Barcelona

Barcelona lost £404m (€468.32m) during the Covid-affected 2020/21 season, with the bulk of the season taking place without supporters.

Funding the club’s enormous wage bill without any matchday income contributed to the club’s gross debt rising to £1.2 billion, with responsibility frequently linked to former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who has asserted his innocence despite charges of fiscal irresponsibility.

Between 2014 and 2019, the former president spent more than €1bn on transfers, with few of them qualifying as value for money.

After Joan Laporta was elected, he characterised the club as “clinically dead,” and difficult decisions had to be taken quickly. There was around €390m outstanding in player wages and nearly €670m owed to banks.

How did Barcelona, a team supposedly in debt to the tune of €1.3b, pull this off? How can they pursue so many players at such a high cost with a wage cap imposed by LaLiga of (-) €144m?

And why would the league allow it? How can a club characterized by its own President as “clinically dead” recruit all this talent when they took over from an administration that almost brought them to disaster?

While many football clubs have entered into controversial deals with petro-states, oligarchs, online casinos, betting companies, and so on, Barcelona has a long history rooted in tradition and robust La Liga rules to abide by. How is it managing to scrape through?

Bayern Munich’s coach Julian Nagelsmann summed well the bewilderment many people felt over their star scorer Robert Lewandowski’s departure to Barcelona.

He said: “It is the only club in the world that has no money, but then buy all the players they want. I don’t know how they do it. It’s a bit strange, a bit crazy. They got a lot of new players, not only Robert.”

Nagelsmann’s remark was valid; it was surprising that Barcelona could find €45 million for a 33-year-old striker despite failing to fulfil La Liga’s financial guidelines, which required the team to make considerable savings before taking on anybody new.

The club then went on to get Rapinha (€58 million), Jules Koundé (€50 million), and Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessié on free transfers. Last summer, Barcelona struggled to register players and it wasn’t until just before the first league match that they did so.

That included standing firm when Barcelona blamed the league’s economic difficulties for failing to sign worldwide icon Lionel Messi to a new deal, which eventually ended in his departure to Paris Saint-Germain.

Even after players were registered, conflicts between La Liga President Javier Tebas and Barcelona persisted. This summer, Tebas has openly commented on the club’s transfer ambitions, most notably suggesting that the Catalans would be unable to splurge on newcomers until certain financial “levers” are activated.

In the context of Barcelona, the word “economic lever” refers to a financial move to reduce the constraints imposed by the club’s debt status. To activate a lever, the club sells some of its assets to generate money.

The assembly resolved that President Joan Laporta could seek agreements for up to 25% of its total rights. In June, Barça sold 10% of those rights to Sixth Street for €267 million, with the US corporation investing €207 million back into the team. A further 15% was sold down the line for €267m.

The third economic lever involved the sale of a percentage of Barca Studios. The move was announced when the club unveiled Jules Koundé after selling 25% of the Barca Studios division to blockchain-enabled fan token platform Socios.com. The deal was valued at about €100 million.

The most recent lever was the sale of 24.5% of the Barca Studios production hub to Orpheus Media, who offered €100 million for it. These sales have allowed the club to meet La Liga’s financial rules, allowing them to play the latest signings.

The most visible deal Barcelona has entered into because of the debt it is saddled with is with Swedish music streamer Spotify.

Both parties inevitably touted it as a “first-of-its-kind” deal. However, Barcelona’s sponsorship agreement with Spotify may be more of a sign of things to come rather than the start of a unique alliance.

The storied Spanish club is finding it increasingly difficult to live up to its famed motto ‘Més que un club’ – ‘More than a club’.

The four-year deal, which begins in the 2022/23 season, designates Spotify as Barcelona’s primary partner, with the company receiving front-of-shirt branding for both the men’s and women’s teams. The firm will also sponsor the club’s training kits for the next three seasons.

The arrangement will also see Barcelona’s historic stadium renamed ‘Spotify Camp Nou’ for the first time in the club’s history.

The financial specifics of the deal were not published, as is generally the case for Spotify. Spanish media outlets, notably Catalan radio station RAC1, have estimated the deal’s worth at €280 million ($308 million), amounting to €70 million ($76.9 million) each year. All these figures you see should be taken with a pinch of salt.

In contrast, Barca’s original agreement with Japanese eCommerce company Rakuten, which ran out at the end of the season, was signed in 2016 and was worth approximately €55 million ($60.5 million) annually. The two then agreed on an extension through 2021/22.

Regarding Camp Nou’s new name, naming rights arrangements for European soccer stadiums are uncommon compared to competitions such as Major League Soccer (MLS), let alone other North American sports leagues.

Manchester City earns £21.9 million (€25.39m) each year from their stadium partnership with Etihad, according to the US-based consultant company Duff & Phelps.

Barca is now left to take prices instead of setting them, so Spotify likely got a pretty good deal.

If LaLiga’s TV revenue climbs over the next several decades, then the deal will continue to look expensive for Barcelona but ultimately they will feel the impact less.

More importantly, the issue is whether Barcelona will spend smarter since money has been wasted on signings and wages since selling Neymar for a world record $222m in 2017.

A flood of high-level players have arrived in Catalonia, and most have deteriorated, exacerbating an already tough situation.

Better judgment will be required if Barcelona is to become financially competitive and on solid ground again.

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