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Outspoken Superstar Athletes Transform the Sponsorship Landscape

When legendary soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo pointedly set aside two Coca-Cola bottles, picking up a water bottle, bluntly uttering the words: “Água. No Coca-Cola.” at a European Championship press conference in June 2021, event organizers and Coke executives must have inwardly cringed at the optics. While the Portugal team captain does not have an endorsement deal with the global beverage brand, Coke is one of the soccer tournament’s main sponsors.

Leagues and brand sponsors are unfortunately familiar with handling the fallout from star athletes truly behaving badly — think Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Hope Solo and Ryan Lochte— but the Ronaldo “incident” raises new questions about the influence of superstar athletes and the evolving partnerships they have with their sponsors.

In this Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article written by Loeb & Loeb Advanced Media & Technology partners Doug Masters and Seth Rose, the authors discuss how many brands are seeing the value of celebrating athletes who promote social justice causes and supporting stars who place their own health over their careers, and explore how this transformation could be the next trend in brand partnerships.