Last week Qatar Airways followed UNICEF and Qatar Foundation in the increasingly less illustrious names that will grace F.C. Barcelona’s shirt as of next season. The deal involves no more money as the airline is owned by Qatar Sports Investments, as is Qatar Foundation, and it is simply a name change on the shirt, for all intents and purposes.
The question, is it not, is why? It’s a question that has been asked, not least by the media to the club’s management who are with the team in Moscow ahead of a Champion’s League clash against Spartak. The journo asked whether the deal was reversible or not, the response was swift and given by Javier Faus, the vice-president of economics and strategy at the club, who also announced the deal on Barça TV: “it’s reversible within three years. In 2016 the new board will be chosen and the members will be able to decide if they want to keep the sponsor or not.”
Far be it from me to accuse anyone of telling untruths, but what if? Haven’t we seen a similar thing recently at Newcastle United? Newcastle’s home ground was renamed in October last year. St James’ Park became the Sports Direct Arena after owner’s Mike Ashley’s company. Ashley admitted that the renaming of the stadium was a temporary measure to “showcase” the opportunity to “interested parties”. Almost exactly a year later the club announced that Wonga.com, a company that charge 4,214% APR on their internet-based payday loans, would sponsor the black-and-white shirt and stadium in the 2012-2013 season, in a deal reportedly around £8 million over a four-year period.
Ashley achieved exactly what he wanted but the fans were far from happy. Wonga.com have agreed not to change the name of the stadium, but how long before this populist move is reversed?
The Newcastle situation draws parallels with Barcelona in that it is now possible to ask how much previous deals have been used to soften up Barcelona supporters to win them over and cajole them into accepting a sponsor on the shirt. It is more than reasonable to ask how much this had been planned from the outside by those well-versed in marketing strategy, by those wishing to “showcase” the club. The deal with UNICEF can now be precisely seen in that light where it both presented the idea to “interested parties” and raised the value of the advertising space on the front of the shirt.
It is also difficult to believe Faus about the ease of reversing any decision allowing a sponsor to continue on the front of the shirt. In 2016 the club will have elections and Rosell and his lackeys might get booted out, but whatever the outcome, does anyone believe that a sponsorship contract signed before the elections for a three, four or five-year period is annulled by a vote at a general assembly? The legal costs of such a move would be astronomic and unthinkable.
That the Barcelona board have taken the sponsorship route is to some a no-brainer. For them receiving the biggest amount of money ever for a sponsorship deal is prestige enough, befitting for a club that had before 2010 never had a sponsor on their shirts. Is it as simple as that?
Narcís de Carreras, in 1968, in his first speech as president of FC Barcelona said: “We are what we are and we represent what we represent. We are més que un club.” Sandro Rosell, when welcoming the deal with Qatar Airways, couldn’t reach such lofty heights in recognising Barcelona’s duty to represent, or did he? “Qatar airways,” he said “is an ambitious brand with global aspirations, always committed to achieving the utmost excellence in its field. These are objective with which FC Barcelona fully identifies.”
-Raul Pope Farguell