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August had football fans talking – about the return of league football, and summer’s transfer business, but, perhaps most fervently, about Brazilian superstar Neymar, and his unexpected move to Paris St Germain for an unprecedented £198m. At over double the previous transfer record held by Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, fans voiced their concerns at how their clubs are spending their gate receipts. But this transfer goes above and beyond football – players are now a commercial entity, naming their own prices thanks to their marketing potential.
As one of the world’s best, and at only 25 years of age, Neymar could take PSG to the next level on the pitch, but the club’s banking on far more than his value as a player. With this purchase, PSG are tapping into the ‘Neymar brand’ and his huge marketability – no doubt having negotiated a level of image rights and sponsorship sharing between the club and the player that ensures they receive at least some of the proceeds.
With 32m followers, Neymar’s second only to Cristiano Ronaldo (59m) on Twitter. When you throw in his 80m Instagram followers and 60m likes on Facebook, Neymar reaches a whopping 170m social media followers. As a result, he’s already signed on the dotted line with a number of brands – Forbes estimates the player’s endorsements cash in over £17m per year, as the face of Nike, Gillette, Beats, Panasonic and Red Bull, among others.
Big reach indeed, not least revealed at the time of his signing for PSG. His Instagram post holding the PSG shirt currently has over 2.7m likes, and PSG’s own social following increased by 5.3m between the end of last season and the day before Neymar was officially announced. For the club, this is brand exposure that’s worth paying for.
With retail sales of licensed sports merchandising valued at £18.3bn worldwide in 2016, there’s an enormous opportunity for superstars to use their fame in partnerships with brands. Given the Queen of Social Media, Kim Kardashian, is paid £400,000 per brand-endorsed Instagram post to her 102m followers, it’s immediately clear the sheer commercial value Neymar has to any brand.
Another factor in the deal is Nike: Neymar’s the face of the brand that is already the kit sponsor for his new club. The kit sponsorship deal currently sits at around £18m per season. It is, however, rumoured that negotiations are already underway to double it when the contract is renewed. PSG will, understandably, be expecting the signing of Neymar to afford them extra clout in the contract renewal negotiation.
£198 million for a single player is a huge sum, and makes Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80m transfer to Real Madrid in 2009 look like a steal. But if Neymar remains at PSG for the next five years and brings success to the club, both on – and maybe even more importantly, off – the pitch, the deal may in time be viewed as value for money. It’s about more than the game, it’s a celebrity endorsement campaign – albeit helped on by some world-class Brazilian flair.