When the Brazilian national team runs onto the playing field of the Berlin Olympic Stadium on June 13 to begin its bid to win the 2006 World Cup, it will be playing not only for its sixth championship but for the most highly valued football image in the world. It has the best players of any team and the greatest number of championships and high-level agreements for commercial endorsements. However, Brazil will have to defend its unique “brand” against the teams that belong to FIFA, the international football federation, and a brand that has an incalculable value of its own.
On the radio and television and in the streets, Brazilians have been exposed in a big way to the country’s national team and all its star players. Ronaldinho Gaúcho, voted the best player in the world for the two past years, is the main figure in 12 advertising campaigns selling everything from deodorants to chewing gum to isotonic drinks to banking services. He is also the star of F.C. Barcelona — current champion of the Spanish football league, which is one of the best in the world and the recent champion of the European Cup — and he is the highest paid player in the world. According to France Football, the French magazine, the Brazilian midfielder earned 23 million euros in 2005. Ronaldo, the Brazilian forward on Real Madrid, placed third in the world, with an income of 17.4 million euros over the same period.
Likewise, the Brazilian team has strengthened its image as a marketing tool by winning two World Cup championships – in 1994 and 2002 — and gaining second place in the Cup in 1998. The growing fan base for the “canary team” – as it is popularly called because of its yellow uniforms – has made it a major alternative for companies that invest in football. “The Brazilian team is the team to beat. The big trophy will be given to those who manage to win over Brazil, and not for whoever wins the Cup,” explains Rafael Plastina, director of marketing, new business and product development at Informidia, a Brazilian sports research company. “Investing in the Brazilian team is always good business,” he adds.
Between 1994, when the Brazilian team won its fourth championship, and 2006, when it will try to win its sixth World Cup, the team’s revenues have grown almost five-fold. When sponsorship contracts are included along with sales of TV broadcasting rights, last year the team brought in 29 million euros for the CBF, the Brazilian football confederation. Given the enormous interest in its appearances, even the team’s training sessions for the Cup have become possible sources of income. In a competition with other cities, the Swiss town of Weggis won the “honor” of hosting the team’s training sessions for 1.5 million euros.
Most of the revenues that the team brings to the CBF come in the form of three main sponsorships: Nike, the multinational sports company; Vivo, Brazil’s largest provider of mobile telephone service; and Ambev, through its Guaraná Antarctica brand of soda. Despite the high cost of such investments, these companies try to guarantee their contracts with the team over a longer period of time. Nike has recently renewed its contract for 12 more years, through 2018. Both CBF and Nike are strategic partners with the team. As anyone would expect, their goal is the 2014 World Cup, for which Brazil is the leading candidate to become the host country.
It is not hard to imagine that the team will continue to provide its current level of return on investment given the new generation of such star players as Robinho, who already plays for Real Madrid; Filmar, from Brazil’s Corinthians; and Rafael Sóbis from the International [team] of Porto Alegre. If that happens, experts foresee a definitive explosion [of revenues]. “It is always positive to invest in football and in sports, as a general rule,” explains Elton Simões, professor of marketing management at the São Marcos University. “The sports page is the best-read page in newspapers. It is the topic that receives the most comments in the mass media. The question in sports is figuring out how to invest well — to invest in the correct property and with the correct strategy. It is not a question of whether the medium is [inherently] efficient.”
Mass Media star
When it comes to performance or the growth of prestige, you have to mention one name: Ronaldinho Gaúcho. To a considerable degree, the performance of the “wizard,” as the Italians refer to skilled midfielders, is responsible for the growing prestige of the Brazilian team. His personality, along with the impressive football that he has shown since his 1999 debut with Gremio, the team in southern Brazil, have attracted the attention of dozens of teams. They all want to tie their products to his image and to the team on which he performs. When this happens, the Brazilian teams scores a goal.
“Leading players attract considerable attention in the football world, and all this success has a lot to do with the success of Ronaldinho. He is a happy person who transmits a joy for playing, and who is delighted with the entire world,” says Plastina. “Multinational companies are also interested in associating themselves with the magic, beauty, grace, and skill of Brazilian football because both national and multinational brands can build successful campaigns.”
