SPOTIFY are in the process of agreeing a € 280 million deal with Barcelona that will include shirt sponsorship and the renaming of the iconic Camp Nou. The transaction, undoubtedly just what Barca need in their current situation, may not prove to be a popular one with the fans, at least not in the short term. If there is a stadium indelibly linked to a club, it is surely the Camp Nou.
Spotify, who recently announced they generated € 9.7 billion of revenues in 2021, have over 400 million users worldwide. They have a strong profile that is instantly recognisable and after some bad publicity, they arguably needed some good news. The marriage of Spotify and Barcelona may be a compelling mix for the modern age, but will Spotify’s deal prove beneficial for the company? Is it realistic to expect people to start calling the vast bowl the Camp Nou Spotify?
This is a case of caveat emptor because there are four main cultural pillars in the football club story: the name; the logo/badge; the stadium; and the colours. Tamper with these elements and you risk alienating your audience. However, there are rich pickings to be had in naming rights and not many clubs outside of Germany have really exploited their potential.
With so many clubs suffering from the pandemic in terms of reduced revenues and rising debts, there may be a more flexible sentiment around selling naming rights. It is certainly easier when a club builds a new stadium as the legacy has already been disrupted, hence when Arsenal moved into a new arena, adding the name Emirates wasn’t seen as a heinous crime. It would have been a different tale if their former ground, the much-loved Highbury, had been renamed.
Similarly, Manchester City’s adoption of Etihad was seen as part of their takeover by Abu Dhabi. It would seem unlikely that Liverpool and Manchester United would ever rename Anfield and Old Trafford respectively. United’s board has said in the past that it would not sell its name, but cynics might argue that if a deal came along, everything has its price in football.
Everton, when they move to their new dockside venue, will have an opportunity that would have been difficult to even suggest at Goodison Park. Tottenham have yet to sell rights for their new ground, but having incurred big losses, the moment cannot be too far away.
Barcelona’s proposed deal will yield € 93 million annually for three years and is aimed at replacing Rakuten as the main sponsor, whose agreement expires at the end of this season. Rakuten will depart after paying the club € 55 million per year for the past five years, but they were reported to be less than satisfied with the sponsorship deal, claiming their objectives were not fulfilled.
Since Barca have been embroiled in talks with Spotify, the club’s CEO, Ferran Reverter, has resigned, “for personal and family reasons”. Reverter had been with the club less than a year and was a pivotal figure in the financial recalibration of Barcelona. Doubtless, some will link the Spotify talks with his departure.
Another major club, Argentina’s River Plate, have also announced plans to sell naming rights to their El Monumental ground, the venue of the 1978 World Cup final. They are also expanding the capacity to 81,000. As the club doesn’t currently have the financial resources, the rights, which should generate around US$ 20 million, will fund the project. Favourites to agree a deal are the supermarket chain Chango Más.
Of the top 30 clubs in Europe (source: Deloitte), 11 have sponsors as part of their stadium name, including Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Atlético Madrid.
Some companies have developed a taste for buying-up rights, such as German insurers Allianz. The Munich-based company has what it calls a “family of stadiums” and has its name on football arenas in Munich (Bayern), Turin (Juventus), Sydney, Minnesota, Nice, São Paulo (Palmeiras) and Vienna (SK Rapid Wien). The Allianz in Munich is one of the great football sites in the world and is the most visited tourist destination in Bavaria as well as Bayern Munich’s home. The Aliianz family seems to have one thing in common, they all seem to be state-of-the-art constructions. They also have an impressive appearance.
Germany has embraced the concept of stadium sponsorship more than almost any other country – only a handful of current Bundesliga clubs do not have deals in place. And in typical German corporate fashion, backing comes from some of Deutschland AG’s big names, such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Deutsche Bank and Bayer.
Some sponsorships do work very well, the Allianz Arena, for example, rolls of the tongue and nobody blinks an eyelid when you mention Emirates and Arsenal. This is the challenge for Tottenham, and indeed for Barcelona, to secure a sponsor that becomes seamlessly linked to the brand of the football club. In Barca’s case, the Camp Nou is such a significant brand of its own that grafting any other name to it will be hard work. There should be no shortage of takers for big club rights, for the mass appeal and media coverage of the game should benefit modern, multi-faceted companies.
The biggest corporate brands in the world are predominantly tech-orientated, such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. We’ve yet to see much activity around football club sponsorship, although partnerships have been established, such as Apple and Bayern Munich and Microsoft and the England team.
The key to any deal, or indeed anything that threatens the integrity of a club’s brand, is sensitivity and recognition of the cultural aspects of the game. Clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool will be only too aware of the problems that can emerge from a badly-handled deal that devalues the brand in any way. Right now, with clubs feeling the impact of the pandemic, the need to come up with elegant solutions is arguably more important than ever before, so we can probably expect more to leverage the power of their historic and modern football landmarks.