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I remember when I was first told that sports stars sometimes scratch or rub their heads a number of times during interviews, seemingly to show off the brand of watch they are wearing. (Roger Federer seems to do this a lot, as apparently does Jose Mourinho.) Once you are aware of this, it’s impossible not to notice it, which is obviously quite irritating.
But it does tell us something about the extraordinary commercial power these people wield. I like to think I am above buying a watch based on the flick of someone else’s hand (I’m not, I just don’t have enough money) but clearly this little game is worth everyone’s time, or it wouldn’t continue to happen. And we, the spectators, had better just get used to it.
So it was a great joy this week to witness a footballer not so much endorse a product, as wipe $4bn (£2.8bn) off its market value for a time. The highlight of the Euros so far. I am of course talking about Cristiano Ronaldo who, on Monday, sat down for a press conference in Budapest and immediately removed two prominently placed bottles of Coca-Cola from the table in front of him. The Portugal captain then held up a bottle of water and added, in case we hadn’t quite got the point: “Agua”.
One imagines the suits at Coca-Cola were not best pleased. Companies pay a lot of money to have their products plonked in front of stars like Ronaldo and a 1.6 per cent drop in share price doesn’t represent especially good value for money. (Before you shed any tears, though, the price later recovered somewhat and Coca-Cola is still worth more than $200bn.) The company quickly released a snippy little statement, saying that “everyone is entitled to their drink preferences”. Whoops, has someone’s Coca-Cola gone flat?
It is worth mentioning at this point that Ronaldo is not exactly shy about endorsing products. Let’s not dress this up as some ballsy, anti-capitalist stand from a man estimated to be worth nearly half a billion dollars. But it was refreshing to see some spontaneity and independence of thought prick a sport suffocated by agents and “brand ambassadors” and whatever else.
The great irony is that the public responds so much better to this sort of thing. The video of Ronaldo ditching the Coke bottles has been watched millions of times and certainly hasn’t done the 36-year-old’s reputation any harm. So who knows? Perhaps other sports stars will learn from him, will realise that it is OK to do your own thing, to have a view.
We won’t hate you for it. (Paul Pogba followed Ronaldo’s lead, in fact, on Tuesday and removed a bottle of Heineken from the press conference table.) Oh, and if you want to say something in a post-match interview beyond “yeah no, the lads have done well”, we’d be delighted to hear it.
Coca-Cola won’t see this as a good news story, which makes it an even better news story for the rest of us. I wonder how many kids have watched this video of Ronaldo and thought, maybe for the first time, that they’d rather just drink water. Product placement works – particularly when it is messed with. Now if everyone could just stop scratching their heads.