The Drum spoke with Jordi Camps, head of business development (Asia Pacific), FC Barcelona to find out what makes FC Barcelona the club with the most valuable sponsors.
He says the fact that the club is owned by its members is an important lure for brands.
"FC Barcelona has won the support of many of the world’s top brands. They want to be associated with Barca because we are one of the few that is owned by its members, and we are unique in our commitment to be “more than a club.” Sponsors also appreciate our huge global fan base. We have fans worldwide and thriving supporters’ clubs in more than 50 countries. Partnering with us gives brands global exposure and an association with exceptional sporting performance and genuine social commitment.
Our message is positive and global: football has no boundaries. We have always been very selective in our partnerships. We choose sponsors that share our values. Our aim is to build an ecosystem to foster knowledge and innovation that benefits our own athletes, members and fans, and society in general. So we actively seek prestigious brands, research centres, entrepreneurs, athletes, and other visionaries to work with us."
FC Barcelona and Real Madrid’s El Clásico matches generate over $40m in media value for sponsors. As to what does the club expects from partnering with brands, he says: "First and foremost, brands have to be proud to be with us. We work hard to make sure that the sponsor’s investment in us delivers incredible value in return. We want them to be able to benefit from using our intellectual property as much as possible, and we’re open to all sorts of creative activation ideas.
We want to work with brands that have imaginative ideas, not just around media value but also in promoting brand productivity and connecting with our fans to create win-win situations."
As to how sponsorship dynamics has evolved for football clubs nowadays, he says: "Sponsorship is an important revenue stream for any club today, alongside television rights and gate receipts. Having said that, clubs that are able to create different and disruptive revenue streams – through digital channels, for example – will dominate sports marketing in the coming decade. They will be able to give partners something special and unique.
For Barça, this means looking for long-term relationships where we can create a win-win situation. Partners have to be able to leverage our brand to differentiate themselves and raise their brand awareness, and we have to be able to use our partner’s power to communicate our message and get closer to our fans and consumers."
FC Barcelona was ranked as the top sports team on social media in 2016 by Forbes. It currently has 27.3 million followers on its English Twitter account while another 13 million on its Spanish Twitter account. It recently partnered with creative platform Fastory to unveil an interactive mobile experience.
Whether FC Barcelona includes branded content as part of its marketing strategy, Camps says: "Yes, we do. Fans follow us because of our brand, our players, our Barça style, and so on. We want to make sure that the focus is on the club and the brand as much as it is on the players or the action on the pitch. So we do create different types of branded content to draw people in.
It’s for this reason that we involve our partners in our content creation. We engage fans with true stories that build real connections between them, our brand and our partner’s brand. We want to give fans something special – something they want to see – rather than just the sponsor’s regular ad."
Brands like Facebook and Amazon are too intensifying their investment into sports. Facebook has the live streaming deal with MLS while Amazon sealed the deal with TV networks Discovery, ITV and Hayu to offer live TV and sports on its video platform for the first time in Europe.
As to how FC Barcelona sees sponsorship in football evolving with the likes of Facebook and Amazon potentially streaming major matches in the future, Camps says: "Digital platforms are becoming a key part of our business and we already use them to connect with our fans and to the rest of the world. Barça is the top sports team on social media, in terms of number of followers, follower engagement, and media value. To create an even better fan experience, we’ve also recently begun posting pre and post-event highlights on Facebook and our different social media channels.
We’re always very keen to explore different channels and new and creative ideas to better engage fans. We’re lucky to be based in Barcelona, a global hub for design, creativity and research. And we’re working closely with our partner Rakuten to maximize the value of our social, mobile and web platforms and delight fans with exclusive content."
FC Barcelona is also investing into other properties, such as opening up its football academy and the Barça Experience museum in Haikou in China. It also set up a New York office and opened its first U.S. football school in the city, as well as its first residential football academy in Arizona. It recently announced a partnership with Parques Reunidos which will see the club open a series of FC Barcelona-branded leisure and entertainment centres worldwide.
As to how big are the APAC plans for the club, Camps says: "China is our priority overseas market. Currently, we have six partners and three schools in China, and a strong relationship with Beijing University."
However, he says that more can be done to become closer to Chinese fans and it needs to be China-specific.
"Our challenge is to create special projects and content for China. This cannot be translated content from overseas; it has to be created in China by Chinese creatives. One of our dreams is to have a Chinese player in our first football team."
"India is another exciting market for us. Football is growing very fast there, with a new League, a new TV broadcaster, new celebrities and a massive population interested in the game. After cricket, it’s the most popular sport," he adds.
"India is our third priority market, after China and the U.S. As we did in China, we’re looking for suitable high-calibre brands to partner with us in India and help us raise our national profile. What’s different there is that India is already home to one of our football schools, with more than 1,200 children trained in Delhi and Mumbai since 2012. So we are now investing more in our people and resources in India and drawing up plans to bring Barça to the next level," says Camps.
With the interest in football only set to increase in its core markets, the support of strong brand partners and an innovative and localised output should but the team in a good position to grow globally.