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Barça continues to search for its Holy Grail

BarcelonaFootball is less and less a sport and more and more a business.” The phrase was said by Ferran Soriano at a conference in Esade. A statement that can perfectly be the motto of the offices of any major European club. In that talk, the former economic vice-president of Barça and current CEO of Manchester City emphasized the need to open new business avenues. If in their origins the clubs lived from members and ticket sales, later advertising, television and merchandising were added. But with digital globalization, new technologies and smartphones a new avenue appeared to reach fans around the world and sell them stuff. It is these, the fans scattered around the planet, that the major teams want to recruit for financial return. However, the project, which is clear to everyone, is still not fully underway.

“The digital strategy is the Holy Grail that everyone is looking for”, said Dídac Lee, former manager of Barça, in an interview with ARA. Barça, like City and the rest of the big European clubs, also has a division created to explore this market. In the 2018-19 season, the last one before the pandemic, around 400 million followers were detected across the planet. But, of these, only 4 million physically set foot in the Camp Nou. “That’s 1%. If we get to the remaining 99%, if we find that fan and turn them into a customer, if we sell things directly to them without middlemen, it would allow us to grow the revenue level exponentially,” added Lee.

More than a decade ago, Barça launched the digital area, which in 2020 reached a turnover of 100 million. In fact, the then president Bartomeu calculated that he could triple the turnover in just five years. But the pandemic came and the plans went awry. Today, with Joan Laporta in the box office, Barça is also thinking about the digital area to obtain more income. Together with Espai Barça, it will be one of the ways to catapult the organization’s turnover in the coming years. It will be through Barça Studios, the company that this summer was partially sold to Socios.com and Orpheus Media – they have 49% of the shares – to achieve extraordinary income and sign up players. According to the entity’s report, it entered 197 million from a company “dedicated to the exploitation of the club’s new digital assets, such as NFTs and the metaverse”. The unknown is knowing what route it will take and whether business expectations will be met.

The study of football finances shows the stagnation of income from the commercial area

At the moment this massive following across the planet does not translate into much more income. Increase turnover, yes, but not much. The volume of business is not close to what its ideologues predicted a few years ago. The report proves it The finances of the 5 major European football leagues in 2020/2021, prepared by the economists Josep Sanfeliu Ribot and Martí García Pons. This study, which follows that prepared by the late Josep Maria Gay de Liébana, shows a stagnation in turnover in the commercial area, especially since the pandemic. The big leagues invoiced 3,679 million euros in the commercial area, in the 2018-19 year. In the 2020-21 season they were 3,532 million: a decrease of 147 million. If it weren’t for television revenue, the competition would have had a lot of trouble surviving at a time when the ticketing it plummeted because the stadiums were closed.

The clubs have made a bet on social networks, where they increase their presence every year, especially on Facebook and Instagram. Barça, according to its latest report, has 266 million unique followers who receive daily communications from the entity. Since Barça and the other teams have not yet found the formula to directly monetize this relationship – it is done, but still in a minority way –, the clubs take advantage of the networks to enhance the brand and give visibility to the sponsors. That is to say, that they serve partly as a tool for information and partly as an advertising showcase.

Real Madrid is, according to the study presented to the College of Economists, the team with the most followers on social networks, 277.4 million. It is closely followed by Barça, with 273.9. Then come Manchester United (176.8) and PSG (142.6). From top 20 of European clubs, these four accumulate almost half of the total followers on the networks (49.6%). However, in terms of income they only represent 29.1%. And the difference is even more abysmal if only Barça and Madrid are taken into account, two clubs that bring together 31.4% of supporters among the twenty that pay the most in Europe, but that only account for 15.3% of invoicing. Whoever finds the formula for success and turns all followers into customers will have won the game.

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