Ronaldo World Cup Ad Goes Global as Web Starts to Trump TV

Nike Inc. (NKE)’s latest World Cup ad, featuring Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, was seen by 78 million people in four days. Then it went to television.

Though the vast majority of fans will still watch World Cup matches on TV, the marketing battle has gone online. Nike’s four-minute spot was released on YouTube and Facebook during an April 25 event in Madrid showcasing the shoemaker’s latest cleat. Within hours, Ronaldo -- the most popular sports star on Twitter -- had sent it to his 26 million followers. A shorter TV version wasn’t broadcast until April 29.

“I’m pretty sure what I launched today will be around the world in a second,” Nike’s brand president Trevor Edwards said at the Madrid event. “We’re almost at a point where it’s hard to calculate what is on television versus what’s on the Web.”

Nike says its TV ad buying during the World Cup is declining as it increasingly uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach fans in a battle with Adidas AG (ADS) for supremacy in the global soccer-products market, which NPD Group estimates will grow by 8 percent this year to about $17 billion.

More on the 2014 World Cup:

Adidas will spend more on Internet promotions than on television for this year’s World Cup: about half of its media expenditure for the tournament will go online, versus a fifth at the 2010 event in South Africa, according to Chief Executive Officer Herbert Hainer. Neither Adidas nor Nike would reveal how much they spend on soccer advertising.

Photographer: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo during the presentation of new Nike football boots in Madrid on April 25, 2014. Close

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Photographer: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo during the presentation of new Nike football boots in Madrid on April 25, 2014.

The current campaign, Adidas’s biggest ever, “will be heavily supported by social media,” Hainer said as young workers buzzed around behind him in a coffee bar at the company’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany. “It makes us absolutely fresh and new.”

Catching TV

Though there are no statistics that break out World Cup ad outlays, online promotions are quickly catching TV in global expenditures. Corporations will spend about $68.5 billion on TV this year and $56 billion online, according to researcher eMarketer. In 2010, the year the World Cup was in South Africa, television advertising was more than double online, eMarketer reports. By 2018, when the quadrennial tournament is scheduled to take place in Russia, advertisers will spend 17 percent more on Web ads than on TV, the researcher predicts.

“The marketing of the World Cup has changed dramatically since 2010,” said Facebook marketing executive Carolyn Everson. “Four years ago the centerpiece was television. This is going to be a mobile World Cup.”

Putting World Cup promotions on the Web makes sense. Google reports that searches related to the tournament over the past four years have outnumbered those for the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the Tour de France combined.

‘Going Crazy’

Even so, the monthlong World Cup is also the planet’s most-watched sporting event -- largely on television. About 400 million people are expected to see the contest’s final match on July 13, and each of the 64 games will garner viewership roughly equivalent to the Super Bowl, according to Futures Sport + Entertainment, a London media-analysis firm.

Interactive Graphic: Bloomberg Visual Data

Interactive Graphic: Bloomberg Visual Data

The rise of smartphones is changing how fans watch matches. When Spain played the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final, game-related Google searches surged after the match and were mostly made from PCs. For this year’s European Champions League semifinal between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, searches peaked during the game, driven by smartphones and tablets, Google says.

“Mobile uploads will be going crazy” at the World Cup, said Suzie Reider, a managing director at Google’s YouTube unit. “In 2010 it was still primarily branding and advertising, and television first.”

Adidas Newsrooms

For the World Cup, Adidas is setting up media “newsrooms” in five cities including Shanghai and Moscow, with copywriters, filmmakers and photographers ready to post photos and video clips. Nike is deploying more than 250 people in the U.S., China, Brazil and elsewhere to feed social media.

Facebook estimates that 500 million of its 1.28 billion users are soccer fans, and that 110 million of those are males aged 13 to 34 in big markets -- a demographic coveted by advertisers. With new tools just introduced by Facebook, sponsors can show ads to groups with similar interests such as people who’ve commented on the World Cup each day or moms whose soccer-playing kids are into the tournament.

Nike’s digital marketing chops can be seen in its deal with Ronaldo, who on May 24 scored on a penalty kick in Real Madrid’s European championship victory -- then preened shirtless on the field to celebrate.

Twitterless Messi

Ronaldo has the 14th-most-followed Twitter account, the highest rank of any sports star, according to TwitterCounter.com. His page offers up a tapestry of links to his great game moments, photos with fans, snaps of his dinner -- and plugs for Nike and his other commercial ventures, including video games, underwear and smartphones. Adidas brand ambassador Lionel Messi, by contrast, doesn’t even have a Twitter account.

Nike, based in Beaverton, Oregon, surpassed $2 billion in soccer sales for the year that ended last May, and its footwear sales in Western Europe shot up 24 percent for the quarter ended Feb. 28, excluding currency effects. Adidas expects to reach its goal of 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in soccer revenue this year, CEO Hainer said, after first-quarter sales of shoes, jerseys and other gear surged 27 percent.

Still, Adidas shares have fallen 16 percent this year, driven down by slumping revenue at the TaylorMade golf business and the impact on sales and profit of a strong euro. They were down 0.7 percent at 77.99 euros as of 3:42 p.m. in Frankfurt. Nike eased 0.3 percent to $76.46 at 9:42 a.m. in New York.

Nude Ronaldo

Adidas is out to prove it can hang with Nike in marketing. The company May 24 debuted an online and TV spot called “Leo Messi’s World Cup Dream,” showing the Argentine superstar imagining his opponents’ preparation -- then hitting the field and trouncing them.

At 5-foot-7, Messi is fast and dangerous in games but lacks the model-dating glamour of Ronaldo, who appears nude on the cover of this month’s Spanish Vogue artfully covered by his girlfriend’s white dress.

Messi “is not the flashiest guy off the field,” said Tom Ramsden, Adidas’s marketing director for soccer. But “he’s dedicated to his family, team and nation,” Ramsden said. “That’s something we’ll definitely celebrate.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Ricadela in Frankfurt at aricadela@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net David Rocks, Paul Jarvis

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