Chicago (USA), 13 Jan. The world fell in love with his football, but Edson Arantes do Nascimento ‘Pelé’ was not only unique with the ball, he was also unique in his way of interpreting marketing. He was very clear about the global icon status of the ‘Pelé’ brand and his endorsement contracts were record-breaking, but his success never made him forget his values.
Money was a consequence, never the goal. Tony Signore, who traveled with Pelé to forty countries in the 1990s to promote MasterCard, tells EFE another side of the myth: this was the businessman Pelé was like.
Since that first meeting at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Pelé and Signore, now CEO of the marketing agency ‘Taylor Strategy’, built a brotherly relationship that led them to share unique personal and professional experiences. His eyes shine when he remembers ‘O’Rei’ and it still shocks him to think of the character with which, at the age of 17, he led Brazil by the hand to the 1958 World Cup. A child floating among the colossi that would become an absolute legend when he was crowned again in 1962 and for the third time, already as an adult, in Mexico’70.
“Pelé was always very clear about the status of ‘Pelé’ as a global icon. He never forgot that. But he always had his feet on the ground. He knew that Edson, as a human being, was more important to him,” says the American, from Italian origin.
Signore, born and raised in New York, the city to which his Italian family emigrated in the 1940s, worked in his successful career with sports legends such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Bobby Charlton, among others.
PELÉ, SIMPLICITY IN THE LEGEND
Signore used to call the Brazilian ‘Pelé’ during his first business trips, but the answer was always the same: “No, no, no. Call me Edson, you’re my brother.”
The duality between Pelé, the myth, and Edson, the human, always coexisted in the Brazilian. Even when he sent details for Signore’s daughters, his signature was ‘Edson = Pele’.
“He knew that when he was associated with royalty from Saudi Arabia, England, Sweden or Spain, he was Pelé, and they gravitated towards Pelé. It was clear to him that it was important for these people to feel close to that icon,” says the CEO. from ‘Taylor’.
“But that never got his feet off the ground. He was always a little uncomfortable. With the cameras on, he did it perfectly, but then he would say to me, ‘I felt very uncomfortable.’ A lot of great athletes almost start to believe that they are really aliens But Pelé, no,” he recalls.
HIS RECORD SPONSORSHIP CONTRACTS
His soccer talent and charisma made clubs and sponsors offer him astronomical financial amounts, incomparable with those of other athletes in those years, to get his services.
And it is that the contract signed in 1975 with the New York Cosmos soccer club not only made him the highest paid athlete in the world, but his salary made that of the highest paid in the United States until then, the baseball player, “insignificant”. Hank Aaron.
In the North American Soccer League (NASL) there were already European stars like the German Franz Beckenbauer or the Italian Giorgio Chinaglia, but the arrival of ‘O’Rei’ changed everything.
Almost fifty years later, at the headquarters of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in Chicago, the ‘memorabilia’ of Pelé’s time in ‘soccer’ are preserved like diamonds, including some priceless stickers.
THE SOCIAL COMMITMENT OF ‘O’REI’
Pelé’s representatives always ensured that the Brazilian received adequate payment for the economic and media impact that his image would have for brands.
If his representative Hélio Viana was very demanding in the financial negotiation phase, Pelé was when it came to choosing the company. He did not stop at the numbers, but at the values of the brand, the scope of the market and his social projects at the service of the community.
“He did everything possible to protect his image, because of the impact it would have on a lot of people. Pelé always refused big contracts with tobacco companies, alcohol companies. ‘What happens if the children see me with a beer in my hand or smoking a cigarette? There are people who might think that this is fine and I don’t want to contribute to that,'” says Signore.
Among his many collaborations, Pelé particularly enjoyed those with Umbro and Pepsi, both brands having important charitable projects for the growth of youth soccer. As part of the agreements, soccer fields were built in areas where there were no financial resources necessary to do so.
PELÉ, A HERITAGE FOR EVERYONE
It is said that ‘everything you see any player, Pelé did it first’. His legend transcends the boundaries of the sport and his legacy is unforgettable.
The shock of his death, on December 29 at the age of 82, reached all corners of the planet and touched people of all ages, adults and even children who could never see him play, but did dream of studying his feats.
The love of children was one of the things that made ‘O’Rei’ most proud. Like when, on a trip with Signore to the Middle East for a MasterCard event, he was moved by the depth of the questions from his very young followers.
Signore has no doubts. “There is a Muhammad Ali. There is a Frank Sinatra. And there is only one Pele. There will always be only one Pele.”