Editor’s note: We here at totalBarça know that this is one of most controversial topics at the moment among fans of Barça. In this piece, Maria Ines examines the democratic process of the Club surrounding the sponsorship deal, and some of the figures/details of the agreement, as far as they have been made public.
In the last part of 2010, Barça’s directive board announced that the team, for the first time in its history, would have paid sponsorship on the first team shirt. A deal that was signed between the FC Barcelona board and Qatar Sports Investment (not the Qatar Foundation), a private for profit company owned by members of Qatar’s royalty, will reportedly result in income of about 150 million euros for the club over five years, an average of 30 million euros per season.
The numbers of the deal seem fantastic. But somehow critics arose. And they did not come from Madrid, or from people who dislike Barça. They came from the club and its environment. Some critiques were related to the brand in question, or towards Qatar as a country. Pilar Rahola, a well known journalist and newspaper columnist in Barcelona, shared her thoughts and raised concern about the agreement from a social and political point of view.
Even leaving the political issue behind, which should still be important for a club that claims to be an example to the world, there is the money issue. Up till now, president Rosell and his board have not given any details to the public, not even the assembly of representatives held on September 24th, of what Barça is giving to Qatar Foundation in return for their generous sponsorship. I, as a member with the right to vote, still wonder why.
Once this season started, we have all witnessed the omnipresence of the Qatar Foundation logo in the stadium, the tunnel, the shirts, the training shirts, the training facilities and press rooms in the stadium. It is everywhere. So it’s natural that some questions have come up: was it a good deal? I mean, 30 million euros per year for all that? How much have other teams gotten in the past? What about Madrid?
From the natural need to understand the agreement, and more so, to have an opportunity for a healthy debate, the Consulta Qatar platform tried to get some answers for the rest of us, members and fans, who have seen this deal heavily promoted and strongly defended by the board, but never explained properly. Consulta Qatar was founded by a group of members who had a goal: that this deal would be approved or rejected in a massive referendum, with all members allowed to vote. They needed about 7,000 signatures to get that, but they received 5,736. However, the board contacted them and told them they would submit the issue to the member’s representative assembly in September, for a vote. There were 4,000 member representatives called for the assembly, 850 of them actually were present at the time of the voting. 697 of them approved the deal. 697 members compared to 5,736 that wanted a general consult. 697 members of the 120,000 that have the right to vote.
Not only those numbers, which dismiss any argument of a wholly democratic action for this decision, are there to be questioned. They way the board has handled the whole deal is also worrying. In the days leading up to the assembly, Sandro Rosell warned members that without Qatar’s money, Barça will be a “smaller” club (extract here). For a club with more than 110 years of history to date, with a spectacular run of results and style of play over the last 3 years, with a fantastic future, a world recognised brand and valuable assets, it’s a pretty strong statement. He also mentioned that “if we don’t get the money, Madrid will”, which was another low blow, considering we all know Madrid has other ways of raising money, associated with the real estate business and Madrid’s City Hall. Another theory, that “without the Qatar Foundation the members should pay more”, well, I am not sure how many of us would have disliked the idea. We were never given the option.
And there was also the day of the assembly. After a long speech from various Barça directive board members, it was almost impossible to hear a counter argument. Consulta Qatar and its representative that day were not allowed to speak, being called and shouted “traitors” by part of the assembly. The board did nothing to allow them to express their views. Nor did the Club allow any of the group’s proposals for the day of the assembly, which included allowing a secret vote, and to let people speak who were against the deal. Therefore, the only voice heard was the official one. More about this is discussed on Consulta Qatar’s website.
About the deal itself, this was called, by Barça’s press and Barça officials on the day of the assembly, the “best deal ever for a football club”. Well, since they have not provided any public details about it, I still wonder if that is true. Consulta Qatar, in a meeting they held with Barça’s board, were given some details. The deal consisted, taking a base of 30 millions per year: 2.2 million for one friendly game; 3 million for static advertisement in the stadium; 10 million euros for the QF logo to appear on training shirts. Therefore, there are only 15 million euros related to shirt sponsorship, not 30 million euros. To have a quick idea, and as a benchmark for other deals, Manchester United has a shirt sponsorship agreement with AON for about 22.5 million euros per year, for 4 years. The same team, in 2011, clinched a deal with DHL for their training kits, for about 11.2 million euros per year, for four years. Yes, the same team we have consistently defeated in European competitions over the past three years. Barça’s deal does not look too impressive in comparison. And there are many other deals.
Given the probable, yet not 100% sure fact that Barça needed the money, would it have been more lucrative to value each marketing asset separately, and therefore have different sponsors? The assembly and the rest of members will probably never know.
Members, and fans, who still want an explanation are not against Barça. We are against misinformation. We have not received detailed information about the most important sponsorship deal in the club’s history. It is not a small thing. And if Barça, as Rosell said, were to become “smaller” without QSI’s money, we do not know the plans to make Barça “bigger” with it. Is there an investment plan? We know part of the money will probably be destined to reduce debt, but it can also be reduced by renegotiating rates, for example. Operating costs, as the board has announced, are also being minimized starting this season, and they are mostly covered by annual income. Therefore, the QSI money should be part of an investment plan, or at least some part of it. We would like to know that plan with sufficient detail, similar to what the board used last season to reveal their financial numbers, having them audited and revealing differences with the previous board. None of that detail has been made public, and it would tremendously benefit the club to do so.
I personally do not like this deal for other reasons, beyond the ones exposed in this article, but I also recognise the need of getting more income from any source available, as long as those sources are compatible with what the president repeated so many times last season… “the value of having principles”. Barça is not like any other club owned by private companies. It belongs to its members, so members are entitled to know the details of this agreement and the plans the club holds to make a “bigger” club from this or any other deal. Such an important step for Barça as a club, this huge sponsorship deal, should not be darkened by doubt. I think the board still has time to redeem themselves and revert away from this image of silence that seems strange, to say the least.
Images: Reuters and Sport