These are the players that sponsors are counting on most at the 2018 World Cup

By Luke Christou

More than one billion fans tuned in to watch Germany beat Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final. FIFA will be expecting similar numbers this summer, as the world’s best teams head to Russia to fight for the 2018 World Cup trophy.

With the best players on show and hundreds of millions of guaranteed viewers, the World Cup will offer sponsors ample opportunity for exposure.

The tournament will offer the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar the chance to stake their claim as the best player in the world. Likewise, there is also an opportunity for others to throw their names into the mix.

It’s never possible to say how the World Cup will play out. The tournament always provides plenty of shocks in the form of early exits and unexpected stars. However, these are the players that sponsors will be hoping manage to make an impression in Russia.

Based on data provided by sports market intelligence company Sportcal, Verdict ranks the top ten players set to play at the World Cup with the most active sponsorship deals.

Neymar – 16 sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $39.2m

World Cup sponsors - verdict

While most football fans would put Neymar behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in terms of ability, sponsors seem to value him above his rivals.

Neymar’s status as the star of Brazilian football certainly helps. During his career, he has signed multi-million dollar deals with Brazilian companies such as Gol Airlines, coffee brand Café Pilao, car battery company Baterias Heliar and Tenys Pe foot deodorant.

While his contract with sportswear brand Nike is likely his biggest earner, the financial side of that deal is unreported. However, he currently has agreements with cosmetics leader Gillette and Apple-owned Beats Electronic, worth $5m each annually.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
Rico 2018 2020 0.4
Gol 2018 2018 0.6
TCL 2018 2019 2
Digible 2018  – 0.25
Cafe Pilão 2017 2018 1.5
McDonald’s 2017 2018 4
Proibida 2017 2018 2
Quantum 2017 2018 2.5
NABUfit Global ApS 2016 2018 2
GaGa Milano 2017 2020 2.5
Gillette 2015 2019 5
Replay 2015 2018 2.5
Red Bull 2010  – 3.42
Nike 2011 2022 1
Baterias Heliar 2014 2018 2.5
Beats Electronics 2014 2019 5

Cristiano Ronaldo – 12 sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $35.9m

World Cup sponsors - verdict

Cristiano Ronaldo, 2017’s highest-earning athlete, was knocked off of the top spot by Floyd Mayweather and Messi this year. However, he continues to dominate his arch-rival when it comes to endorsements. According to Forbes’ annual highest-paid athletes list, Messi made $27m in endorsements last year, while Ronaldo made $47m.

Ronaldo’s commercial success is largely down to his popularity on social media. The Real Madrid star is the most followed athlete on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, with a combined audience of 320 million. According to Hookit, a sponsored post on one of Ronaldo’s social channels generates $1.6m in value for the brand.

Were he to lead Portugal to World Cup glory this summer, Ronaldo would undoubtedly be worth even more to his legion of sponsors.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
Wey 2018 2020 0.7
American Tourister 2018 2018 0.4
PanzerGlass 2017 2019 0.5
Exness 2017 2018 0.5
Egyptian Steel 2017 0.3
Nike 2016 30
Abbott Laboratories 2015 0.5 2015 0.5
Clear Shampoo 2014 0.5
TAG Heuer 2014 1
Herbalife 2013 2018 0.5
JBS 2013 0.5

Lionel Messi – six sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $32.7m

World Cup sponsors - verdict

Despite engaging in far fewer endorsement activities, Messi manages to outdo his closest rivals in terms of earning potential. He has half of the sponsors that Ronaldo does, but makes just $3.2m less a year.

Much of that comes from his deal with Adidas, which will be worth $20m to the Barcelona star at least until he decides to hang up his boots. Messi signed a lifetime deal with the sportswear brand last year, similar to Ronaldo’s deal with Nike.

Messi appears to be a little more picky about the brands that he partners with, but despite having fewer sponsors, he is earning a considerable amount from each. None of Messi’s six sponsorship deals are worth less than $1.5m annually according to Sportcal.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
MasterCard 2018 2019 2
Mengniu 2018 1.5
Hawkers 2017 1.5
Huawei Technologies 2016 5.68
Adidas 2011 20
Pepsi 2014 2

Luis Suarez – six sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $600,000+

This time four years ago, sponsors lost their appetite for Barcelona striker Luis Suarez after he was accused of biting Italy defender Georgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup. This wasn’t the first time that the player had been involved in controversy and many felt that, despite FIFA issuing Suarez with a four-month ban, it wouldn’t be the last.

Online poker company 888Poker dropped Suarez immediately, while Adidas and Standard Chartered confirmed that they would be reviewing their relationships with the player.

However, Suarez has proved his doubters wrong. Now four years without any incidents, the Uruguayan striker has started to add some new names to his list of sponsors.

Having attracted three tech companies this year in Tronsmart, Globatalent and GOME, Suarez will go to this World Cup as one of the most sponsored players (and hopefully he’ll be able to keep hold of them this time).

