Ronaldo is Supremely Popular in North America. Is an MLS Move Looming?

Cristiano Ronaldo is unquestionably one of the most famous athletes and celebrities the world has seen over the last 20 years. 

As a Portuguese national with stints in EPL, La Liga, and Serie A, you may wonder how his fame is received across the pond. 

North America is historically a tough place for athletes in European leagues to find large supporter bases. The US and Canada are home to some of the world’s most popular and valuable leagues, and star athletes there tend to be homegrown. 

For example, mention ‘football’ in North America, and most people will immediately think of the NFL. The American football league generates $15 billion a season. Billions more are made from fans interacting with the sport through fantasy leagues and online sportsbooks offering NFL betting

However, Ronaldo has defied the odds to become a household name among all North American sports lovers.   

A star of social media and endorsements

These days, Ronaldo needs no introduction to audiences in the US and Canada.

In 2017, ESPN placed him at the top of the network’s World Fame 100 list as the most famous athlete on the planet. Ronaldo beat out the likes of LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Serena Williams in a list dominated by North American athletes. 

Ronaldo’s social media and endorsement deals have grown his stature in a part of the world where football is not the most popular sport around. You simply can’t escape him on Instagram where his 224  million followers make him the most followed. 

In fact, Ronaldo made $47.8 million in a single year between 2018 and 2019 from 49 sponsored Instagram posts. That’s more than his $34 million-per-year salary from Juventus. 

It’s also a whopping $975,000 per sponsored post. He out earns other celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez on the photo-sharing site. Rival Lionel Messi made a paltry-by-comparison $23.3 million from Instagram last year. 

So who is paying Ronaldo the big bucks for access to an audience closing in on a quarter billion people?

The answer is big brands including Nike Football, Clear Haircare, and Sixpad Europe. Offline, Ronaldo’s endorsement portfolio showcases TAG Heuer, Armani, EA Sports, and Castrol. Forbes reports his lifetime relationship with Nike alone is worth over $1 billion.

Ronaldo’s 85 million-and-counting Twitter followers make him the platform’s sixth-most followed personality. He’s neck and neck with a fifth-place Taylor Swift.

In 2019, Statista rated Ronaldo’s influence on Twitter at 95 out of 100 points, putting the prolific scorer sandwiched between Elon Musk and Lady Gaga.

The next MLS Superstar?

The soaring appreciation for Ronaldo in North America could be setting the stage for his eventual arrival on US soil. Such a move would send shockwaves through international football as Ronaldo would become the biggest star to join MLS.

Fellow Portuguese footballer Nani claims to have the inside scoop. Ronaldo once informed the Orlando City winger that he will likely end up in America at some point in his career. Nani and Ronaldo are former teammates at the club and country levels having joined forces for Manchester United and Portugal. 

Ronaldo wouldn’t be the first high-profile player to wind down his career in MLS. David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and David Villa previously took the same path. 

The five-time FIFA World Player of the Year’s current contract with Juventus is expected to expire in the summer of 2022. He will be 37 years old by the end of the 2021-22 season and potentially looking for a new challenge.

Speculation in recent months has linked Ronaldo with Inter Miami, the expansion MLS club co-owned by Beckham who also serves as president. The South Florida side debuted in 2020. Securing Ronaldo at some point in the coming seasons would quickly bolster Inter Miami’s fanbase in the MLS. 

Whether Ronaldo lands in the MLS remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain — the incredible talent from Funchal has captured the adoration of North America.