Barcelona forward Lionel Messi's jail sentence could rattle his stable of sponsors
The future commercial viability of Barcelona star and arguably the best footballer in the world Lionel Messi is under threat after he, along with his father, were handed a 21-month prison sentence as a long-winded Spanish tax fraud case comes to a close.
The decision made today (Wednesday 6 July) could threaten both the Argentinian’s value to sponsors and force more skittish brands dissociate themselves from the partnership.
The Barcelona forward and his father Jorge Messi were found guilty of defrauding Spain of €4.1m (£3.5m) between 2007 and 2009. Of relief to the sentenced, FC Barcelona and sponsors is the fact that Spanish law permits sentences of under two years to be served outside of prison under a probation period.
During the court case, the BBC reports that Messi claimed he “knew nothing” of the tax fraud scheme, while his father blamed his tax consultants. Despite the ruling, Messi remains one of sport’s richest figures, winning the Ballon d’or five times.
As a leading player, Messi is also a prominent figure in advertising, with the likes of Adidas, Turkish Airlines, Huawei, Pepsi, EA Sports, PepsiCo, Lays and Gillette all tapping into his brand in some way. Check out his ten top ads here.
The ruling could impact the player’s brand value, which plummeted out of the top ten athletes in Forbes annual ranking last year. His brand was worth £7.8m in 2014, well behind that of his rival in the world’s best player debate Cristiano Ronaldo (£10.4m), who is the most valuable athlete in the world.
The Drum has touched down with Messi’s sponsors and will update the piece once they have responded.
Gillette was the first brand to respond. A spokesperson offered no further comment than it has "no additional information other than that already in the public domain and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time".
Late on Wednesday Adidas issued comment to The Drum, it said: "Adidas is aware of the verdict in Spain today. Leo remains a very important global ambassador for Adidas and we will not be commenting further at this stage."
On the sentence, OnePulse mobile app surveyed 1,000 men and women aged 16-65 around the UK. It found that 39 per cent of Brits have a more negative opinion of Messi following the conviction but eight per cent were more positive.
Almost half (47 per cent) claimed that Messi should not be allowed to play football during his probation, whereas 38 per cent think he should.
Nearly two thirds (65 per cent) said that Adidas should reconsider Messi's sponsorship, half (49 per cent) said they should shorten it and 16 per cent think Adidas should cancel it.