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
Tronsmart 2018 2020 0.2
Globatalent 2018 2019 0.15
GOME Holdings Group 2018 2018 0.2
Tourism Malaysia 2017  –
Konami 2017 2018  –
Pepsi 2014  –

James Rodriguez – five sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $850,000+

Unlike Suarez, Rodriguez made headlines at the 2014 World Cup for all the right reasons. Back then he was a talented 22-year-old with it all to prove as he scored in each of Columbia’s five games before they crashed out against hosts Brazil. That earned him a move to Real Madrid, where he won back-to-back Champions League titles. He has since fallen out of the Spanish club’s plans, but proved during a loan spell with Bayern Munich last season that he can still compete with the best.

Aged 26, time is still on Rodriguez’s side and his sponsors seemingly agree.

He currently earns close to $1m annually through two deals with online trading platform Libertex. That is the only deal with reported financial data, but he likely earns a fair bit more from his agreement with Adidas.

Rodriguez’s stock has fallen somewhat since he burst onto the scene in 2014. However, if he can replicate that performance at a second consecutive World Cup, the big brands will undoubtedly come calling.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
Libertex 2018 2020 0.4
Libertex 2017 2018 0.35
Pony Malta
Huawei Technologies 2015
adidas 2015

Antoine Griezmann – four sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: N/A

Griezmann’s sponsorship deals show just how much his stock has risen in the last few years. Since guiding France to the European Championship final in 2016, he has partnered with three new sponsors in luxury watchmaker HYT, Chinese tech company Huawei, and shampoo brand Head & Shoulders.

Griezmann has been showcasing his talent at Atletico Madrid since 2014. He’s a player with the potential to rival the very best in the game, but has yet to take that step. This summer will offer a big indication of whether the Frenchman can reach the next level and start competing with the likes of Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo for football’s biggest prizes.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
HYT 2017 2018
Huawei Technologies 2017
Head & Shoulders 2017
PUMA 2012

Andres Iniesta – three sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $250,000+

Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta’s career is winding down. He will depart the Spanish champions next month after 16 seasons with the club as his age begins to catch up with him.

However, his decline on the pitch hasn’t affected his ability to attract major brands and businesses off of it.

The 34-year-old will travel to this summer’s World Cup, which will likely be his last, with three sponsors, all of which have been signed within the last 18 months.

In 2017, car manufacturer Nissan agreed to pay him $250,000 a year to serve as a brand ambassador, which was an extension of a deal first agreed in 2014. Likewise, he has a similar agreement with luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer.

With two of his three endorsement deals set to expire this year, Iniesta needs to put on a show in Russia.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m) 2017 2018  –
TAG Heuer 2017 2018  –
Nissan 2017 0.25

Sergio Aguero – three sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $300,000+

Aguero usually serves as a sidekick to Argentinian icon Messi at the big tournaments. That will undoubtedly be the case once again in Russia as Argentina attempts to go one step further than last time by winning the tournament.

However, having to stand alongside Messi doesn’t provide a true representation of Aguero’s ability on the pitch. The Manchester City striker has scored 199 goals in 292 appearances for his club. He has consistently been among the Premier League’s top goalscorers since the 2013/14 season.

While he will forever be in Messi’s shadow while on international duty, his success at club level hasn’t gone unnoticed. The likes of Pepsi, Nissan, and PUMA are among Aguero’s big-name backers.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
PepsiCo 2017  –
Nissan 2016 0.3
PUMA 2014  –

Gabriel Jesus – three sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: N/A

The heir to Aguero’s throne at Manchester City, Gabriel Jesus has already matched his mentor for sponsorship deals. That is despite having only broken through in 2017.

If Neymar’s success is any indication of what’s to come for the 21-year-old sensation, then he has plenty to look forward to. Brazil loves football and brands want to partner with the sport’s biggest names. Jesus has already attracted two in Vivo Brazil, the nation’s largest telecommunications provider, and Guarana Antarctica, a soft drink manufacturer.

If he can give Neymar a run for his money at the Russia World Cup, he can expect to add a few names to that list and a few million to his bank balance.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
Gatorade 2018  –
Vivo Brazil 2017 2018  –
Guarana Antarctica 2017 2020  –

Harry Kane – three sponsors

Annual endorsement earnings: $750,000+

England fans always tend to pin their hopes on one key striker. Wayne Rooney followed Michael Owen and now Harry Kane is filling in following Rooney’s international retirement last year.

Fans will be hoping that Kane fares better than his predecessors in Russia this summer. So too will his sponsors.

England, a team with the quality to go far that always seems to fall short of its targets, are long overdue some success and the free-scoring Tottenham striker could be the man to deliver it.

German fashion house Hugo Boss are seemingly putting their money on the England captain, having handed him a $750,000 sponsorship deal earlier this year ahead of the World Cup.

Brand Deal start Deal finish Value ($m)
Hugo Boss 2018 2018 0.75
Lucozade 2016  –
BT Sport 2015  –

Read more: World Cup prize money: The cash behind Russia 2018

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