The Cristiano Ronaldo effect: Has football become Reality TV?

Cristiano Ronaldo.

I could stop here and finish the article – and you’d know what I was talking about.

Last night’s heroics in the Champions League, to pull his new team Juventus back from the brink of elimination and into the quarter finals, felt like so many other big Ronaldo moments. There was a sense of inevitability about it. Even a week before the tie there was a sense that, despite the 2-0 scoreline and the fact that Atletico Madrid’s defence is widely considered the best in Europe, it was still possible and mostly because one team had Ronaldo.

There’s an Action Man quality to the Portuguese – and not just because of the perfect six pack and immovably gelled hairstyle: a child-like wonder among his fans that makes it feel as though he can do anything.

Sport always throws up moments like this. So don’t get me wrong, without Ronaldo a similarly incredible night might still have taken place. Manchester United didn’t need him to beat Paris Saint-Germain last week. But it’s also true that sport thrives on personalities who do more to market products like the Champions League or its other assorted competitions better than any expensively produced advertising campaign ever could.

Again, the players themselves have always been central to the plot, but the weight of celebrity makes it different.

Ronaldo is the most followed person on Instagram and Facebook. He transcends football, transcends sport. He is bigger than actors, popstars and those famous from reality TV so when he takes to the field it’s more than just Ronaldo the sportsman stepping onto the grass – it’s the latest episode. The same is true for plenty of other players, but the Juventus attacker is on another level. It’s why they paid so much money for him even though he’s just turned 34.

But what’s interesting is how social media has become an equally important space for this phenomenon. It’s bonus content, an on-demand service attached to the entertainment you’ve just watched.

And yet it happens concurrently. Maybe there are spikes at half time and full time, when those who were engrossed in what was playing out on their screens (or in front of them in the stadium) snapped out of their trance and logged into Twitter. But by and large this is happening at the same time.

Importantly, one aspect of this is the fact that it’s a place where people point out the bits you might have missed when watching in real time. Cristiano Ronaldo’s celebration mocking Atleti coach Diego Simeone is just one example. A few weeks ago, you’ll have seen Angel Di Maria pretending to drink from a bottle of beer that was thrown at him. We’re here for the game, but we’re just as interested in the trivialities.

We keep hearing about OTT, or the Netflix effect – how people are becoming used to watching what they want when they want, and that the idea of linear TV (or live, in the case of sport) feels so outdated. But the live aspect of these big football matches is what is making sport so big, and the fact that social media is a hive of activity at the same time is both proof of the live effect and evidence of football fans adapting to incorporate digital media into what used to be a linear world. We’re somehow able to get the live action and the on-demand bonus trimmings pretty much at the same time.

Later this month, we’ll be exploring this very concept with The FA, Bleacher Report and Steve Madincea. Where does sports marketing go from here, now that the dust is settling and our digital media use is starting to settle into a rhythm.

It’ll be interesting to explore the effect of celebrity culture and maybe even touch on this very incident – when Ronaldo once again stole the show. Is football becoming a celebrity-driven Reality TV series where we’re just as interested in the personalities of the players as we are in their talent? Or has it always been this way and we’re just now seeing it through the magnifying lens of social media?

We’d love to hear you thoughts on this at #DSLondon in two weeks’ time!

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

You might also like

Could ID registration fix abusive culture on social media?

Social media can be an emotional rollercoaster. It can do a lot of good: keeps you closer to those you love by breaking barriers of distance, can log your best

Women’s sport is an open goal for brands 

By Lucy Banks, Head of Content for Brands, Google EMEA The 2019 Women’s World Cup will go down in history as a landmark moment for women’s sport. A record 28.1 million

October’s top 5 Best Branded Football Content Campaigns

This series will look at the best branded football campaigns of October from television advertising, to social media posts and online offers, as Digital Sport evaluates how the biggest names