|Off the bench: Ronaldo tackles business
On his way to a game between Brazil and Scotland at the Emirates Stadium in north London, Brazilian football legend Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is not wearing the national jersey that made him famous. Nor is he on the team bus. He is wearing a dark suit, seated in the private car of his new business partner, Sir Martin Sorrell
of WPP Group
Since retiring from the sport at the age of 34 this year, Ronaldo has been hoping his experiences and connections as an athlete will help him succeed with his new São Paulo-based sports marketing company, 9ine, which manages athletes’ images and develops sports advertising strategies for brands.
“I wasn’t just going to stop working, and I never wanted to be a coach or a manager,” he says. “But I wanted to take advantage of my connection with football . . . After all these years I have very good relationships with many of the biggest companies and lots of athletes.”
With Brazil’s plans to host the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, while experiencing a boom in consumption, it is a good time for Ronaldo to use those connections. The market for advertising in the country is growing faster than gross domestic product.
It is this timing and Ronaldo’s unique position that earned 9ine, named after his jersey number, the vote of confidence from Sir Martin’s WPP Group, which holds a 45 per cent stake in the company – Ronaldo also owns 45 per cent. “Economic growth [in Brazil] has been colossal, and there is a young population, strong new media and good internet penetration. Brazil is under-advertised and under-branded,” Sir Martin says. “We’re looking for new ways to connect with consumers in a tangible and emotional way, and working with Ronaldo is a really interesting opportunity for us.”
Brazilian sports stars have a mixed history entering the world of business. Carlos Arthur Nuzman, a former Olympic volleyball player, became a successful lawyer before heading the Brazilian Olympic Committee and bringing the games to Rio. Football legend Pelé headed a campaign for Viagra and now for the BM&FBovespa
, the country’s multi-asset exchange, to convince Brazilians to invest.
It is difficult to overestimate Ronaldo’s status in his own country – boosted by the fact that he has a reputation for managing his fame with good humour, despite some famous personal scandals. But his touch will not necessarily turn 9ine into gold. “I generally think if a celebrity has a decent idea, they tend to believe that idea or business can become a great idea just because their name is behind it,” says Matt Delzell, account director at The Marketing Arm, an agency with significant sports operations based in the US. “Having celebrity stature helps in many cases, but the product or service ultimately has to be good for the business to flourish.”
In its first months, 9ine signed contracts to manage the images of up and coming Brazilian footballer Neymar, indoor-football celebrity Falcão, and world mixed martial arts champion Anderson Silva. On the corporate side, its first contract is with GlaxoSmithKline
, for which 9ine will develop sports marketing strategies for consumer products.
Ronaldo’s own brand power is at work in establishing such connections, but he is also assisted by his friend, the São Paulo entertainment entrepreneur Marcus Buaiz, 9ine’s executive director, who holds the remaining 10 per cent of the company.