The arrival of the Colombian national player from Real Madrid was part of a global marketing strategy for toffees that was far removed from the days of simply holding up a scarf and was implemented with great success.
When James Rodriguez was introduced as an Everton player on September 7, it was a statement of intent both on and off the field.
Everton has a presence on the American continent, and James Rodriguez helped to increase the brand’s appeal.
For a player of his caliber with a resume that includes, among many others, two Champions League titles, two La League titles, two Bundesliga titles and a European League medal, the incredible deal to move him from Real Madrid to Goodison Park was a bargain before considering the enormous marketing potential that could be exploited.
Perhaps surprising to some who may not be so familiar with the scale of a strong social media presence, the quietly and softly talking Rodriguez has a real appeal on the Internet. His 95.8 million followers in social media channels make him the eighth largest social media sports star in the world.
Billboards in New York’s Time Square and Miami Beach, as well as his picture in Everton blue, which was beamed onto the highest building in his home country, the Colpatria Tower in Bogotá, demonstrated Rodriguez’s international appeal.
Rodriguez even has his own line of bottled mineral water in Colombia, named 10 Gold after his back number, the profits from which are donated to his personal charity foundation Colombia Somos Todos, which helps underprivileged children in his home country.
Only Ronaldhino, David Beckham, Virat Kohli, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo are ahead of him in terms of social media reach.
Sponsors such as Pepsi, Hugo Boss, Adidas, the Colombian beverage company Pony Malta and the Nestle drink Milo, who have joined forces with him to make big money deals, have also been attracted by him.
Rodriguez’s popularity in his home country is so great that it didn’t take long for the street vendors of Bogotá and Medellín to swap their Real Madrid jerseys for Everton’s.
Through his foundation, he has also contributed to helping affected communities, such as the 2017 Mocoa landslides that killed 286 people and injured more than 400, with Rodriguez sending water, food and relief supplies to assist in the effort.
“If you were to ask me in 12 months’ time who is the most popular football team in Colombia, I would say Everton straight out,” said Simon Edwards, a British sports journalist who has lived in Colombia for 12 years.
“Over the weekend, 18 of the top 20 trends on Twitter were related to Everton and James Rodriguez over here. That’s the kind of appeal he has.
“Once James signed up, we saw Everton games being shown in Medellín and all over Colombia. James is a hero to the people over here.
“Within days of James’ arrival in Everton, you could see the effect: Many Everton shirts with knock-off T-shirts took to the streets and people were already standing behind them. One person told me that she hadn’t gotten up at 6am to watch a Premier League game since Faustino Asprilla joined Newcastle United.
“In Colombia, the excitement about the Premier League is great again. At Barcelona and Real Madrid, two clubs that have traditionally been enormously popular, there are signs that they are not what they once were. So Colombians look to the Premier League and want to be a part of it, and they want to find a club with which they have an affinity. James makes Everton the perfect opportunity”.
“People yearn for that connection over here. There’s even a local team, Club Deportivo Aston Villa, which was founded on the back of Juan Pablo Angel at Aston Villa in the early to mid 2000s.
In a country where the gap between wealth and poverty is strikingly obvious, Rodriguez and his fellow countryman Yerry Mina, Everton, have two players who speak to a nation.
There are few nations in the Western Hemisphere that have such a wide economic gap as Colombia.