Cristiano Ronaldo invests in wearable tech start-up Whoop as it expands into Gulf

Footballer's investment is 'one of the largest if not the largest he's made in a company'

Cristiano Ronaldo, shown wearing a Whoop fitness band, was the highest-paid footballer in 2023, according to Forbes estimates. Photo: Whoop
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Football star Cristiano Ronaldo has signed up as an investor in wearable technology start-up Whoop, which is boosting its international growth by expanding into the GCC.

The investment from the Portuguese footballer was not disclosed, but is "one of the largest if not the largest investment he's made in a company", Whoop chief executive Will Ahmed told The National on Monday.

"[Ronaldo] actually reached out to us for a partnership" after he researched the company and its products, "showing his belief in us", Mr Ahmed said.

"We've certainly seen a lot of interest due to the remarkable growth we've had over the past year, and the growth that we're seeing internationally."

Ronaldo's investment comes at a time when Whoop is expanding into Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, in addition to Hong Kong, Israel, South Korea and Taiwan.

The company, which already has a warehouse facility in the UAE, is also extending its shipping services to Brazil, India and Mexico. Whoop is also focusing on adding Arabic support to its devices next.

The new investment will be used to develop new products and services, as well as to boost its engagement with users, Boston-based Whoop said.

Whoop, which was founded in 2012, provides training, health, sleep and recovery services, and has so far raised about $405 million across eight funding rounds, according to start-up tracker Crunchbase.

Among its most notable investors are Japan's SoftBank Vision Fund and UAE71 Capital, which invested $200 million and $25 million, respectively, Crunchbase data shows.

Whoop is currently not actively seeking more capital at the moment, but options will be revisited in the coming year, Mr Ahmed said.

"Right now we're comfortable with our own balance sheet and potential for growth," he said.

Ronaldo, 39, currently playing for Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League, gained international status during his stints at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

He is a five-time winner of both the Uefa Champions League and Ballon d'Or, as well as a holder of a number of records at club and international levels.

Ronaldo joins high-profile Whoop investors, including American football quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Eli Manning, four-time golf majors champion Rory McIlroy and swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian.

He is one of the most recognisable athletes and celebrities, and this has allowed him to secure a number of lucrative endorsement and sponsorship deals. He was the highest-paid footballer in 2023, according to Forbes estimates.

Companies that are able to secure the services of highly popular figures are most likely to boost their branding and reputation.

“People are more likely to choose products that are endorsed by a celebrity rather than a non-celebrity, and they make that choice faster,” according to the Knowledge at Wharton business journal.

Choosing a product advertised by a celebrity has a psychological effect, with consumers spending less time deliberating their choice and more confident about their decision, it said.

Ronaldo's most high-profile endorsement deal is with US athletic gear maker Nike, which gave him a lifetime contract worth $1 billion, similar to what it gave to NBA icons Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

He earns $24 million a year from Oregon-based Nike, which also gave him a $100 million bonus when he signed the deal.

Among Ronaldo's key endorsements include those with high-street fashion brand Emporio Armani, Swiss watch maker Tag Heuer, dietary supplement company Herbalife and cryptocurrency exchange Binance.

He has also used his CR7 brand to delve into other off-pitch ventures, including a hotel chain in collaboration with Portugal-based Pestana Group, which has opened CR7 properties across the world.

Ronaldo also has investments in CR7-branded clothing, perfumes and gyms – and even a selfie mobile application. In March, he opened the Italian restaurant Toto in Abu Dhabi, in a venture with tennis star Rafael Nadal.

Whoop aims to boost its presence in the health metrics and human performance industry, a space dominated by companies such as Apple, Samsung and Fitbit.

Whoop is trying to set itself apart by focusing on core health tracking, data, accuracy and privacy; its products do not feature modern features such as notifications, e-mail, phone calls and high-resolution screens.

"There are a lot of other products in the market that do more things ... but the things that we do, we're the best at it," Mr Ahmed said.

The fitness tracker market is projected to hit $116.5 billion by 2028, from an estimated $57.8 billion in 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of about 20 per cent, data from Research and Markets shows.

The Whoop partnership would “continue to raise the bar on [its] features and coaching”, Ronaldo said.

Updated: May 14, 2024, 7:40 AM