A [lackluster] Treatise on Barcelona Finances

By now you are well aware of the monetary news being published today.  FC Barcelona has announced a record profit of 48.8M euros for the 2011-12 season.   A quick list of the reasons for this positive turn contains: lack of bonus payout due to failure to win La Liga (12M euros) and the Champion’s League (unknown amount), ever-increasing ticket sales, growth of the global brand, record kit sales, increased domestic and international TV revenue, the sale of Maxwell, and the rescission of problem contracts on the books for years. Compared to the past two seasons, and in light of the impending Financial Fair Play (FFP) penalties to be imposed by UEFA, this is an extremely encouraging development.  But this is FC Barcelona, it’s more than a club, and that means responses ranging from exultant to downtrodden and everything in between.  So let’s dig in a little deeper shall we?

It is probably best to get this out of the way early, but Barcelona is a business and it is a brand, and it is those things above all else. It is a fan-owned business with an elected corporate leadership and the sooner that the fan base accepts this fact and understands that the club will be run like a business, the better.

It is difficult for many to hear, and some of you will vehemently disagree with me, but FC Barcelona, for all of its history and meaning to Catalans and the ideals it has embodied, must be run like a business, and a successful one at that, in order to survive and succeed. The trappings of modern association football are such that the bottom line must come first. No longer can a club sit back on its laurels and hope that winning cures all, or even that great history will do the trick, just look to AC Milan right now.  Shaving untold millions off in fire sales disguised as transfers because winning wasn’t enough and exterior factors did them in when it came to coming in under FFP.  To this end, Barcelona has moved to act more like a business and less like an extremely large social club.

One idea is that the club leadership should funnel all profits directly back into the club coffers because of the partnership between fan owners and administration, but that’s not how incorporated partnerships work. The club is out to be profitable and successful, probably in that order. It might hurt to hear this, but that’s the nature of business. It’s impersonal and it’s not particularly worried with how you or I feel. One step in this direction was the sponsorship deal.

The sponsorship deal with Qatar Foundation, the richest in the world ever signed to that point, has been a boom for Barcelona financially, and while many maligned such a move as “selling out” or “selling our souls,” it was a financially sound and financially necessary move.  (Incidentally, if we’re really looking to complain about it, shouldn’t we look more toward Qatar’s woeful treatment of women and minorities and its generally awful civil rights record, instead of worrying about what it does to the club’s image?) Qatar Foundation also had some part, however small, in the largest amount of kit sales in the club’s history. Of course this could also have something to do with fielding some of the most popular players in the world, but what do I know?

Now the other piece to this puzzle is the club’s handling of the announcement. After years of bashing the Laporta administration, Rosell takes to the airwaves to tout his successes and effectively rub it in the faces of Joan and his supporters. Instead of simply putting this information out there, it has been bandied about to every press organization that will carry, including as far away as the New York Times.

What does all this mean? Well, fans had better get used to this being run like a business looking out for profit for the foreseeable future and yes this includes possibly selling the naming rights to the Camp Nou, so just prepare yourselves. It also means that the club’s finances are likely to continue to be used as a political tool for the foreseeable future. Running the club as a business is a good idea, but using this as a political motivator is not. Does this mean Barça sold its soul? Possibly, but remember, the market value for anything is what someone else is willing to pay for it.