How Cristiano Ronaldo Put His Nike Deal In Jeopardy

October 21, 2015 3

We’ve all dreamt about it, but how does it actually feel to be the most recognizable professional athlete in the world with one of the biggest endorsement deals of any sport? For Cristiano Ronaldo it’s a reality. Not only is he arguably the greatest soccer player on earth, but he’s also a top brand ambassador for global sportswear juggernaut Nike.

Since his early days at boyhood soccer club Sporting FC in Portugal, The Swoosh had been supplying Ronaldo with cleats. Once he made his monumental transfer to Manchester United, the most popular club in the world, Nike made him one of their front-runners to promote their Mercurial line of cleats, which were made for the quick and flashy players. Finally, when he moved to powerhouse Real Madrid, they made Ronaldo the undisputed poster boy for their entire soccer division. So, you can imagine how they felt when their most prized player, a figure they helped bring up to the heights of global recognition, goes off to start his own brand that competes against their products, and yet still works for them. Awkward.


From Soccer to Fashion

To understand how this conflict came about, let’s assess how Ronaldo got so interested in the fashion industry. It becomes common ritual for professional athletes to splurge earnings on luxury items, and Ronaldo is no different. With so many cameras constantly fixed on him and living in fashion-forward Europe, he developed into a man of high-end tastes. Always spotted wearing the trendiest clothes with the most beautiful women and driving the flashiest cars, he was the man every guy wanted to be and every girl wanted to be with. Therefore to sustain this lifestyle and remain a top athlete dedicated to his sport, Cristiano always keeps himself in elite physical shape. His exercise regimen is so intense that he does 3,000 sit ups a day just to maintain his abs. That’s on top of two 3-hour training sessions for five days a week and then a high level game on the weekends. Ronaldo’s impressive physicals led to him being named model and spokesman for fashion empire Armani. Along with being described as the most marketable athlete on the planet, he was ready to blaze a trail that no other soccer athlete had done before.


Cristiano Ronaldo models for Armani in 2010


The Birth of CR7

While earning his entrepreneurial fashion chops as brand ambassador for Armani, along with his ever-flowing cash flow from his soccer salary and endorsements, the next logical step was to enter the fashion arena with his own label. He was already an established superstar in the soccer world and riding the momentum of his popularity, he trademarked his own name brand by combining his initials and shirt number, and thus CR7 was born.


Cristiano Ronaldo Receives His 4th Golden Boot Award in Madrid on Oct. 13 2015


He opened his first store in his hometown Madeira, Portugal, which offered a variety of luxury pieces including diamond studded belts, leather-pocket jeans, and patent leather buckled loafers. Eventually he expanded into underwear, footwear, and just last month, he launched his first fragrance. Ronaldo’s brand was covering every corner of the men’s fashion world and in turn, CR7’s growth started turning heads, including Nike’s.

Although in different markets, Nike in sportswear and CR7 in luxury, an impending conflict of interest was obvious. Once CR7 began to produce merchandise that would compete directly with Nike, such as sneakers and T-shirts, The Swoosh decided that it was time to step in.


Cristiano Ronaldo models CR7 F/W 2015 Footwear Collection in Portugal


Nike vs Ronaldo

Nike’s concern was that if fans wanted Ronaldo gear, they would buy directly through CR7, thus resulting in lost sales for their offering. Of course The Swoosh saw their own superstar directly competing against them, and was having none of it, so they had no choice but to threaten to sever ties with Ronaldo if he continued.

A broken relationship would be devastating for both parties: Ronaldo is not just the biggest name in Nike’s soccer division, but he’s one in a handful of athletes that has their own brand name within the company. To lose him would set their soccer division years back and leave them without a talismanic icon. On the other side, Ronaldo would lose his most significant endorsement because there aren’t too many Nikes in the world. And although he could possibly move to Adidas, he would have to play second fiddle to Messi’s already established empire at The Three Stripes. That’s why a split between the two would be unfathomable and thus, he recently decided to cease production of his training shoes as they conflicted with Nike’s CR7 gear.

As leeway, Ronaldo is still able to produce merchandise that doesn’t conflict with Nike’s sportswear products, as shown in CR7’s most recent FW15 footwear release. For the reported $22 million a year he gets from Nike, I’m sure he didn’t have a problem with that. Ronaldo’s still the most recognizable face in the world’s biggest sport for the world’s biggest sport’s brand. He’s helping the company grow as a brand ambassador on and off the field. And he’ll definitely be contracted with Nike beyond his playing years as well, but after all the dust settled, this was a reality check for Ronaldo: Don’t ever bite the hand that feeds you.


Photos: Getty Images