‘Out of touch’: Where do sponsors fit in after Ronaldo’s Coca-Cola stand?

·Sports Reporter
·5-min read
Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured left) picking up a Coca-Cola bottle and (pictured right) holding water.
Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured left) removed the Coca Cola bottles from the press conference in front of him, before he claimed: 'Drink water'. (Images: Twitter)

Cristiano Ronaldo caused an almighty stir this week when the simple act of moving a Coca-Cola bottle from the world's view, before saying: 'drink water', sparked a domino effect.

The power of one of the world's most recognisable athletes, with more than 300 million Instagram followers, voicing his opinion sparked a $5.2 billion drop in Coca-Cola's company's stocks.

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While, Coca-Cola's stocks bounced back and the initial shockwave pales in comparison to the company's $200 billion (or more) estimated value, Ronaldo's move may have signalled a turning point.

Many have pointed to the age old adage: "Any publicity, is good publicity," when it comes to Ronaldo's stunt of inadvertently putting Coca-Cola in the corner.

But the fallout begs the question of whether the power of sponsorship is shifting in the athletes' favour?

Dr Katharina Wolf, a public relations expert from Management and Marketing at Curtin University, pointed out the old adage doesn't necessarily apply anymore.

It is this societal shift, which Dr Wolf puts down to audiences becoming more conscience of what they are consuming, that could see traditional sponsors of major sporting events adapting to the individual athlete.

“What we are seeing on one hand is the audience is becoming cleverer, but on the other hand, is the individual brand of athletes starting to overpower the Coca-Cola brands, the traditional brands," she told Yahoo Sports Australia.

“As audiences we want to see brands that are authentic, and in that way it is not just Coke, but the players themselves."

UEFA Euro 2020 logo seen displayed on a smartphone with a Coca-Cola logo in the background.
UEFA Euro 2020 logo seen displayed on a smartphone with a Coca-Cola logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudencio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

While just about anything Ronaldo does is watched and scrutinised by the world's media, his stunt - whether intentional or not - has resonated with other athletes.

Dr Wolf said athletes making a conscience stand could trigger a flow-on effect, which would see sponsors having to look at different ways to align themselves with the individual brand.

“I think what we are also going to see is not just sport stars being outspoken, but them being really on brand," she added.

"It’s a flow-on effect and it could raise questions around suitability of sugary drinks and fast-food outlets sponsoring major sporting events.

“That flairs up in-between (major events) and that brand alignment is completely out of touch. It doesn’t match.”

Where did sponsors at the Euro 2020 get it wrong?

One athlete, Andriy Yarlomenko, did have fun with Ronaldo's stunt and joked for both Coca-Cola and Heineken to 'contact' him for deals.

But French and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba made more of a point in moving a non-alcoholic Heineken bottle.

However, Pogba didn't say anything after removing the beverage and most likely did it because he is Muslim.

Paul Pogba (pictured right) followed Cristiano Ronaldo's (pictured left) actions and removed a bottle from the table in front of him during a press conference. (Images: Twitter)
Paul Pogba (pictured right) followed Cristiano Ronaldo's (pictured left) actions and removed a bottle from the table in front of him during a press conference. (Images: Twitter)

In Islam, drinking is haram or forbidden.

This triggered a wave of support for Pogba, but also raised questions over the appropriate nature on whether a brand - synonymous with alcohol - should have been in front of the star.

Dr Wolf called this out as an example of how sponsors will need to meet the athlete's brand, or risk falling behind societal expectations.

Highly insensitive, that one," Dr Wolf said.

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“The Heineken was completely out of place."

Dr Wolf said the bottle was, "completely undermining his (Pogba's) own brand", which harks back to the 'suitability' of future sponsors.

Could the Olympics see a change in sponsor?

So what does the future of sponsorship look like for other major sporting events such as the Olympics?

While money talks, Ronaldo's stunt has put the notion of product placement in focus.

With the Tokyo 2021 Olympics coming up in July, we could see brands become more aware of how they position themselves in front of global superstars.

While we won't see a change in the type of sponsors just yet, due to contracts being locked in, we could see a more conscience effort in how brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's position themselves.

Special edition Coca-Cola bottles advertising the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
Special edition Coca-Cola bottles advertising the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

"Money talks and that has always been the problem with the Olympics, and other major events like the Uefa Cup, Euro 2020," Dr Wolf said.

"But from their (sponsors) perspective, they have to think about brand alignment and suitability.

"It isn’t a good look, it really doesn’t fit. I think what we have gradually seen, and I think that is why the share price (of Coca-Cola) dipped, is that shift in society."

Regardless, many eyes will be on Ronaldo at his next press conference to see whether Coca-Cola are front-and-centre, or there is a shift in the paradigm.

Watch 'Mind Games', the new series from Yahoo Sport Australia exploring the often brutal mental toil elite athletes go through in pursuit of greatness:

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