Professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has completed its audit into FC Barcelona’s relationship with PR company I3 Ventures, concluding that the club did not conduct a social media smear campaign and finding no evidence of corrupt behaviour.
The investigation dates back to the so-called “Barçagate” scandal which broke in February when the club’s president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, was accused by a Spanish radio station of having hired I3 Ventures to help improve his own image while using puppet accounts to criticise present and former Barcelona players – most notably Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, who both hold significant power in the dressing room and further up the club.
PwC was commissioned to carry out an independent audit into the connection between Barcelona and I3 Ventures and, despite ruling that the club did not commission a smear campaign and finding no evidence of corrupt behaviour, did note that the club failed to comply with its own internal protocols with regards to the appointing and contracting of third-party service providers.
In response, the club has tasked its executive director Òscar Grau with drawing up a fresh internal procedure for handling projects considered strategic and confidential by the board. “The club’s handling of these contracts has not been sufficiently accurate, and we will take all appropriate corrective action,” Barcelona said in a statement.
The club also stated its intention to pursue legal action “against those who have doubted its honesty,” as well as demanding a correction from any media outlet that repeated the allegations.
An additional revelation found in the report is that Barcelona was billed €1m ($1.13m/£898,000) for the social media monitoring services for which I3 Ventures was appointed, but the club to date has paid €620,000 of this amount.
At the time that the accusations broke, it was claimed that this was up to 10 times the market rate for such services, but PwC’s report has concluded that the figure is not outside the expected norm and that there was no reason to doubt the reason for I3 Ventures’ hiring.
The scandal has played a significant role in the malaise currently surrounding the club. In April, in the aftermath of the initial accusations, six board members – vice-presidents Emili Rousaud and Enrique Tombas, alongside directors Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Jordi Calsamiglia, and Maria Texidor – stepped down in protest at how the club is being run by Bartomeu.
Rousaud in particular cited the “Barcagate” scandal as a reason for his resignation, telling Catalan radio station RAC-1: “The issue of the social media is dirty. I believe someone had his or her hand in the till.” Barcelona is already taking legal action against Rousaud for his comments.
Meanwhile, Barcelona has announced the signing of a partnership with sports technology company Pixellot though its Barça Innovation Hub subsidiary. Pixellot has been an official supplier to the club for the last three years, providing automated cameras for its training facilities.
The new deal sees Pixellot become an official innovation partner of Barcelona, and will see the two collaborate on the development of an artificial intelligence platform to perform “automated recording, processing and viewing of sports activities”, with a particular emphasis on near-instant analysis of training exercises. The club statement adds, however, that the system could also end up being used to generate content for its new OTT service, Barca TV+.