Sponsor downplays Ronaldo on website; Juventus shares drop
A week after a Nevada woman filed a civil lawsuit accusing Ronaldo of rape in 2009, attempts by the five-time world player of the year and his Italian club to sway public opinion in his favor have not succeeded.
Sponsors are continuing to express concern about the case despite a denial from Ronaldo, who has not addressed why Kathryn Mayorga’s legal team says a $375,000 settlement was reached in 2010 over the alleged assault by the soccer star in Las Vegas.
A week ago, the new edition of the FIFA video game franchise was released with Ronaldo as a cover star. While EA Sports has not suspended the sponsorship, it has been distancing itself from the face of its game in recent days.
The company home page still uses athletes to represent NFL, NBA, NHL, UFC and golf games. But a block of teal has replaced the spot on a banner occupied by Ronaldo until Tuesday, according to an Associated Press analysis through archived versions of the website.
The top of the FIFA 19 section of the EA website prominently showcased Ronaldo wearing the famed black-and-white Juventus jersey until at least Sunday. By Tuesday it had been replaced by a picture of four men in front of a television playing the game. At that point, a black-and-white photo of Ronaldo still appeared on the bottom right of the site. On Friday, that was replaced by an image of Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar.
Now, the only visual representation of Ronaldo on the webpage is Ronaldo on the cover of the game box with Neymar.
Such a move won’t be taken lightly.
“They have to tread carefully so that they are not pre-judging him before an investigation reaches its conclusion,” said Simon Leaf, a sports and commercial lawyer at London-based Mischon de Reya. “At the same time, the brand will have to be careful because depending on the commercial deal they reached it’s not that uncommon for these deals to include clauses to oblige the brand to make use of the rights they are getting.”
EA Sports declined to comment specifically on downplaying its online association with Ronaldo. It had already called the allegation against the Portugal captain “concerning” in a statement to the AP that reminded “ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA’s values.”
Nike, with has a reported $1 billion deal with Ronaldo has also said it was “deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations.”
Another sponsor spoke out on Friday: DAZN, the internet sports streaming platform which signed Ronaldo as a global ambassador in August.
“We take allegations of this nature extremely seriously and continue to monitor the situation closely,” DAZN told the AP.
Ronaldo could return to the field on Saturday for the first time for Juventus since issuing a statement on Wednesday denying he raped Mayorga in a Las Vegas penthouse in 2009. Juventus prepared for the league match in northeast Italy against Udinese by offering full support for Ronaldo.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri on Friday praised his “great professionalism and seriousness both on and off the field.” He echoed tweets from Juventus, which said “events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change” the club’s view about his “great professionalism and dedication.”
Juventus paid 112 million euros (then $132 million) to sign Ronaldo from Real Madrid in July in an attempt to elevate the club’s global appeal and win the Champions League. But in the week when the controversy around Ronaldo mounted, the club’s shares have dropped 20 percent on the Italian Stock Exchange. They fell by 10 percent alone on Friday in the aftermath of sponsors voicing concerns about Ronaldo’s alleged conduct.
“Often these kind of issues are the most contentious issues when coming to negotiate sponsorship contracts,” said Leaf, who has represented soccer clubs, sponsors and players on such deals.
Mayorga’s legal team said it will ask a judge to void the non-disclosure agreement that the attorneys say Mayorga signed while accepting a $375,000 payment from Ronaldo in 2010. The civil lawsuit filed Sept. 27 in state court in Las Vegas alleges Ronaldo hired a team of what the document called “fixers” to pressure Mayorga to keep quiet.
Gestifute, the sports agency representing Ronaldo, has not responded to questions about the settlement. Sponsors contacted by the AP would not say if they were previously aware of it.
“There is a potential argument the athlete would have to disclose something like this before entering in the contract so the brand is aware of the issue,” Leaf said. “Or it could be a case they mispresented themselves as a good clean athlete where there are skeletons the company would want to know before entering into the deal.”