This is the end, not only a wildly entertaining comedy, but if the press is to be believed also the tagline to FC Barcelona’s cycle of supremacy. After dominating Spain and Europe for the better part of a decade the Blaugrana didn’t win any titles during the course of the 2013/14 campaign, save for the Supercopa de España.
Even though the Blaugrana technically lost their La Liga crown on the very last match day, the truth is the Catalans remained in the race due to their rivals’ generosity which saw both Madrid sides stumble toward the business end. Coincidentally, both Madrid sides claimed the titles the Blaugrana desired the most – La Liga and the Champions League.
Particularly the exit in the Champions League was a bitter pill to swallow for Barcelona fans. For the first time since 2006/07 the Blaugrana were unable to progress to the semi-finals. By all accounts Barcelona’s 2013/14 campaign wasn’t the disaster the media made it out to be. It was, however, very disappointing and underwhelming.
Perhaps Gerardo “Tata” Martino wasn’t the right appointment. Maybe Neymar’s transfer that is now known as Neymargate has contributed to Barcelona’s tailspin in the second half of the season. But it is clear something went sideways during the 2013/14 campaign.
Though the players have to shoulder their fair share of the blame, there is a case to be made that the bulk of the problems that have affected the team, and the club as a whole, have originated at boardroom level.
The Rosell/Bartomeu Administration
Although Sandro Rosell’s presidency of FC Barcelona was cut short it’ll ultimately be remembered for being polarizing, manipulative and untransparent. From the beginning Rosell and his administration made a series of highly unpopular decisions.
One of those, publicly humiliating club legend Johan Cruyff by stripping him off his honorary presidency on the grounds that this honor was bestowed upon him unilaterally by outgoing president Joan Laporta.
Nevertheless, the Rosell administration, whose original officers are still in place despite his resignation, has repeatedly ignored transparency, or the verification of decisions relating to important club matters, say, the resolution to accept a shirt sponsor. The Rosell/Bartomeu administration is democratic when it is convenient but unilateral by default.
Frankly, there isn’t much evidence that the current administration has improved upon Laporta’s legacy. Of course, economically speaking Barcelona is in better shape than during Laporta’s presidency. Then again, Barça were already on an upward trajectory when Rosell assumed the mantle of his predecessor.
When Laporta left office in 2010 Barcelona generated just under €400m in revenues (€398,1m), up 135% from €169,2m for the 2003/04 campaign. Under his six-year tenure his administration increased the income from Commercial avenues to €122,2m (€45,3m; +170%), Broadcasting to €178,1m (€66,1m; +169%), and Matchday to €97,8m (€57,8m; +69%).
Nevertheless, unlike Rosell Laporta saw out his full term which makes an apples-to-apples comparison impossible. However, in the first three years of Laporta’s presidency Barcelona’s revenue grew by 53% to €259,1m (€169,2m) in 2006. Following his election in 2010 Barcelona just gained 7% to €482,6 (€450,7m) in 2013. Compared to Laporta the Rosell/Bartomeu administration has been making baby steps.
Of course multiple factors have to be taken into consideration. Chief among them, at some point growth will inevitably slow down, stagnate even.
Then there’s the matter of existing contracts with commercial partners. It is reasonable to assume that the greater part of agreements signed by Laporta are still active. Hence making it a bit difficult for the current administration to add to the portfolio, though not impossible. Yet, Rosell and his board cashed-in on the single biggest piece of prime real estate in professional football – shirt sponsorship.
In a highly unpopular and unilateral decision the Rosell entered a five-year sponsorship agreement with the Qatar Foundation worth €150m. Furthermore, Rosell neglected to disclose details of the fine print to the general assembly when he sought its approval. By July 2013 the deal allowed the Qatar Foundation to replace their logo with that of Qatar Airways, the first commercial entity on Barcelona’s jersey in their 114 year history.
