FC Barcelona officially announced late last week that the once proudly empty blaugrana shirt will display Qatar Airways starting next season. The commercialization of the Barça shirt is now complete. The deal with Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) from the beginning has been controversial.
Firstly, it was signed by the board before discussing it with the members and obtaining approval. For such a sensitive and historic issue, the action reeked of lacking transparency. It was, eventually, months later taken to the members at the 2011 Assembly but as reported by totalBarça, it was effectively shoved down the members’ throats. One could even use the words bullying and fear-mongering. Rosell and the other directors made no case for an alternative and that if Barça refused the deal they could become a “smaller” club and that “if we don’t get the money, Madrid will”. A group of members forming under “Consulta Qatar”, seeking only more understanding of the deal, were marginalized at the assembly by not being given a chance to speak and in fact they were even subjected to abuse and taunts of “traitors”. All distasteful events and all very much against the ethos of FC Barcelona.
Moving on, the motion passed quite comfortably with an 86% majority. An important part of this however was the sales pitch. The deal was very much sold on two fronts. The first being that to retain its status as an elite club and compete with the unfair advantage inherent in the sugar-daddy model of ownership, FC Barcelona would have to move with the ages and this extra income was critical. That is a sound and understandable argument. The second front was on the line of the deal being unique and different to other football clubs, as it was not a total sell out and commercialization of the shirt, being that it was with a “foundation” who strived not for profits but social investment and responsibility. The deal had to be “compatible with Barça’s values” was the official line and to achieve that it was framed using the Qatar Foundation and its mission statement.
But, the original deal with QSI did state that “from the third year, FC Barcelona would be able to decide whether to continue wearing the Qatar Foundation name or switch to another”. That deal was approved in its entirety at the 2011 Assembly. And in here lies a bit of sneaky tactics. It appears from the outside that a plan was in place from the start. FC Barcelona members have always been very reluctant to sell the shirt, so, what do you do? Well, you start small and frame it correctly. We are not selling the shirt to just anyone, like some common, run of the mill advertising space. Barça are different to other football clubs. Rather, we are endorsing a foundation whose principles of social responsibility are in line with that of our own club. It’s not so much selling the shirt, but promoting a human cause. Even now Rosell says that the relationship with the foundation continues as an “official Human Development Partner”. But the business folk upstairs knew that with the etching of “Qatar Foundation” the Rubicon had been crossed. Getting letters on the shirt was the hard part, changing those letters becomes now much easier. So for the next few years it’s Qatar Airways, but after that, who knows. We may have reached the point of no return.
On the same day it was announced, after the obligatory thank-you, that the partnership with Turkish Airlines will not be renewed past 30 June 2013. But it appears the club has already changed to Qatar Airways planes given the photos of the travel to Russia yesterday.
Image: CARLES JAVIERRE/Sport