Athletes’ sponsorships: the curious case of Neymar


Frank Fifea / AP


In 2018, our article Federer and the golden nugget: the value of athletic sponsorship honed in on the art of finding a perfect fit between a brand and an athlete. We talked about Brazilian superstar and forward for the Paris Saint-Germain football team, Neymar da Silva Santos Jùnior


Already admired from a very young age, Neymar was nicknamed “O Ney”, in reference to “O Rey”, the alias given to the legendary footballer Pelé. The bar was set high for young Neymar. Nike knew he was special from the start and decided to make a long-shot bet that he would live up to his reputation.  


Imagine you’re a 13-year-old teenager, already playing first team for Santos FC in Brazil, and the biggest sports brand in the world knocks at your door offering you a brand ambassador deal. Would you be crazy enough to say no?


Neymar at Santos
Santos FC


Of course not! So, the wonderkid signs with Nike in 2005, becoming one of the youngest brand ambassadors not only in Brazil but the whole of South America. Nike’s bet paid off big time when 8 years later, Neymar, 21 at the time, signed a major deal with FC Barcelona, probably the best team in the world at that time. Thanks to Neymar, the sports brand with the swoosh got what they wanted: to expand from the South American football market to Europe’s. Ever since Ronaldo – another Brazilian, not Cristiano – and Ronaldinho, Nike had been looking for a strong South American player to link both markets, and Neymar was their ticket


Flash-forward to August 2020, Nike sends an email to the AFP announcing that after 15 years of collaboration, Neymar will no longer be an ambassador for the brand. The announcement came as a shock, seeing as the Brazilian is still a top player with a strong social media presence and marketing appeal. Why would Nike let go of one of their superstars? Who benefitted most from that decision? Is it Nike ending the partnership or Neymar?


A declining fit?

Over their 15 years together, it had been tough to maintain the intensity of the partnership between the brand and the player. There had been peaks and his moves from Santos to Barcelona and from Barcelona to PSG helped greatly, but time probably eroded this relationship


Over that period, Nike also evolved a lot, taking strong political stances and entering a more purpose-driven type of communication. Neymar might not have been the right headline for those messages. Although he has been actively doing community work in Brazil, it may not have been enough for Nike to push their new message forward. To support this shift, the brand preferred highlighting its partnerships with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and US soccer star Megan Rapinoe.


Colin Kaepernick

 Time for a renewal for the Swoosh brand?

Nike is an agile brand, and even though they have kept a few lifetime ambassadors, most are simply passing through. Even though Neymar has earned superstar status in the world of football, new and talented athletes are showing up on the scene. Like Neymar’s PSG teammate, Kylian Mbappé. The French superkid was bought at the age of 18 by Monaco for a massive €180 million, the second largest buy in the history of football. The first being… Neymar!


In the meantime, Mbappé became a World Champion, scoring goal after goal after goal, potentially putting Neymar in the shadows while becoming the newest face of football across the globe. 


Kylian Mbappé


Seven years younger than Neymar, Mbappé seems to garner more commercial upside. Last year’s Nike football tour in the US and Japan featured Mbappé, not Neymar – just a coincidence or a clear message from the brand?


A new opportunity?

We could also make the argument that Neymar, fed up with his old sponsor, has been approached by other manufacturers, proposing a better deal and more exclusivity


Shortly after the Nike announcement Neymar announced on social media that he signed with Puma. The German brand has been on an acquisition spree over the last few years but had failed to sign a superstar, until now. Their top football ambassadors, Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, Romero Lukaku and Sergio Aguero weren’t bringing the appeal of a real sports hero. 


Neymar and Puma


Historically, the brand created by Rudolf Dassler (brother of Adolf Dassler, creator of Adidas) has sponsored a number of legendary footballers, including Pelé, Eusébio, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona. In the mid-90s, Puma changed their strategy to focus on equipment sponsorship, straying from athlete sponsorship, at least on the football side, even if they have stayed present in athletics, signing Usain Bolt.


The brand also works with non-sporting celebrities, for example singer Rihanna has been the women’s creative director and global ambassador for women’s training for a few years. The Korean boyband BTS (First K-Pop Artist to Reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200) has also shot several Puma commercials.


With its four key values being brave, confident, determined and joyful, it seeks to promote credibility, authenticity and an appreciation for the games and sports it supports. Considering Neymar’s personality and status, the partnership with Puma may be just the right fit.


Puma has already linked Neymar with their previous historic partnerships with legendary player in their video announcement.



 The (extended) Neymar Brand


The Neymar brand is built on more than just football.  His website features sections such as Culture and Community, showing another side of the Brazilian superstar.


In addition to Nike and now Puma, he also works with a plethora of brands including Beats Electronics, EA, Gillette, MasterCard and Red Bull. His social media followers total 244 million, which helps drive his significant sponsorship deals.


He’s the fourth highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes, which estimates his endorsement deals at a cool U$S 25 million and his total annual earnings at just under U$S 95 million per year with U$S 70 million coming from his PSG contract. 



The styles of Neymar


There is no doubt that Puma has gained access to a player and influencer with a strong brand and image, as well as multiple ways to communicate with his fans. We will see how the partnership unfolds in the coming weeks and months, but when a brand bets that big on a player, the return on investment has to be massive!

 A The Consultancy Group article, written by Alessandro Di Benedetto

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