By no means a bad deal though not exceptional either, even if it was a Trojan horse. A €30m/year agreement is at the upper end of the scale but considering that Barcelona never had a shirt sponsor before, one expected Rosell to leverage the team’s dominance into a significantly larger deal. For reference, Manchester United closed a seven-year agreement with Chevrolet worth €66m annually, more than double of Barcelona’s Qatar Airways sponsorship.
Camp Nou Remodeling
Apparently, selling shirt sponsorship isn’t enough to boost Barcelona’s bottom line. True to the motto: “It takes money to make money,” the Bartomeu administration convinced the Socios to sign off on a €600m redevelopment plan for the Camp Nou.
Sure, it did involve voting.
One was free to cast their ballot – in Catalonia, which all but eliminates Socios living abroad. It must be something the Rosell administration worked towards when they changed to framework to apply for membership. It can’t be a coincidence that the Rosell imposed the changes within the first six months of his term.
A €600m redevelopment project that is designed to not only improving the facilities but also to expand the capacity of the Camp Nou to 105,000 seats. According to the board the improved venue would generate an additional €24m in annual revenue.
Investing €600m in order to generate an extra €24m annually – it makes totally sense considering Barcelona are already struggling to fill the Camp Nou as is.
The Camp Nou has the worst record, at 72% (71,235), among the top 10 stadium attendances across Europe, leaving almost 20,000 seats empty on any given match day.
Considering the tough economic climate in Spain, where unemployment hovers around 25% (up 5% in 2010), Real Madrid do comparatively well, averaging just under 69,000 visitors at the Santiago Bernabeu (or 85% of its maximum capacity). Perhaps it is purely coincidental but the nominal attendance for the Camp Nou and Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is almost identical, roughly around 70,000.
Overall only five venues in Europe exceed that threshold, Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park (81,264; 99%), Manchester United’s Old Trafford (75,731; 100%), and Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena (72,437; 99%) are the other ones. Apart from very few matches, most likely the Clasicos, neither the Camp Nou nor the Estadio Bernabeu is regularly selling out.
Judging by those numbers Barcelona, and Real Madrid, are already near the top end (nominally) of stadium attendances. Rendering any increase in capacity all but obsolete. Dortmund is the sole exception, but then again, the city isn’t exactly a metropolis that offers a lot of alternatives.
While Barcelona does offer fairly affordable season tickets (the most expensive costs around €676,00; the cheapest €210,00) it shouldn’t serve as an incentive to raise the prices to Arsenal levels (€2.445,00), whose Emirates financing plan they’re all but certain to emulate once construction commences.
For one, the GDP per capita in the UK stands at $50,000*, compared to $35,000* in Spain, or in other words, the audience in England has more cash to spare than their counterparts on the Iberian Peninsula.
Moreover, any drastic increase in price could alienate fans from visiting the Camp Nou altogether. While the decrease in attendance could be offset by charging higher prices it would render the decision to expand the capacity of the stadium in the first place redundant. Not that logic or reason were ever the guidelines of this administration.
According to Barça’s vice-president for economic matters, Javier Faus, the redevelopment will take place starting May 2017 through February 2021 with an estimated price-tag of €600m. The idea is to generate €150m through (sur)naming rights for the Camp Nou over a period between 20 and 25 years, plus a further €50m from 90-year concessions for hotel and commercial space.
The club intends to finance one-third, or €200m, through own means. The remaining third, a further €200m, will be bankrolled by creditors – that are to be paid once construction is underway.
It sounds reasonable enough. Yet, large scale construction and/or redevelopment is rarely on schedule, and almost never within the projected budget. Barça’s board doesn’t have to look further than at the mess that is Valencia’s Nou Mestella. Proposed in 2006, the construction which began in 2007 still hasn’t been completed as of June 2014
Sure, FC Barcelona has, and had, a better revenue stream than its La Liga rival in 2006. But the bulk of its income comes from broadcasting (€188,2m; 39%), which itself is highly inflated due to the disproportionally high share the Catalans, and Real Madrid, annually receive from TV-Rights. The La Liga duopoly accounts for roughly 50% (€300m, or €150m apiece) of the domestic broadcasting revenue.
