Finally the deal goes through. FC Barcelona agrees to have a shirt sponsor. Just when Més que un club and UNICEF were about to become synonymous, the dissonance of a commercial deal shatters it. In its entire history, the Catalan Club has never had a full-time paying Shirt Sponsor (apart from a few matches in 1991). This is going to change. And with it the philanthropic side of the one of the biggest clubs in the world is going to transform as well. Without relenting to financial pragmatism for more than a century, FC Barcelona will now become just another club with a mammoth Shirt sponsorship deal.
Way back in 2006, the Catalan club got the UNICEF deal and contrary to what most clubs did (gain from shirt sponsorship), paid the organization an amount of €1.5 million per year. A very noble cause indeed. Purists were of the opinion that it’s a marketing ploy. They predicted that FC Barcelona would eventually have a shirt sponsor and having a tie-up with an international brand of the stature of UNICEF might just help their cause in commanding an astronomical sum. £125,000,000 is indeed an astronomical sum.
€1.5 million per year wouldn’t have taken a toll on the club’s financial health. On the contrary, it would have helped them to sell a few million shirts more and subsequently added to the club coffers in the long run. IT DID! With their brand of football and UNICEF on their shirts, the Catalan club did wonders. FC Barcelona is indeed the most followed club in Europe.
Looking at it from the marketing/financial point of view, this deal, with the Qatar Foundation, is undoubtedly the best that there can ever be. A whopping €30 million each season for years, starting on July 1, 2011 running until June 30, 2016, plus bonuses for trophies won that could total €5 million. FC Barcelona’s apparent financial trouble might just get lighter. However, from the perspective of a Culé /Soci, this is nightmarish. A century old tradition of not bowing in front of any financial adversity has taken a hit.
“For the first time in our more than 107 years of history, our main soccer team will wear an emblem on the front of its shirt. It will not be the brand name of a corporation. It will not be a commercial to promote some kind of business. It will be the logo of ‘Unicef‘. Through Unicef, we, the people of FC Barcelona, the people of ‘Barça‘, are very proud to donate our shirt to the children of the world who are our present, but especially are our future,” said Laporta, the then President.
Rosell seems to have other ideas.
The essence of being self-sufficient was gaining momentum. FC Barcelona won an unprecedented sextuple in 2008-09 and went on to substantiate Spain’s World Cup winning campaign with a core group of players graduating from their famed La Masia. The FCB-Qatar Foundation deal comes as a rude awakening. A wrong signal at a wrong time. The 170000 Socis and the uncountable Culés will not forgive the management for being iconoclastic towards their sanctimonious attitude and sooner or later Mr. Sandro Rosell will have to pay for it.
There can be a number of theories as to why the management had to go ahead with the deal. What doesn’t change is the financial ‘turmoil’ that the club is going through. Not even the most holier-than-thou Culé could deny the debt which is gauged to be around £369.5 million. Ex-president Laporta claimed that the club was €11 million in the red at the end of June, but an audit carried out by Deloitte in Rosell’s regime unearthed a scenario which is far from comprehension. It showed that the club’s expenditure in 2009-10 rose to £400 million while the income remained at £341.7 million – an astounding shortage of £58.3 million. FC Barcelona had to procure an instant loan of £125 million in order to pay the players. In the midst of such financial doldrums an investment of €40 million in acquiring of star striker David Villa, might have hurt the club coffers all the more.
Going by the above financial debacle, a sponsorship deal was on the cards. And acquiring one for a club, which has one of the biggest fan following and which is undoubtedly ‘everybody’s second favourite’, wouldn’t have been difficult, but a shirt deal, that too in the presence of UNICEF is unfathomable. The emotions attached with Catalanisme have a revered history. After the Second World War, Spain and Cataluña in particular faced severe financial crisis. General Franco’s acceptance of American aid offered by General Eisenhower in 1953 on the condition that Franco provides land for US air bases, was graciously accepted by the latter. In spite of abject financial, political and cultural repression, the Catalan identity wasn’t really obliterated. Barcelona continued to thrive and today FC Barcelona symbolizes the Catalan struggle. Unfortunately, the talisman has been sold.
In the current financial scenario, a deal like the one in discussion isn’t something which comes on a daily basis. The club (read Sandro Rosell & Co.) had to do this and they did. It should not come as a surprise because Rosell had already hinted on commercializing the shirt in his campaign. And ironically, Rosell’s crusade revolved around something which is a misnomer – transparency. In clubs like FC Barcelona, the management presents an idea before an Assembly of Elected Socis. They then decide what needs to be done next. Co-incidentally in 2006, Laporta presented the idea of shirt-sponsorship and got it approved. Thankfully, the club’s financial circumstances improved and instead of going for sponsorship FC Barcelona paid UNICEF. Rosell however bypassed the entire Assembly and by the virtue of their 4-year old verdict finalized the shirt deal. It needs no explanation as to why the Socis are exasperated. The final blow in the coffin was that Rosell does not intend to be present in the ceremony. This added insult to injury.
With the imminent possibility of UEFA’s introduction of the Financial Fair Play legislation, which will necessitate clubs playing the continental championships to manage their finance prudently, the deal might just be a blessing in disguise for the Catalan club. A popular saying goes that public memory is transient. And many are under the impression that in due course, the Catalan club will come out of this façade of ignominy, protests will wane and everything will be back to normal. Apparently, the club will gain financially too, but how can the management ever bring back the element of Catalan struggle, the symbolism of Barcelona’s unrelenting effort against political, financial & cultural adversity? The new deal might just relieve Rosell & Co. of the recurrent financial burden and can be termed as a financial victory too, but from a Culé/Soci standpoint it’s a pyrrhic victory.
Author’s notes: I, for one, have procured my last ‘true’ jersey. With this a little bit of FC Barcelona just died for me.