In March, BBDO Germany, a consulting firm, completed an analytical survey of the branding potential of the football world’s leading players. David Beckham, the English player, is considered one of the world’s greatest sports stars, more because of his personal life than the quality of his football. Surprisingly, only one player ranked higher than Beckham, and that was Ronaldinho Gaúcho. According to the survey, he is the most important brand in the world’s most popular sport. The study said that Ronaldinho’s image is currently worth 47 million euros, compared with 44.9 million euros for Beckham, and 43.7 million euros for Wayne Rooney, another English player.
A play with Clear Risks
If the forecasts in betting parlors prove accurate, Brazil will win its sixth world title, and Ronaldinho will continue to play the leading role in advertising campaigns for a long time. But what happens if Brazil does not win the title? Is it too risky for sponsors such as Nike to invest millions of euros a year in his image? The experts don’t think so. The intense exposure of the Brazilian team and its players during the pre-Cup period guarantees that sponsors will get a return from the mass media. Sponsors and other sectors of the economy, such as appliance makers, will directly benefit from the championship.
According to Simões, “The risk assumed by these companies is very small. The sponsors of the team began their sales strategy in the middle of last year. So, from the viewpoint of mass media, the World Cup is not a 30-day project but a project involving several months, which begins to spread in January. By the time the championship arrives, the company has already taken in most of its profits. If Brazil is eliminated right away, this does not affect the company because its investment has already paid off. If Brazil wins, that is something extraordinary, and profits are guaranteed. That’s why the entire world gets on board the World Cup.”
Naturally, if the team is eliminated or a “tragedy” occurs, as in 1998 – when Brazil lost the final game to France – earnings decline, “although there are still profits,” notes Plastina. “Football is a professional business in which people make a great deal of money; the players are millionaires. However, it continues to be a game. You cannot rule out the unpredictable. If Brazil gets its sixth Cup, Nike will sell more products than ever in Brazil over the long term. But if Brazil loses, its sales will decline. Nike is prepared to run that risk.”
According to the experts, the greatest risk for the Brazilian team is over-exposure. Unlike other teams, which have retreated from view in order to prepare for the championship, Brazil has converted its training base into a veritable amusement park. “Our preparations in Switzerland have become a show. It is not a training center but an entertainment center,” says Plastina. On the other hand, the same players have begun to brag about the team’s status as a favorite. “It is imprudent for a player like Roberto Carlos to say that Brazil has an 80% chance of winning the Cup,” Plastina adds. “The player [Roberto Carlos] should be punished for saying that. If I were in charge of marketing the Brazilian team, I would try to avoid making those sorts of declarations.”
In Plastina’s opinion, the team’s image of fantasy and skill is replaced by an image of arrogance and antipathy. In addition, the team becomes the target of other teams. Sponsors suffer some damage if these bragging lead to defeat, the experts explain. Recall the Cup final in 1998, when talk began to appear that Nike had required Ronaldo to win the championship despite the fact that conditions were not good at the time. “From the viewpoint of image, there are no risks for the sponsors. I think that the big attraction is not in the brand but in the visibility that the company could have if Brazil were world champion,” says Plastina.
Football inside Brazil
Now that the Brazilian team is preparing to perform well in the Cup, what is happening in football games played within that country? For Brazilian football clubs, little will change whether or not the Brazilian national team wins the Cup championship in Germany. “If the [national] team performs well in the Cup, it will also translate into good [business] results for national clubs, but this would be only temporarily. For example, the stadiums would fill up more. When it [the national team] loses, depression sets in and the stadiums are not as full. However, there is not an enormous volume of resources coming into the clubs as a function of the World Cup,” explains Simões.
It is hard to say that [local] Brazilian teams have not done well in the mass media. They are also a major option for exposing corporate brands. However, relatively speaking, their performance is far below that of the [national] Brazilian team [for the World Cup] and the performance of the most successful players outside the country. “Without doubt, Brazilian football clubs are the national flagship for sports. But their exposure is limited to within Brazil. The Brazilian championship is sold to some countries in Europe, but there has still been no boom in this sector,” notes Plastina.