He's no Beckham or Ronaldo - why Gareth Bale will struggle to pay back Real Madrid his £86m transfer fee

Real Madrid broke the world transfer record to sign the Welshman, but can he be as commercially viable as former Galacticos like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo?
By Paul Macdonald

"Real Madrid are like a Hollywood studio. We make a movie every day, and the movie is worth more if Tom Cruise is in the lead."

Jose Angel Sanchez said it in 2007, and he knows better than most about what a Galactico is worth. Real Madrid’s Director General has been at Florentino Perez’s side since the genesis of this flamboyant experiment, one that commenced in 2000 with Luis Figo, was strengthened by David Beckham, reached its peak with Cristiano Ronaldo and has continued with the first €100 million [£86m] player, Gareth Bale.

You might say that the concept of ‘footballer as film star’ was pioneered by Perez, and meticulously monitored by Sanchez. They decided that if the club were to endorse Earth-shattering transfers, the global appeal of the player must generate an appropriate return on the initial investment. They have broken the world record five times since 2000 and they believe Bale to be the next marketing machine Madrid can leap aboard en route to riches.

What the Welshman can achieve at the Santiago Bernabeu is largely irrelevant in reference to his staggering valuation. David Beckham, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo were all Ballon d’Or collectors and Champions League winners before arriving in Spain. Bale is none of those things, yet as far as Madrid are concerned he represents the zeitgeist. The current face of the Premier League. The next globally marketable superstar. Just as the previous gathering of Galacticos proved prohibitive from a purely tactical perspective, the 24-year-old’s integration into Carlo Ancelotti’s side is a task purely for the coach. 

But unlike the others, Bale is far from a bankable asset.  When Beckham arrived in 2003 for €30m [£25m], Madrid
 LUIS FIGO | 2000 | £37m

Pig's heads and carnage followed Figo's unprecedented, and unlikely, switch to Madrid. After five seasons at rivals Barcelona, he was the first Galactico.
  ZINEDINE ZIDANE | 2001 | £46.5m

One of the greatest players ever, and an incomparable figure. The Frenchman's switch from Juventus produced a number of memorable moments.
  KAKA | 2009 | £56m

After an insatiable spell at AC Milan, the Brazilian has perenially struggled to reach previous heights while in Spain.
  CRISTIANO RONALDO | 2009 | £80m

The world record transfer pre-Bale, but has been worth every single penny to Madrid, recording better than a goal-to-game ratio across four seasons.
 sold enough jerseys to cover his fee within six months and their commercial revenue increased by a total of €65m [£55m] in the four years he spent there. Ronaldo’s arrival was even more lucrative; the fee may have been €94m [£80m], but the club estimate that ‘CR7’, and everything that came with it, had recouped that same figure back in the space of a year. Kaka, who arrived in the same summer, provided a similarly swift return. From a profitable perspective, Bale doesn’t quite compete with the other instantly recognisable figures that have represented Madrid globally.

A marketing expert told Goal: "Ronaldo at Bale's age was already making much more money, though Bale is taking great steps to build his brand; he is trademarking his ‘11 of hearts’ goal celebration, which is a smart business move.

"But a key driver is to see how visible players are on social media. Excluding Beckham, who was a revolutionary, Bale's numbers pale in comparison to players less visible to others in the Premier League, let alone Ronaldo and Kaka.

"Presently, he has a lot of ground to cover. But he is young enough to make strides, to ensure he is seriously considered in the company of Ronaldo, Messi, Kaka, Rooney and others."

Ronaldo, as part of his absurdly lucrative new contract that he will imminently sign, will reclaim an additional portion of his personal image rights, with Madrid’s share cut in half to 20%. They may look to offset this loss by securing a significant chunk of Bale’s. The club’s commercial revenue in 2011-12 topped €150m [£127m]; inject a world record transfer into the equation and that figure should increase significantly. Despite Spain’s current economic woes, Madrid appear to be somewhat immune from consumer malaise.

In addition to his own clothing label, in partnership with Adidas, Bale’s image has been displayed on billboards all over the USA and Asia as the Premier League relentlessly promotes its brand. Madrid feel that the ubiquitous coverage surrounding his rise to prominence is worth the significant risk, but it represents a commitment of €100m plus an annual salary of €12m [£10.1m].

All in all, including bonuses and other related fees, the acquisition of one player may end up costing them in the region of a fifth of a billion Euros.

A footballer’s market value cannot possibly be conducted based on what trophies he will bring, what goals he will score, or which statues they will build in his honour. But it remains interesting that in this instance, Madrid are acquiring a work in progress rather than a legitimately international superstar, and have, in the process, taken the transfer market into unchartered territory.