Though on one hand Barcelona, and Madrid, can boast one exceptionally large source of income, it also makes their respective revenue stream lopsided and volatile, once the agreements expire. If the Spanish duopoly were to “only” generate around €100m from broadcasting, which is more in line with reality (and collective TV-Deals), both clubs would stand to lose as much as 25% of their respective total turnover.
In short, it just sounds like a typical Barcelona operation where vanity supersedes economic viability and common sense.
Take Bayern Munich for instance. Even after the completion of its state-of-the-art Allianz Arena, the gate receipts only account for 20% (€87,1m) of their total turnover. Also, the German club doesn’t rely as heavily on broadcasting as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or Chelsea FC, at just 25% (€107m).
Bayern’s vast commercial partners Adidas, Deutsche Telekom, and Audi amongst others contribute to a hefty portfolio that generates as much as 55% (€237,1m) of the Bavarian’s turnover. It’s less prone to the fragile composition of Bayern’s rivals, partly due to the fact that some of Die Roten’s key sponsors also own stakes in the club itself (Adidas).
The redevelopment project also has implications for Barcelona’s already irritating transfer policy – if there is indeed one in place. That itself is highly debatable in light of the non-arrival of a genuine centre-back between the summer 2010 and now. The budget to partly finance the redevelopment will either cut into Barça’s transfer kitty or wipe it out entirely.
In practice it means Barcelona’s incoming additions must be covered by outgoing transfers (sales) first. It would effectively emulate Arsenal’s business model following the completion of the Emirates stadium – which also coincided with a prolonged trophy-drought.
Under the Rosell administration Barcelona has spent €235,6m on transfers, 55% (€130,8m) were covered by sales. It is is the best ratio among the Champions League winners since 2010. However, it is also true that the very same administration has yet to sign a genuine centre-back, save for Javier Mascherano’s semi-successful transformation into a capable stand-in.
It is the source of much consternation for Barcelona fans. Seeing that the club has been unable to sign a single specialist defender, in spite of spending hundreds of millions on a few new players. In the same timeframe Chelsea signed Gary Cahill, David Luiz, and more recently Kurt Zouma. FC Bayern acquired Jerome Boateng and Dante, while Real Madrid added Ricardo Carvalho, albeit for a brief stint, and Raphael Varane.
The most expensive, David Luiz, set Chelsea back €30m in January 2011 during the winter transfer window when prices are historically inflated. The cheapest, but by no means worst, Dante, cost Bayern a paltry €4,7m in the summer 2012. Neither is a price category Barcelona cannot afford.
Looking at Barcelona’s starters for the 2010/11 campaign only three players were 30 and older (Eric Abidal, 30; Carles Puyol, 32; and Xavi, 30), whereas the overall average was 23,9 years. Hardly any reason for wholesale changes. But even then it was clear that the aforementioned trio had to be slowly phased out or be replaced.
Four years into the Rosell/Bartomeu administration five players have crossed the 30-Year threshold (Victor Valdes, 32; Javier Mascherano, 30; Dani Alves, 31; Xavi, 34, and Andres Iniesta, 30). In addition, Barcelona’s average age also increased to 27,4 years.
Though not a bad player, Mascherano has been somewhat of a regular in the past season by virtue of non-competition, and lack of depth in that particular area.
In all earnestness, Barcelona, or rather sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta has only managed to replace two players (Eric Abidal at left-back, and David Villa at left-forward), whereas the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez both share starting duties with Xavi and Pedro respectively.
Out of the 10 players Zubizaretta signed in line with his responsibility as sporting director, only two can be considered starters (Jordi Alba, Neymar), while another inherited his position (Javier Mascherano) because there isn’t sufficient competition.
