at the top of the world game. But to do that, once the striker retires, the Juventus owner needs to attract the next young footballing prodigy.
“We have to be in a position to be able to clinch the next Cristiano,” he says. “But at the age of 25.”
Neymar and Mbappé: Field begins to widen for the next global superstar
Earlier this year Juventus executives produced a presentation for Exor, the Italian holding company that controls the football club, on how they intended to grow its business. They included some unspectacular measures, such as opening an office in Hong Kong to build relationships with potential Asian sponsors.
But the slides also included the dramatic prospect of signing an “international star”, with a picture of one man: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Only Barcelona’s Lionel Messi can currently deliver the same commercial and sporting impact as Ronaldo. But who will be football’s next idol? Juventus president Andrea Agnelli suggests the club’s Argentine forward Paulo Dybala and Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane have the potential to capture fans’ imagination. But club executives suggest the likeliest candidates are Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar and Kylian Mbappé (pictured).
However, the duo’s worth may not be quite as high as the French club — which paid €222m to acquire Neymar and €200m for Mbappé — believes.
In July, Uefa reopened an investigation into PSG amid concerns over the true value of €200m worth of its sponsorship contracts, reviving the threat that the Qatari-owned football club could fall foul of financial fair play rules and ultimately be kicked out of European competition. According to people close to the inquiry, PSG has argued its sponsorship deals have increased in value thanks to the two players, with Uefa’s investigators still scrutinising the claim.
“The story is who will be the next Messi and Ronaldo and who will dominate the Ballon d’Or [the annual award for the world’s best player],” says Gareth Balch of sports marketing group Two Circles. “Mbappé and Neymar represent some of that future, but the destiny of that is yet to be determined.”
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