Ronaldo’s social reach shrinks as move to Saudi Arabia confirmed

Ronaldo’s social reach shrinks as move to Saudi Arabia confirmed

• Star loses 5 million followers in days after Al Nassr move

Manchester United see little social impact

As legends prepare to meet again, new analysis shows differences in social clout of Messi and Ronaldo

Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo lost almost 5mn social media followers in the days following his move to Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, according to a new analysis by leading data and insights company, CLV Group.

The news will come as a blow to Ronaldo’s commercial team and will stoke fears that the player could struggle to maintain his relevance following his move to Saudi Arabia, especially while the star of his arch-rival, Lionel Messi, is in the ascendancy after Argentina’s World Cup win in Qatar. The two are re-united this week when Messi’s Paris St Germain team meet an XI selected from Al Nassr and Al Hilal in Riyadh.

The Portuguese legend’s social reach dropped off by around 4.5% with the move to Saudi Arabia, with much of the decline happening in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries. In Brazil alone, more than 600,00 tuned out of Ronaldo’s social comms, making up 15% of all those who did so, while in Spain almost half a million did the same (11% of all unfollows). In each of Mexico and Columbia, around 300,000 former fans hit the ‘Unfollow’ button, between them making up a further 15% of all those who no longer want to see the star’s posts.

Ronaldo’s lost followers aren’t disgruntled Manchester United fans, either. Although the Portuguese left the side in difficult circumstances and about to serve a two-match ban for slapping a phone from a fan’s hands, only 6% of those who unfollowed him are United fans. In fact, the overall proportion of his followers who also follow Manchester United actually increased after the move and the related reduction in social clout (from 17.6% to 18.2%). 

CLV’s analysis also reveals that, despite fears to the contrary, Ronaldo’s departure from United has barely dented the club’s following. Of the 5mn people who have opted to cut social ties with the star, around the same proportion continue to follow United (6% compared to 6.6% before the move).

So what’s driving the drop-off in Ronaldo’s followership? CLV Co-founder and Chief Executive Neil Joyce says the analysis reveals the answer:   

“The data tells us that the people tuning out of Ronaldo’s socials are typically not hard-core football fans. Instead, they are more likely to be interested in profiles that create celebrity gossip, reality TV, fashion and lifestyle content. What’s actually happening here is that, for these people, Ronaldo’s move is taking him out of the centre of these worlds and making him less relevant to what they’re interested in. The flipside to that is that his remaining followers are more likely to be football-centric. That makes it even more important that he remains a success in the game if he’s to keep up his commercial reach.”

This insight also speaks to the differences in the followerships of the two great stars of the global game, Messi and Ronaldo. 

CLV’s analysis of social platforms shows that Messi’s followers, for example, are significantly more likely to be interested in football more generally, compared to Ronaldo’s (96% vs. 89%), while disciples of the Portuguese tend to be more interested in TV entertainment and pop music. Almost two-thirds of Messi followers also follow video-gaming profiles (65%), while just 35% of Ronaldo fans do the same, and while Puma are a favourite brand of followers of Messi, it’s Nike for those in thrall of Ronaldo.

Neil Joyce says that the data shows what many analysts overlook:

“The footballing stories of Ronaldo and Messi are closely intertwined, but off the pitch – and commercially – it’s a different story. Messi’s social following is understandably rooted in South America but it’s also strong in Africa. Ronaldo’s followers are more global but also skew towards Spanish-speaking markets. And while Ronaldo’s followers tend to be more interested in celebrity, Messi’s are more of a traditional football market. Whatever the result is this week, commercially both of them win when we see a match-up like this again.”

Countries where most Ronaldo ‘unfollows’ took place:

CLV Group