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More Than A Job

Owen Evans looked at what recently re-elected president Jordi Bartomeu needs to do to improve Brand Barca in the next six years.

Jordi Bartomeu may have beaten his nearest rival by more than 10,000 votes in last month’s presidential race, but there are tens of thousands of other fans who he is yet to win over. 

On the eve of the election, more than 65,000 people signed a petition demanding the Catalan giants drop Qatar Airways as the club’s main sponsor, due to allegations of mistreatment for female staff working for the airline.

The multi-million sponsorship deal with Qatar has been a bone of contention with the clubs fans ever since the £125m deal was confirmed in 2013, having been reframed from the original Qatar Foundation shirt sponsorship announced in 2010.

“We tried to avoid the club having an indicted president, one who is in bed with Qatar and will inevitably destroy La Masia (club’s training base)… but we failed,” presidential rival Joan Laporta told Marca after last month’s vote was counted, where he only received 15,615 votes compared to Bartomeu’s 25,823. 

For a team that has the slogan Mes Que Un Club (More than a Club), FC Barcelona has gone from a side full of homegrown players that paid (children’s charity) Unicef to wear their name on the club’s shirt, to a team that has relied upon investing tens of millions of pounds on foreign players like Arda Turan, Luis Suarez and Neymar, on top of replacing their charitable cause with the millions from Qatar.

One of the first issues Bartomeu needs to resolve is the Qatar sponsorship deal, considering the ground swell of support against it. It is due to expire next year.

“What Bartomeu has said is that he will bring the issue to the table for approval as to whether they renew the Qatar deal, or if it should be with someone else,” said Esteve Calzada, CEO of Prime Time Sport and former chief commercial and marketing officer for Barcelona FC.

“As a result, what Bartomeu has said he would do is to bring the issue of a possible renewal with Qatar to the attention of the assembly well in advance [of the deal expiry], so there would be no problems with production for next season’s kit, and that should be sometime in the autumn this year.”

The alternative brand could be the unnamed “Asian tech supplier” that Bartomeu told the international media about during his presidential campaign, who would be willing to “offer the kind of figures that we are expecting”.

“Having Qatar on the front maybe goes against the principles of the club, but in my opinion More than a Club is about much more than what is on the front of the club’s shirt,” added Calzada. “Nowadays, you are  competing with many clubs who have all got multi-million dollar shirt sponsors, so it is not realistic to be apart from that.

Timing is Everything

The controversy surrounding the Qatari deal is not the only issue on Bartomeu’s desk right now. He originally replaced Sandro Rosell – who he served under as vice-president – in January 2014 after his predecessor  designed due to allegations of tax fraud relating to the signing of Neymar. In May, Spain’s National Court accepted the state prosecutor’s request to open a trial against Barcelona, Bartomeu and Rosell in relation to the deal that secured the Brazilian superstar.

There have also been concerns over Bartomeu’s plans for the club’s La Masia academy, famed for producing talents like Andres Iniesta and Xavi, as well as being part of an administration that oversaw the club get a twelve month ban by Fifa for repeatedly breaking transfer regulations.

Fraud investigations, transfer bans and controversial sponsorship agreements do not act as enhancers to Barcelona’s brand, and Calzada believes that is because issues like these do not matter to the new age of the club’s supporters if everything is going well on the pitch. 

“I think the election result was not a surprise to anyone on the inside who really knew what was going on,” he added. 

“Laporta still did well and got more than 15,000 votes, but we are in a world now where the basic parameters mean the most, and things on the pitch are going great after just winning the treble (league, cup and Uefa Champions League), and off the pitch the finances are going great as well – the highest revenues in the club’s history.

“Something would need to have gone really wrong for there to have been any change in the leadership. Of course, you have to remember that Bertomeu was never actually remembered in the first place, as he was number two to Sandro Rosell, so he was not legitimately his own president as he had not had an election. 

“Now he has won in a very strong way, he has earned six years to run the club properly from now on. However, as is always the way with FC Barcelona politics, he will have strong opposition in Laporta who will be criticising him every step of the way. Basically it will be business as usual in Barcelona. 

Calzada also believes the local media played a major part in presenting the club’s brand image as a positive one, following the recent successes on the pitch, in an attempt to help them shift papers. 

Effectively the members did not really care about issues

“The way to influence the members has to do with a couple of major media groups in the city and the way they report on certain activity,” he said. “At the end of the day, that is why it was very difficult to remove the incumbent president. “Effectively the members did not really care about issues. If you actually look at the vote by age split, the younger voters didn’t really care about issues off-the-pitch, compared to those older, conservative voters.”

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