Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Global Scope: FC Barcelona's Corporate Sponsorship

If there is one thing every team in all the sports leagues around the world have in common is the need to get money to build a competitive team. Even though they are regarded by many fans as the greatest football club in the world, they are no different from everyone else in their quest for the most lucrative deal out there. One could argue that they had been somewhat different, because during the club's 113 year existence they kept a tradition of avoiding corporate sponsors on their jerseys. Times have changed. 

Since 2010 and until the end of the current season the Catalan side has displayed 'Qatar Foundation' on their jerseys as the team's main sponsor, a non profit organization owned by Qatar Sports Investment (QSI). They have also displayed the Unicef (United Nations Children's Fund) logo multiple times and will continue to do so for years to come, but in this case it is the club who gives the United Nations money to help with the fund.

On March 4th, this past Monday, FC Barcelona has confirmed that they will be displaying the Qatar Airways logo on the front of their jerseys, breaking the 113 year tradition of having no corporate sponsors being displayed there. The deal is considered to be the largest one of its kind in professional football history, and the team announced the new logo will be displayed starting on July 1st. According to Spanish newspapers, the deal is in place until June 2016 (which is also when the current President Sandro Rosell's tenure will be over), and it is worth 170 million euros.

Deal: Barcelona's president Sandro Rosell (second left) shakes hands with CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al Baker

Although it seems as if all of FC Barcelona's fans would be pleased with this deal, it has actually angered many die-hard supporters of the team, because it is breaking the tradition that is as old as the club. Barcelona is famous for being the "people's club," being entirely owned by their supporters who elect the directors (including current President Sandro Rosell) and vote on all the key decisions of the club. In 2003 90% of its members voted to allow corporate sponsorship on their kits, with preferred choices being Unicef and then the Qatar Foundation. Some members argue that the only reason why they voted for allowing such sponsorship was because the institutions in question were non-profit institutions.  

Barcelona's Vice President Javier Faus stated at a Press Conference that QSI had the option of switching the institution that sponsors the club at this time, with the club having veto power. Faus said "Also, Qatar Airways already has two direct flights from Barcelona to Doha and have committed to increasing their presence in our city and our country, which is something that we value, especially in a period of economic crisis." President Rosell also clarified that this does not mean the club will succumb to large corporations' wealth and completely stray away from tradition, stating that the first commercial offer presented to them was from a sports betting agency, which goes against the club's ideals. 

The Chief Executive Officer of the Middle Eastern company, Akbar Al Baker, said that the idea is to connect the Spanish city with places in the Middle East, Africa, and Pacific Asia. "We want our passengers to be more connected with European football." Currently there are 10 weekly flights between Doha and Barcelona, and that will soon be upped to 14.

"The values unite us, the passion to be the best at what we do. We are a global entity that connect passengers between cities around the world. Barca also provides global connections from Spain, building bridges with all the fans who are spread around the world." said Al Baker.


Kevis Georgakopoulos Pinto is a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is working toward his undergraduate degree in Sport Management at Drexel University. In the past year and a half, since moving to the United States, Kevis has been very active in entering the sports business world. He has gained experience in doing research at the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament in Poland, and is now interning at Comcast SportsNet’s marketing department.  Follow Kevis on Twitter @kevisgp.

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