By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
18 December 2011
The former vice-president of Barcelona has revealed how the club’s previous shirt deal with UNICEF was a ‘strategic decision’ underpinned by a desire for long-term profit rather than any altruism implied by the Spanish giants’ ‘More than a club’ motto.
Ferran Soriano, who was also General Manager at Barca and a key figure as they grew rapidly to become the second highest earning club in the world behind Real Madrid, has also detailed how:
- Barcelona came close to an agreement with the government of China in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics to promote the Beijing Games on Barca’s shirts for €20m a year (£16.8m at today’s rates). The deal, he says, “would have led to a very favourable social and commercial impact for FC Barcelona” but collapsed as the parties were “about to reach an agreement” for reasons including local media leaks. Soriano makes no suggestion that Barca were perturbed by the Chinese state’s oppression of various groups or its appalling human rights record..
- Barcelona rejected a €20m-a-year shirt deal with gambling company Bwin, which went on to sponsor Real Madrid instead, because an “analysis of FC Barcelona’s desired [market] positioning” concluded that working with UNICEF instead would yield better mid- to long-term financial rewards.
- Barcelona officials, including Soriano, held talks in 2005 with Major League Soccer officials, including Ivan Gazidis (now CEO of Arsenal) about the possibility of a Barcelona franchise in the MLS for brand and marketing purposes. That plan never got off the ground although Barca signed commercial and touring agreements with the MLS, and Soriano says it’s possible that major European clubs might yet penetrate foreign leagues at different levels in the future. “Nowadays we have no idea whether within 20 years there will be a Manchester United vs Arsenal match played in the Chinese junior league,” he says.
Soriano, now the chairman of a Spanish airline, lifts the lid on his time as Barcelona’s VP between 2003 and 2008 in a new book about business management – Goal: The Ball Doesn’t Go In By Chance (Management ideas from the world of football).
“It is fair to think that the UNICEF / Barcelona brand synergy was one of the key factors in the spectacular growth of the fan base and the club’s earnings during 2006 to 2010,” he writes.
In 2002-03, Barca’s income was just €123m, or less than half of Manchester United’s. That made Barca only the 13th highest earning club in Europe, with wages at 88 per cent of income and debts of €186m.
By 2010-11, Barca had grown to become the second highest club with income of €477m.
Soriano also writes about Barca’s current €30m-a-year shirt deal with Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), which happened as Qatar were bidding to stage the 2022 World Cup.
It was widely reported that Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup was aided by a Spain-Qatar voting pact involving multiple Fifa Executive Committee voters linked to the respective 2018 and 2022 bidders. Fifa claims to have investigated the collusion pact between Spain and Qatar but not found sufficient evidence to act further. Qatar denies there was any collusion.
Soriano seems to question the ethical value of the Qatari deal over the UNICEF deal by writing: “It’s not easy to decide between the short-term financial advantages of the QSI and the mid- to long-term investment in FC Barcelona as a brand … Undoubtedly this [Qatar deal] is a very different strategic decision to that taken back in 2006 [with UNICEF] and might influence the club’s position in the years to come.”
Without question, Barcelona have redefined footballing beauty on the pitch in recent years. With the genius of Lionel Messi at their heart, they are the current La Liga champions, Champions League title holders and, as of Sunday, the Fifa Club World Cup champions following a 4-0 victory over Santos of Brazil.
But there have been some less salubrious aspects to their business dealings, including a €5m-a-year contract with the dubious regime at the Uzbekistan club, FC Bunyodkor, as mentioned in this feature about Rivaldo on this site in April.
And Soriano has now explored in detail precisely how Barcelona pursued a “risky” policy that aimed to make huge leaps in income if successful but might have left the club in financial peril if it failed.
He says that Barca copied Manchester United’s business methods to get where they are. “Analyzing Manchester United made it possible for us to see that had built a complex, professional marketing structure from which they had garnered extremely high profits,” he writes.
“These profits had positioned the club as one of the best teams; in fact in many Asian countries it was the only visible team. Manchester United had supported this growth on two things we did not have.
“First, the Premier League had a much better commercial structure than did the Spanish equivalent, meaning that the television rights from the Premier League had been sold all over the world, and it was the first competition offered to television viewers.
“Second, Manchester United had a formidable cultural heritage that aided the expansion: the Commonwealth. The only football watched in these countries is English, and as Manchester United was perceived to be the best English club, it was therefore perceived as almost the best in the world.”