The return of Ronaldo breaks the internet

Categories: Salford Business School

Digital experts have analysed the huge impact that Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Manchester United has had on the online world, as the influence of individual players begins to dwarf the clubs they play for.

Ronaldo, known as CR7 online, returned to Manchester United during the summer transfer window in a surprise move that shocked the football world. He had been thought to be on his way to rivals Manchester City.

To any football fan, this is big news and the continued global growth of smartphones and social media fanned the flames of this news around the world.

Now Alex Fenton of the University of Salford Business School and Wasim Ahmed from Newcastle University Business School have looked at the full impact that CR7 has online.

CR7 is not only the most followed sports person on social media in the world, but also outstrips all other sporting clubs and brands. In total he has 588,372,589 followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Chinese platform Weibo. Footballers Messi and Neymar are second and third respectively, followed by clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Messi’s new club Paris Saint Germain. When Ronaldo moved from Real Madrid to Juventus the club lost over a million social media followers overnight

With 335 million Instagram followers, CR7’s announcement that he was making a return gained an incredible 17 million likes, making it one of the most popular Instagram posts in history. Likewise, Manchester United posted a series of social media posts announcing the return, using words such as home, family, belonging, receiving many millions of reactions from around the world. It is this connection to players, clubs and tradition that fans love. The social capital built by Ronaldo in his successful previous stint at the club, combined with his stellar achievements with Portugal and Real Madrid make this a match made in heaven.

Essentially, social media allows a global following of fans who are often following the player rather than the club that they play for. Whilst there is skepticism about the value of millions of social media followers, it is clear that there is huge commercial potential in this. Clubs and players' social media followings are often taken into account for valuations and it is clear that the most followed and active sporting brands obtain the most valuable partnerships and sponsorships.

When the news broke on social media there were many people sharing the news from all around the world. Social media users all around the world conversed and a number of key influencers were particularly impactful. The shock-factor of the transfer may have particularly played a role in the vast amounts of activity that was generated. One thing is certain, the importance of a world star’s social media presence will only continue to grow.

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