Nike Signs Ronaldo's Adept Feet - And Thumbs - 'For Life'

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a contract extension with Nike that will last his lifetime, according to reports, and is said to be worth $1 billion. 

The 31-year-old superstar is captain of the Portuguese national team that won the European Championship this year and has been named world player of the year three times, the Associated Press reports. He has been on the Nike roster since 2003.

“I have a great relationship with this brand,” Ronaldo said in a statement that is vague on the financial details of the “long-term” contract and heavy on product. “I have great friends here in the company. We work as a family, too. This is my brand.”

In a video release, the galactico says: “I look at this new contract [as something] for life,” and he describes the deal as “the best contract that I have in my whole career,” Fortune reports. The top name on Forbes’ list of The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes also extended his Real Madrid contract through 2021 on Sunday.

“With his new Nike deal, Ronaldo becomes the third athlete to sign a ‘lifetime’ endorsement with the company, reports Ahiza Garcia for CNNMoney. “Nike also has ‘lifetime’ deals with NBA greats Michael Jordan and LeBron James. … Nike has paid Jordan over $473 million since 1993, even though he retired in 2003.”

What merits such a payday, you ask?

“Ronaldo will always be best known for the incredible goals he has scored in Nike Mercurial boots,” the release tells us. A photo gallery highlights 30 of them — pristine versions of the cleats, that is, not the goals — from the orange 2003 Mercurial Vapor that Ronaldo wore when he signed with Nike as an 18-year-old playing for Lisbon’s Sporting CP to the soon-to-be–unleashed 2016 Mercurial Superfly V CR7 Discovery. (That’s a mouthful, isn't it? “Okay, give me a pair of those Mercurial Superfly V CR7 Discoveries and a package of socks.”) 

The release also credits Ronaldo for “extensive feedback and insights” on design and says “his commitment to fitness has also informed Nike’s training products, while his style is regularly on display in Nike Sportswear.” 

Neil Hopkins, director at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, says the deal “underlines how valuable [Ronaldo] is to the brand as they trade blows with Adidas and their star performer, Lionel Messi,” writesThe Drum’s Tony Connelly.

Gavin Peters, director of partnerships at Pitch, points out how Adidas' and Nike's approach to marketing their brand ambassadors differs. 

“Adidas tends to focus more on the lifestyle and attitude around football, and using that to appeal to a younger audience, especially on social,” Peters tells Connelly. “Nike’s content, on the other hand, tends to be more around high-performance — it’s about aspiring to be the best you can be.”

But make no mistake. Ronaldo’s social media presence is a huge part of his marketability. He was, earlier this year, the first Nike athlete to don its HyperAdapt 1.0 shoes, touts yesterday’s release. He did it in an Instagram post that has garnered 3.8 million views and more than 22,000 comments.

Indeed, with a total of 238 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Ronaldo is the most followed man in the world on social media, Sport reported in September. Singer Taylor Swift, however, has 246 million followers, according to a report by Apple Tree Communications. But Ronaldo beats out Katy Perry (219 million), Selena Gomez (205 million) and Rihanna (190 million). 

In August, Ronaldo released an app that allows fans to take a selfie with him. A portion of the proceeds benefits Save the Children, ESPNFC reported. That portion could add up to quite a sum.

“Ronaldo generated $36 million in value for Nike on social media alone via his own accounts through 59 posts over the last 12 months, according to a study of the top-paid athletes by Hookit, which tracks sponsorship value in social and digital media,” Kurt Badenhausen reported for Forbes in June. “All of Ronaldo’s partners got a total of $176 million in media value from his promotional work on social platforms.”

And those posts are not dying on the vine.

“Interactions for each of Ronaldo’s promoted posts — ones that included a hashtag or mention — averaged 651,778, according to Hookit,” Badenhausen writes.

Ronaldo’s thumbs, in other words, are as adept as his feet.

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