Juventus investing €340m in Ronaldo sounds crazy, but it's a worthwhile risk
This week, Vice made a video short for HBO. It followed up on the release of Drake's new album Scorpion and sought to get a handle on the impact the rapper is making on the prosperity of his hometown, Toronto. At one point, a marketing consultant in the report claims his research shows Drake is worth about $440m to the city's economy. My jaw dropped. Simultaneously, my mind crisscrossed to Turin and the buzz surrounding Juventus signing Cristiano Ronaldo.
In a previous dispatch, we noted how speculation alone was sending Juventus' stock through the roof. Overall, the Old Lady's share price was up 33 percent on the previous week -- the equivalent of €231m -- and led Italy's financial regulator to seek an explanation, which Juventus duly provided.
A statement said: "Juventus clarifies that, during the transfer window, the Company evaluates many market opportunities and, if any agreement should be reached, a press release will be issued in compliance with the regulations."
While brokers at the stock exchange shouted "Buy! Buy! Buy!" Juventus fans got in line to put their name down for season tickets. Sales were expected to be slow after a 30 percent price hike, but the prospect of seeing Ronaldo is persuading them to reach a little deeper in their pockets. Clearly when Vice described Drake as a "walking economic stimulus package" they could have been talking about CR7, too.
First and foremost, Juventus are making this move with a view to being more successful on and off the pitch. On the one hand, it's about a Champions League obsession. Runners-up in two of the past four seasons, Juventus think Ronaldo is the missing piece of a puzzle they have spent 23 years attempting to solve. The Portuguese knocked them out of the competition last season and scored the opener in Cardiff in 2017.
But even leaving aside the brand enhancement and growth in core business that winning the Champions League would deliver, it's Ronaldo's reach that makes investing €340m in him over the next four years a risk Juventus are willing to take.
He is one of the most famous people on the planet and boasts 318.3m followers across various social media platforms. For point of reference, LeBron James' following [101m] amounts to less than a third of Ronaldo's audience. For Juventus and their sponsors, present and prospective, that's huge exposure in markets where they are seeking to grow or just establish a presence. It dwarfs any club and reinforces this idea that fans are increasingly supporting athletes first, and franchises second. Sign a player and their supporters are transferrable too; they come as part of the deal.
A study by KPMG auditors showed PSG's online "followship" received a 22 percent bump after Neymar joined from Barcelona. Few clubs are as sensitive to this trend as Juventus. At a shareholders' meeting held shortly after Juventus' rebrand last year, president Andrea Agnelli said: "We've got to become more mainstream, more pop... We have new targets who are not your classic football fan: millennials, women and kids. We have to ask ourselves: What is the little girl in Shanghai and the millennial in Mexico City thinking?"
In football terms it's usually: What's Ronaldo up to? Zooming in on just one of those markets, Ronaldo has 6.6m followers in Mexico, a considerably bigger fanbase than the 1.1m who track Juventus.
Leveraging and monetising Ronaldo's celebrity status is the big challenge for the Bianconeri, who have punched above their weight in recent years. The latest Deloitte rich list ranks Juventus only 10th in the world. Revenues have grown 125 percent over the past five years. But even at €405m a year they still lag far behind those of Manchester United (676.3m), Real Madrid (674.6), Barcelona (648.3), Bayern (587.8m), PSG (486.2) and the other Premier League's teams who benefit from the biggest TV deal in football.
"There is a gradual polarisation underway on the old continent," Agnelli observed at the same shareholders' assembly last November. "There are eight clubs who make more than €400m a year. We make between €300m and €400m as do Liverpool. Four clubs turn over between €200m and €300m and 10 clubs between €150m and €200m. We are in no-man's land. Half in the last carriage of first class. Half in the first carriage of second class. The risk is to stay trapped in the middle."
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Ronaldo, it's hoped, represents a golden ticket, the upgrade that'll have Juventus sitting a lot closer to the front. The expectation is he would attract new commercial revenue and add value to Juventus' shirt. Whether there would be scope for re-negotiating existing deals with Adidas and Jeep to reflect Ronaldo's star power remains to be seen. As for Serie A, the interest in and appeal of the league would also be greater.
Ultimately, Juventus are speculating to accumulate. If PSG forecasted a 20-30 percent spike in income on the back of Neymar's arrival at the Parc des Princes, Juventus presumably consider the same figure achievable with the signing of Ronaldo. It's a deal worth making an exception for after years of prudent management.
Ordinarily tying this much money up in a 33-year-old would be crazy. However, Ronaldo is no ordinary sportsman. His professionalism and the care he takes in looking after his body mitigates the risk. Athletes these days are playing at a higher level for longer than ever before. See LeBron. Look at Tom Brady. Roger Federer, anyone?
The Old Lady does not consider Ronaldo an old man. But the start of a new phase of Juventus' expansion.
"Worrying about your followers, you need to get your dollars up," is a Drake lyric Juve have probably been mumbling for some time. But Juve need worry no more. Indeed, the Old Lady might come to look upon Ronaldo as the "best I ever had."