You’d be hard-pressed to find a more globally recognized name in sports than Lionel Messi. You’d also have difficulty naming many chains with as much global reach as Hard Rock International, operators of the Hard Rock Cafes, Hotels, and Casinos. These two titans of industry joined forces this week, announcing a new marketing partnership to celebrate Hard Rock’s 50th anniversary.
Messi inked a five-year contract to be a global ambassador for the brand and is the first athlete Hard Rock has ever worked with. If you’re going to jump into athlete marketing (something we encourage all brands to do at MarketPryce), closing a deal with Leo Messi is quite the place to start.
The choice definitely makes sense, though, given the footballer’s worldwide fame level. Messi was born in Argentina and plays professionally for FC Barcelona, one of the most popular sports teams in the world. To illustrate their global status, take a look at Barca’s biggest sponsors and where they are based — Rakuten (Japanese), Beko (Turkish), and Nike (American). Messi is synonymous with Barca and Barca is synonymous with Messi.
On social media, Messi has the second-highest following of any pro athlete (Ronaldo takes the crown in this category) with 216 million on Instagram alone. On Instagram, he averages 4.5 million likes and 150,000 comments per post. His Hard Rock promo video has racked up close to 5 million views in the first 24 hours after he posted it.
Hard Rock joins Messi’s sponsorship portfolio alongside many other large, global brands. He’s an ambassador for Adidas, Gatorade, Lays, Budweiser, Pepsi, and more. In 2019, Forbes valued his endorsements at $35 million total for that year.
Hard Rock is likely paying top dollar for this partnership, but they share a lot in common with Messi when it comes to global awareness. They have venues in 68 countries and a total of 239 locations made up of Hotels, Casinos, Live Performance Spaces, and Cafes, including one located a few miles from FC Barcelona’s stadium.
This deal comes as we see brands continue to embrace sports betting and use famous figures to spearhead their marketing efforts. In 2020, Hard Rock International launched Hard Rock Digital, an online sportsbook, which is one of the first ventures into sports for the music-focused brand. Drawing Messi fans toward the online sportsbook and encouraging them to bet with Hard Rock will undoubtedly be a goal of the campaign.
When closing an athlete marketing deal, you always want to make sure that the ambassador is a good fit for your brand, and Hard Rock has achieved that with this partnership. The brand is rolling out a line of Messi-inspired merchandise to go along with the deal, featuring Messi’s name, number, and the motto “Live Greatness.” Greatness, it seems, is what Hard Rock is celebrating for their 50th anniversary and who better to join them than a player whom many call the Greatest of All Time.