It is no secret that at the moment, FC Barcelona is under monumental debt. The fans are aware of it, the presidential candidates are basing their campaigns around it, and every club in Europe is attentive to it. When the king is bleeding, – everyone is awake.
According to reports, the total debt is a staggering €1.2 billion, with €730 million being due short term, while €266 million has to be paid by June 30. Additionally, the club has spent a bizarre €1 billion in the last five seasons.
Most major clubs that are not backed by owners are under debt, however, a debt as monumental as this is neither normal nor sustainable. The reasons behind this huge void are numerous – a colossal wage bill, loans taken to facilitate transfers, the Espai Barça project, and of course, the pandemic.
This article will discuss different methods that can help Barcelona pay off the debt and progressively work towards becoming financially healthy.
Player sales and altered contracts
Transfers have always been a big part of football. Not just because of the shuffling of top players, but because of the money involved. Transferring players out of the club can help generate revenue from both the transfer fee received from the purchasing club and the elimination of the salary that needs to be paid to the exiting player.
Barcelona has the biggest wage bill for any sports team globally – a staggering €270 million are paid every year to the first team members. There is no doubt that while some players are deserving of the wage they receive, like Lionel Messi, who not only elevates Barcelona on a sporting level but also has generated nearly €600 million in revenue during the last years, There are other players who are extremely overpaid.
It is in the best interest of the club to transfer out Samuel Umtiti, Philippe Coutinho, and Miralem Pjanic while renegotiating the contracts of Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and Antoine Griezmann.
Umtiti and Coutinho are both shadows of their former selves, and continuing to place faith in them would be very counterproductive. Both of them are ageing, and with every passing month, their market value is decreasing.
While Pjanic was only brought in this summer, he is also not as excellent as he used to be, and with a squad filled with talented, young midfielders, it would seem imprudent to keep the Bosnian in the squad. The three of them could be sold for a total of just under €100 million and would free approximately €30 million in wages per year.
Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique are club legends, however, it is no secret that they are both on the decline. While they are still quality players and can offer quite a lot to the club, giving them €15 million per year and €13 million per year in wages respectively, is unsustainable.
Similarly, while Sergi Roberto is a versatile player who offers quite a lot to the team in terms of utility, a salary of €10 million per year is a prime example of overpayment. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is set to become the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world, earning €18 million per year. While ter Stegen is an excellent goalkeeper, he does not deserve being the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world. Barcelona’s management should push for a 30% wage cut from these players.
This is a straightforward method to generate money in order to tackle the club’s debt.
In June 2020, Barcelona launched its premium streaming service called Barca TV+. The service gave paying members access to exclusive content in the form of videos. There are different programs such as Discover Barcelona and What’s Next?, that are available to members to view. An OTT platform such as this is an excellent way of generating revenue.
Barcelona has the biggest digital following for a sports team, with 350 million followers across different digital platforms. At the moment, Barca TV+ costs €2.50 per month. If even half of Barcelona’s followers were to subscribe, that’s around €430 million in revenue.
Of course, it is easier said than done, but with the right amount of effort, and enough time, it is possible. The club needs to work towards creating more content, and better market the service. The exposure it has received so far has been excellent, but there is more room to grow. A series similar to Amazon’s All or Nothing, would do wonders for attracting more customers.
Barcelona members, also known as socis are people who own the club. Currently, there are about 144,000 socis. These members have an influence on the functioning of the club and are able to vote on different matters such as elections, votes of no confidence and other referendums.
Becoming a Barcelona member is no easy task, though. While it does cost money, the major issue is that you have to be present in Barcelona to be a member. You do not have to be a Spanish citizen, but you do have to regularly visit Barcelona in order to preserve your membership status. These restrictions limit the soci candidates.
As a result, Barcelona should work on uplifting the proximity constraint and should allow fans worldwide to become members. Doing this will not only generate more revenue for the club but will also allow more fans to have an influence on the functioning of the club. Barcelona has a digital following of 350 million, even if 10% of the 350 million – 35 million, become socis, that is €6 billion in revenue per year.
Of course, this system will be hard to implement and comes with a few issues. Becoming a soci becomes accessible to rival fans, who can make decisions that hurt the club. Regardless, with more thought behind it, this is a stream that can help Barcelona generate a lot of revenue.
Camp Nou naming rights
Camp Nou is the biggest football stadium in Europe, and also arguably the most famous one. Naming stadiums after sponsors has become a widely used source of revenue in the footballing world today. By licensing the naming rights of Camp Nou, Barcelona can open up a stable stream of revenue. While it is unideal, since the Camp Nou name carries a lot of history, prevention of the liquidation of the club takes precedence.
According to ESPN, the price for the naming rights for a 20-year-period is €300 million. While this sum will not be paid upfront, it is still a continuous stream of revenue that can help the Catalan club tackle the debt issues.
In April 2014, 72% of the socis approved of the Espai Barça project with a budget of €700 million. The original plan consisted of remodelling the Camp Nou, constructing the Palau Blaugrana for 10,000 spectators, and making the Barça Campus. The project was supposed to be completed in 2021, and the objective was to gain an increment of €55 million per year from the project. The project has not been completed, and the budget has soared to a reported €900 million. However, it is also estimated that the increment in annual revenue will be a gigantic €150 million.
While Espai Barca is an ambitious project that will make Barcelona’s facilities the best in the world, it is not sustainable to continue working on it with the debt looming over the club. A lot more loans will have to be taken, adding to the debt, and a lot of the club’s financial resources will have to be directed towards this project instead of paying the debt. Therefore, one way to tackle the debt situation is not to increase it and to use all available resources towards fulfilling it.
The situation is dire. While the pandemic was heavily responsible for the reduction of income (no fans being present in the stadiums), the debt menacing over Barcelona serves as a wake-up call for not irrationally borrowing and spending money. When Barcelona sold Neymar for €200 million in 2017, it seemed like the club’s financial future was secured, however, that money was spent on all the wrong players, and even more, money was borrowed, in order to compensate for the lacklustre signings made from the original €200 million.
Barcelona still is one of, if not the biggest, club in the world. It has valuable assets such as properties, facilities and players – which, if managed correctly, can help the club navigate past this situation. Doing so will be the main objective of the board that is elected in March. While this debt could not have come at a worse time, with a massive squad overhaul pending, this situation should teach the future management to be responsible with spending money.