Barcelona go for renaming the Camp Nou

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.

Bayern Munich are still the untouchables

BAYERN Munich could be eyeing the “impossible treble” this season as they look ahead to the conclusion of the UEFA Champions League in August. Not many clubs have managed to win their two main domestic prizes and the UEFA Champions League, in fact it has been achieved just eight times, the last in 2015 with Barcelona.

Bayern recently completed their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title and followed that by winning the DFB Pokal. They’ve won 13 domestic trophies in eight years out of a possible 16. It is time, perhaps, to win another UEFA Champions League, a prize they haven’t secured since 2013.

At home in Germany, Bayern still refuse to be overthrown. Each season, the same question gets asked – “are FC Bayern showing signs of slipping?” – and even when they hit a lean spell (admittedly rare), they act, regroup and go about their business. In November, they were beaten 5-1 by Frankfurt, a result that left the Bayern top brass ashen-faced and ready to swing the axe.

Kovač’s departure

Niko Kovač, in his second season at the club, was sacked after they had a business-like discussion and declared, “the consensual result was that Niko is no longer coach of FC Bayern”. Kovač even said he felt it was the best thing for the club – such is the pressure of being coach at Bayern. The old cliché, “he’s lost the dressing room”, had been circling the beer halls of Munich for weeks.

For the past few years, people have predicted an end to Bayern’s monopoly as their key players started to age. Robben, Ribery and Lahm have now all gone now and the club has been bringing in fresh talent.

Kovač didn’t seemed to fit well at Bayern as far back as the halfway point of his debut campaign and in the summer, he irritated Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge over comments made about the possible signing Manchester City’s Leroy Sane. It doesn’t pay to upset the men in the comfortable seats at the magnificent Allianz Arena.

Although Kovač won the double in 2018-19, the club crashed out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage, losing to eventual winners Liverpool. That represented Bayern’s worst showing in the competition since 2011 and obviously hit the club’s wallet.

When it looks as though the machine is stopping, Bayern invariably look within and they came up with Hans-Dieter Flick, who had returned to the club when Kovač was appointed as an assistant coach in 2019. Heidelberg-born Flick played for Bayern in the 1980s, so he was no stranger, but in some ways it was a gamble, or at least, a stop-gap decision. Flick did enough to get a new contract in April that takes him through to 2023. His win rate is 90.63% and he’s already won two trophies. At the moment, it looks like an excellent appointment. Bayern’s grand old men are impressed, notably Franz Beckenbauer, who claims Flick has brought togetherness to that lost dressing room.

Resilience

Bayern have not only benefitted from younger players like Alphonse Davies, Leon Goretza, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich, but Robert Lewandowski, at 31 years of age, has been in spectacular form, scoring 51 goals, including 34 in 31 Bundesliga games. In addition, Bayern’s 34 year-old keeper and captain has been outstanding this season.

Bayern ended 13 points ahead of Dortmund in second place, with a goal difference of 68, their best since 2014. Bayern’s determination and resilience – apart from one week early in the season they didn’t hit the top until February – has become a characteristic of the club for many years. When they were beaten in consecutive games in December, the second a 2-1 loss at resurgent Borussia Mönchengladbach, the doubters were predicting an end to the seven year run at the top as Bayern languished in seventh place. However, they returned from the winter break focused and energised, beating Hertha Berlin 4-0 away and Schalke 5-0 at the Allianz. Furthermore, for the second time in a matter of months, they went to London and left behind scorched earth – following-up a 7-2 win at Tottenham with an emphatic 3-0 victory at Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg.

Bayern will undoubtedly come through the delayed second leg against Chelsea and many people are predicting they will win the competition this year. Certainly, Bayern had their shaky period early on in the campaign and seem to have a very confident team at present. With Barcelona squabbling, Real Madrid almost out of the way, Manchester City vulnerable in defence, PSG possibly a little rusty and Liverpool eliminated, Bayern could be in a good place at the right time. 

Advantages

Can anyone depose Bayern in Germany? Dortmund have been runners-up in five of the last eight seasons, but the club does not have the financial clout of Bayern. Dortmund have actually spent more than Bayern over the past eight years, but they sell their best players out of necessity, hence their net transfer activity results in a positive of around € 100 million. Bayern, on the other hand, have a negative spend of almost € 300 million. Leipzig continue to be a rising force, but they also excel at player-trading, hence they have sold Timo Werner to Chelsea.

Bayern’s advantage over their opponents is substantial and shows no sign of being eroded. The club’s revenues for 2018-19 totalled € 660.1 million, compared to Dortmund’s € 377.1 million and Schalke’s € 324.8 million. Bayern’s commercial prowess is evidenced by their total revenues in this stream of € 356.5 million, comparable to the entire income of Dortmund and more than Schalke’s overall amount. Little wonder the margin between Bayern and their closest competitors has averaged 14 points per season since 2012.

The only way a club is going to overtake Bayern, it would seem, is for them to become complacent or simply an unfortunate slip-up, but when things start to go wrong, steps are quickly taken to remedy the problem, as seen in the past when Carlo Ancelotti was sacked early season and most recently with the removal of Kovač.

So it really has been business as usual in Germany, although in the first half of the season, Bayern had to work harder than usual. After the winter break, Bayern won 16 out of 17 games, the form of champions. The next step is to have a real stab at winning the UEFA Champions League. Ultimately, European success is how Hansi Flick will be judged.

 

@GameofthePeople