To make matters worse, Cesc Fabregas will leave Barcelona in July for Chelsea in a €33m deal. Fabregas, Xavi’s intended heir apparent. The latter is already in the twilight of his marvelous career, and closer to retirement than any other current Barcelona player.
Though it has never been explicitly communicated by the Barcelona hierarchy it is possible that the club is banking on La Masia to continue to produce outstanding talent in the future. Well, they don’t call it a “Golden Generation” for no reason.
It would explain why the club feels so confident in its capability to finance as much as €200m of the redevelopment project on its own.
However, one of the hallmarks of this Barcelona administration is illogic – which is wonderfully illustrated by the sale of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich in 2013. Thiago ticks all the boxes for a Barcelona player, particularly a central midfielder.
Yet, thanks to a series of blunders on administrative and technical level, the youngster, then 22, was allowed to leave Barcelona for Bayern (which was a result of a contract clause that stipulated he had to play a certain amount of minutes).
Though the €25m fee Barcelona received isn’t too bad for a prospect it’s far less than they could’ve demanded had his buyout clause not lowered to €20m (the extra €5m surplus were a courtesy of Bayern).
Spanish midfielders are en vogue now. Javi Martinez went to Bayern for a lump sum of €40m in 2012, Isco and Asier Illarramendi carried a price-tag of €30m each when they were acquired by Real Madrid in 2013, while Manchester United signed Juan Mata and Ander Herrera in the two transfer windows of 2014 for a combined €80m.
Although Ivan Rakitic will join Barcelona in the summer, Iniesta is already 30, and unless Sergi Roberto makes unexpected quantum leaps in his development, the club is forced to look elsewhere for potential replacements, especially when and IF FIFA imposes the transfer ban next year.
Then there’s Alex Song, whose signing was supposed to provide cover in defensive midfield and central defense. Two campaigns, two managers, €19m in transfer fees, and in all likelihood two years’ worth of massive wages later, it is clear Song isn’t good enough to play for Barcelona in either position.
Mehdi Benatia, AS Roma’s centre-back Barcelona were linked with during the early weeks of the off-season, signed for the Italian side in the summer 2013 for €13,5m. At present interested clubs have been quoted in excess of €40m which deterred the majority, Barcelona among them.
It calls into question Zubizaretta’s job performance and the usefulness of Barcelona’s scouting department. It appears as if Zubizaretta all but ignores players outside of clubs that don’t feature in the Champions League. By his own admission Barcelona scouted Marc-Andre ter Stegen for almost three years before deciding to sign him.
At present Zubizaretta is anxious to sign Real Sociedad’s goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, 31, Valencia’s defender, Jeremy Mathieu, who will turn 31 later this year, and Paris Saint-Germain’s centre-back, Marquinhos, 20.
Frankly, only the acquisition of Marquinhos would make any sense. Given his age, potential, and resell value the Brazilian youngster is less of a risk, even when he comes at a higher price-tag, than either Bravo or Mathieu. Especially the latter has not feasible written all over him.
If the reports are to be believed Barcelona are willing to pay as much as €15m to secure his services. Apparently no one has informed Zubizaretta that Barcelona face a transfer ban next year, when Mathieu will turn 32.
Well, Mathieu would be another vintage Zubizaretta signing. An expensive stop-gap at best, with absolutely no resell value. Or in economic terms – a tax write-off.
Analyzing Barcelona’s organization it is evident that there is no such thing as a holistic approach. The President and his board are solely interested in maintaining their grip on the club, whereas Andoni Zubizaretta is not suited to the job of sporting director, while the squad is ill-equipped to handle the rigors of multiple competitions because of insufficient depth.
It’s quite an impressive feat this board has accomplished. Slowly dismantling the club despite spending millions upon millions attempting to do the contrary.
References taken from various sources:
Unemployment rate: Link
Ticket Prices: Link
Stadium attendances as of 2012: Link
Camp Nou redevelopment: Link
Qatar Sponsorship: Link
Deloitte Football Money League 2014: Link