‘Més Que Un Club’ meaning ‘More Than A Club’ is the tagline associated with FC Barcelona. Eoin Hallissey discusses how the philosophy of the club may be changing.
As we sat at one of the hundreds of empty tables shadowed by the Nou Camp in the wake of a tour of the fabled stadium, I took out my sandwiches and bottle of water. Before I could take a bite, a cleaner in his sixties rushed over to eject us from the sparsely populated area. There was no outside food allowed.
Being forced to sit on the grass in glorious thirty-degree heat was the most minor of inconveniences, yet the incident symbolised what the football club who claimed to be ‘more than a club’ had just become. The club’s sanctimony did not extend to their treatment of visitors, or those who remained blinded by the idea of Barca as Més Que Un Club.
Barcelona have been the undisputed kings of European club football for the past decade, winning three Champions Leagues in a time where no other club has managed this feat more than once. Their first victory was built upon a foundation of global superstars, led by the Brazilian Ronaldinho, with only three Catalan first-team players in Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol and Xavi.
Iniesta, from Fuentealbilla, near Albacete, and Leo Messi had just emerged from the famed La Masia academy, having been imported in their teens. Compared to Guardiola’s team which followed, however, this squad relied on expensive imports.
Their success on the pitch bred success off it, with Barca entering the Deloitte Football Money League top 10, at 6th place, in 2005, jumping to 2nd position after Rijkaard’s team’s European success in the 05-06 season. They have remained in the top 3 ever since, falling to third in 2007 and 2008.
Barcelona’s unprecedented era of success on the pitch corresponded with an unprecedented increase in income off it. This success appears to have been leveraged upon the accumulation of a large debt, however. Now departed President Sandro Rosell found that the club’s debt in 2010 stood at €442 million upon his ascension to the position, having been underplayed by his predecessor Joan Laporta.
The club’s income has risen exponentially since the turn of this decade, with the addition of the first corporate sponsor on the famed Blaugrana. Barca had long prided itself upon the fact that, unlike the vast majority of football clubs, they would not let their jersey be sullied by its use as a billboard for a corporation’s advertisement.
The financial realities of the modern game saw an easing of this position. The club’s directors voted to allow a sponsor be placed upon the jersey in 2003, possibly in anticipation of the debt which was to come. A conscious effort was made to ensure that this change was acceptable in the eyes of fans to whom the club forms a large part of their identity.
The Nou Camp has long been an arena in which Catalan nationalism (and increasing calls for Catalan independence) has had pride of place, and anything which is seen to diminish the idea of being “more than a club” will inevitably meet opposition.
In 2006, the club introduced the UNICEF logo to their jersey, donating 0.7% of their revenue to the organisation annually. This was the first time any organisation’s name featured upon the jersey, and few could argue with the promotion of one of the world’s largest charities. It has been argued, however, that this deal with UNICEF was simply an attempt to acclimatise the fans to the idea of having a sponsor upon the jersey.
In 2011, pride of place was given not to the UNICEF logo but that of the Qatar Foundation, a not for profit organisation, run by the Qatari royal family. The inclusion of the Foundation upon the jersey, before it was replaced by the logo of Qatar Airways in 2012 was a clear attempt to ease the transition to full corporate sponsorship, whatever about the UNICEF years.
FC Barcelona’s first shirt sponsorship deal, worth €150 million, was the largest of its kind in global football. Questions about a possible sullying of the club’s name by association with a state which has come into increased criticism due to forced labour and other human rights abuses have been brushed aside.
Barca showed how they had wholeheartedly embraced their newfound love of sponsorship in December 2013, when it was announced that Intel Inside’s logo would adorn the interior of their player’s jerseys, with a campaign featuring players such as Xavi telling us to “Look Inside.”
Barcelona still claim to be a club apart from the rest and a stroll through the city, or a trip to the Nou Camp reveals the place they hold in the Catalonian consciousness. It is plain to see, however, that the logic of profit which dominates global football reigns supreme here too. They have even succumbed to the shady dealings with third-party owners which have been outlawed in some parts of Europe, with the controversy over Neymar’s transfer leading to the downfall of president Rosell.
Their current attitude can be summed up in the reaction of Vice-President Javier Faus to the Qatar deal. He exclaimed that
“Barca have become the undisputed brand leader in world football.”
FC Barcelona are certainly more than a club, they are a global brand.
Eoin Hallissey, Pundit Arena.