Neymar is nearly perfect. As a player, he still has acres of potential to grow. And just as he surges forward into space on the pitch, determined, fearless, there is little doubt he will continue to improve. He just needs to become more consistent, to decide better when to be selfish or selfless.
He’s even closer to perfection off the field. Neymar is the marketing man’s dream. Part player, part hype-machine, product-selling, business creation.
Even back in 2013, Neymar was being hailed as the most “marketable sports person in the world,” ahead of the likes of Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. That was while he was still in South America, playing for Brazilian side Santos. One transfer move to Barcelona, a World Cup in which Brazil, the hosts, were destroyed and humiliated the moment he was unavailable to play, and a treble with his club later, Neymar is even closer to being the face that launched a thousand blue-chip company products.
On SportPro’s 2015 list of most marketable athletes, Neymar is second, only behind tennis sensation Eugenie Bouchard. There is no other soccer player in the top 10. He is on course to become the most recognized footballer on the planet.
Currently, the two players that earn the most money from endorsements are Ronaldo and Messi. According to Forbes, they earn $27 and $22 million respectively, outside their salaries. Neymar currently earns $17 million. Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale each get more than the Brazilian when it comes to yearly earnings, their endorsement fees are only $6 million and $9.5 million apiece.
Recognized as the best two players in the world, it’s no surprise that Messi and Ronaldo are ahead of Neymar on this front, but don’t expect that to remain the same for long. The newcomer is simply far better suited to selling products than either of those two. Neymar strikes a balance between Messi and Ronaldo, the perfect middle ground.
Developing the image
Messi is too shy for his own good, with the player offering very little about himself to the world. He is hard to truly like because nobody knows how much they can have in common with him. He doesn’t party, he does his best to stay out of the spotlight, looking painfully awkward when he appears in advertisements. He doesn’t even have a Twitter account. The most we find out about Messi is via his Instagram, or sometimes his partner Antonella Roccuzzo’s. She isn’t a limelight-hogger, either; just a girl from Messi’s hometown, Rosario.
Neymar’s offerings are mainly pictures of him hanging out with his friends, messing around, playing with his dog – just general things that a boy of 23 might be doing. Because he’s saying he’s just like you or me, only insanely good at soccer. Neymar takes the flashy side of Ronaldo — the hair-cuts, the skills, the ability to wind up opponents — and mixes it with the goody-goody and casualness of Messi, leaving him somewhere in the middle. If on the field Messi is a natural talent and Ronaldo a machine built on hours of dedication and hard-work, Neymar is in the median.
He still has the street swagger that comes naturally to him, but works hard on his game, tactically, technically, physically. Over the past year, he has put on around 11 pounds of muscle, which will help him during matches as well as nudge him from skinny into sexy. That is an important aspect when it comes to marketing. Neymar has boyish good-looks, closer to David Beckham’s handsome airs than Ronaldo’s chiseled-from-stone posturing. It’s a lot easier for male supporters to try and look like Neymar than Ronaldo, unless they want to spend their life in the gym, chugging protein shakes.
Parabéns presidente !! Felicidades sempre FENÔMENO … @ronaldolima A photo posted by Nj ?? (@neymarjr) on
Another factor which shouldn’t be important, but sadly, realistically, is, is skin color. Neymar isn’t white, but he’s white enough not to be “othered” by money men and consumers alike. He’s white enough for white audiences to see themselves in, dark enough for everyone else to do the same.
The race issue is best highlighted by the Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams issue in tennis. The latter, black, the best female tennis player of all time, is roughly four times as successful but makes half as much in endorsements. “If they want to market someone who is white and blond, that’s their choice,” Williams said, when asked about the huge gap in sponsorship deals.
A few years ago, back while he was at Santos, Neymar had his curly hair straightened and given blonde tips. Since then, he regularly has it treated and has been through a variety of different styles, many of them along similar lines. Once he even dyed his beard blonde.
That opens another can of worms, with a huge debate in Brazil started about the “whitening” of Neymar and the marketability of black public figures, but the bottom line is that looking “Western” pays. Right or wrong, who could blame Neymar for doing the best for himself?
SEE MORE: Neymar shines amid controversy.
But the Brazilian does not think of himself as white, unlike his compatriot, the iconic striker Ronaldo. When asked about problems with racism in Brazil, the former Real Madrid and Barcelona star answered: “I’m white, so I am really ignorant of these matters.” Although Neymar previously stated that he isn’t “preto” (black), he has fought against racist abuse, of himself and others. Showing his eye for business, he even managed to turn a protest against banana throwing into a viral campaign.
During a Barcelona match with Villarreal, a fan threw a banana at club and country teammate Dani Alves. The right back picked up the piece of fruit and ate it on the pitch. It was hailed as a brilliant, innovative stand against racism, and immediately after the game, Neymar published a picture of himself on Instagram with a banana and a hashtag reading “we are all monkeys.”
It later transpired this was a campaign which had been set up by Neymar, with the help of an advertising agency, and it was actually intended that he would be the one to eat a banana next time one was flung at him. The world joined in, with stars like Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez, while still at Liverpool, also posing for pictures eating bananas.
Guga Ketzer, partner in Loducca, the advertising agency, said:
“Actions speak louder than words. A gesture needs no translation and what we’re seeing is that this has gone viral, globally. The idea was for Neymar to eat the banana, but in the end it was Alves, and that works just the same.”
Catching the big two
Even at 23, he has sealed several huge endorsements, most recently becoming a brand ambassador for Pokerstars, something said to have netted him around €4 million. But on top of previous deals with Castrol, Police, Panasonic, L’Oreal, Volkswagen and others, the key is his Nike connection.
Currently Ronaldo (Portuguese) is the biggest name on Nike’s books, but for how long? Neymar is likely to slide alongside him and Messi on the Ballon d’Or podium come January – something else which will boost his commercial profile. From there, it won’t be long until he overtakes the Madrid star. Although the narrative regarding Messi and Ronaldo’s long-running battle for supremacy doesn’t allow much breathing space, there’s already a case to be made that Neymar is at least as good as the latter, if not better.
Beyond the big two, Neymar is ahead of everybody else in world soccer, the leader of his country and likely to finish as the highest international goalscorer of all-time. Iran’s Ali Daei is top with 109 in 149 caps, Neymar is on 46 in 67. He is nearly halfway to the target with the majority of his career ahead of him. In 31 goals time, he will match Pele.
Completing his rise
There are just three more steps for Neymar to take to become the best known footballer of all time.
Firstly, he must keep improving on the pitch. As shown by Messi, even with a lack of public personality you can still rake it in, provided you speak with your boots. Ronaldo is 31, Messi 28. Within three years it’s probable, should he continue developing at the same rate, that Neymar will be the finest soccer player out there.
Secondly, he should learn English. If he added that string to his bow, he’d be able to reach even more people and become an even greater marketing dream.
And thirdly, and perhaps cynically, is the right choice about when and with whom to change his status from eligible bachelor to taken man. Beckham’s popularity and status around the world went through the roof when he married Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams. People who had no interest in soccer all of a sudden knew who he was. Although love should be a question of the heart and nothing else, knowing Neymar’s head for marketing and eye for an opportunity, nothing can be ruled out – not least him becoming part of a new, perfect “power couple.”
Neymar is the prince, but he has his eyes on the king’s throne. And when he gets it, please direct enquiries about hiring the advertising space on the back to his entourage.
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