The 'Bring Ronaldo Home' campaign went live last week. The business model, familiar to those who know Kickstarter, has fans encouraged to donate £10 toward the eventual purchase of Ronaldo's replica United shirt next season, should United sign him.
That £10 commitment becomes £55 if the deal goes through, buying you the shirt (£50 if it's a child size). In theory, that money is delivered to United, who will use the money, minus the shirt printing costs and anything else owing (image rights etc.), toward paying his transfer fee.
How much might Ronaldo cost United? Some reports have a figure around the £55 million mark (Bloomberg). Others cite the speculated €1 billion buy-out clause in his contract, which still has two years left to run (ESPN FC).
If we take the £80 million Madrid paid United for Ronaldo, Bring Ronaldo Home would need to take roughly 1.5 million pledges at the £55 mark to raise the necessary funds. Or at least that's the premise we're supposed to get excited about.
The truth is more complicated and has many people calling the movement out as either a scam or just a remarkably naive concept that fails to recognise the basic mechanics at work here.
Firstly, neither United nor Nike, their kit suppliers, are officially involved in any capacity. United have yet to comment on the idea and will undoubtedly be opposed to a third party leveraging their brand to attract investment of any kind—regardless of whether the intent is to buy the world's second-best player.
Secondly, the premise assumes all £55 from the sale of an adult United shirt goes to either the club or to Nike. The precise details of United's kit deal with Nike are hard to come upon, but it will almost certainly be more complex than that.
There are image rights and other factors to consider. This as per a Metro report commenting on monies earned from Ronaldo shirt sales at Madrid:
The income of around £100 million has not all gone towards paying back the outlay for the player’s services due to production and marketing costs and payments to kit manufacturer Adidas and Ronaldo himself.
Let's just say Nike and United were both on board with the idea—Nike sponsor Ronaldo after all, so the company wouldn't mind seeing him at United for marketing purposes next season, rather than promoting Adidas with Madrid. You still have to cover a lot of costs outside of the straight shirt price and appease Ronaldo himself.
Sport Witness have identified another cause for concern. Respected journalist Annie Eaves looked at the terms and conditions section at Bring Ronaldo Home, which lays out how an administration fee of between 50p and £3 will be charged on each donation.
If they succeeded and United signed Ronaldo, fans might be happy to suck that up. Should they fail—as is the more likely outcome—those getting a refund would see it short while the people behind the idea could potentially turn in a very nice little profit.
This, as per Eaves' article, entitled "Manchester United to fund the return of Cristiano Ronaldo this summer through pledges, and flying pigs":
So, if you give £10 then you may get £7 back or you may get nothing at all if their costs, and that would be mainly personnel related, take up that money. Let's go half way on some figures and imagine they get 200,000 people to pay up (They claim to have 3700 in just a day of really pushing it), which totals a cool £2 million. If Ronaldo didn't return then they would get £1 million in admin fees at £5.
Having been contacted by the Bring Ronaldo Home group on Twitter, I was sent some press materials by Angus Mullane, their head of social media, by email on Sunday. He wrote of trying to harness an estimated 659 million United fans worldwide and answered the accusation that there might be dishonesty at play.
"Thousands of fans have already pledged for the campaign," read an extract of Mullane's email. "However there are a bunch of sceptics on twitter who are trying to shut down the campaign labelling it as a 'scam' and 'not legit' which isn't true in the slightest."
To be clear, I have no reason to doubt the integrity of this initiative. I'd like very much to believe everything is well intentioned and these are just United fans who've let their ambition run away with them.
It may very well be that this type of thing, in the future, will actually come to fruition. But not on a deal this big, not with Manchester United and not with a player like Ronaldo. There are too many factors involved, and the business of football is far too convoluted for something of this nature to actually succeed in the current climate.
If Ronaldo comes home, it will be because United themselves, possibly with the help of Nike, have found a way to make it financially viable and managed to convince Madrid to sell him. I wouldn't bank on that, either, but I'd give it more chance than the an operation with no formal backing out in the world asking for your money.