Writing about the Futbol Club Barcelona inspires, passion and admiration. The FCB is more than a soccer team with great players. It’s a team and a symbol with its own legend. Business BCN interviewed its president, Sandro Rosell, about a range of athletic and corporate aspects related to the world’s most famous soccer team.
COULD YOU EXPLAIN YOUR CAREER BACKGROUND TO US?
I studied at ESADE. When I finished I did my military service and then began to look for employment. I found work at Myrurgia and started working as an International Area Manager. When Barcelona was named the host city of the 1992 Olympic Games I was hired to work on this event and left Myrurgia.
Later, a company called ISL, which was helping us with the sponsorship program, hired me to continue developing the sports marketing business in Spain. Then I went on to sell Nike on Spanish soccer, and they ended up hiring me to be their Sports Marketing Director for Spain and Portugal.
Three years later they sent me to Brazil where I worked as their Marketing Director for Latin America. In 2002 when the World Cup ended in Korea and Japan I returned to Barcelona and set up my own sports marketing company.
Once here we ran in the FC Barcelona elections, with Joan Laporta as president. We won but two years later I realized that we weren’t on the same page, and I decided to leave. At the end of his term with a group of people who wanted to run the club differently I ran for the presidency, and the fans gave us their support.
FOR FCB FANS THIS TEAM IS A REAL PASSION. BUT, IS THERE ANY CONFLICT BETWEEN THE VALUES THE SOCCER TEAM UPHOLDS AND THE VALUES ON THE CORPORATE SIDE?
It is not a business. “Barca is a feeling. It’s more than just a club. Of course you’ve got to run a business, because there’s the payroll, bill payments, expenses … but the end result is not the same.
Normally the objective of a business, its end, is to make money. At Barca we aime to grow as a club, train players, win trophies and spread passion for the club around the world.
HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO SLASH THE CLUB’S DEBT?
Through austerity and spending cuts, last season we were able to cut the debt by 15.5 %, going from 430 to 364 million euros. We cut wasteful spending without forgetting that this is like a machine that must be well maintained and, above all, what drives everything is that it’s the best team in the world.
There are cutback plans for the whole Club, except for Guardiola’s squad. We strive to continue to maintain the level achieved, and even improve on it, in order to remain competitive, which is what matters.
WHEN YOU MANAGE TO SOLVE THE DEBT PROBLEM, WHAT AREAS ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT REINVESTING IN?
Always in sports and facilities. Especially in training and quality in our professional areas. And what we have not managed to produce with our own training programs, we will import, bringing it in from elsewhere.
SPEAKING OF FACILITIES, ONE OF OUR READERS WAS WONDERING IF THERE ARE ANY PLANS FOR STADIUM RENOVATIONS OR THE CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW ONE. CURRENTLY THE STADIUM IS OUTDATED AND NOT WORTHY OF ONE OF EUROPE’S TOP SOCCER CLUBS. DO YOU PLAN TO COPY THE ENGLISH MODEL?
We’ll invest the money that we can raise. Right now it’s hard because we are dealing with three issues: continuing to invest in player training and sports; refurbishing and rebuilding obsolete facilities; and paying off the loans and debts we are facing. So, there are three areas in which we need to invest equal amounts.
With regards to to the stadium and the Anglo-Saxon model, the idea is not to copy, but to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of Catalonia and our supporters. All these VIP areas you find at Wembley are phenomenal, but you have to adapt to address the needs of your surroundings and Catalonian culture.
BARCA BENEFITS FROM GREAT SPONSORS, LIKE NIKE AND QATAR FOUNDATION. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT ANY OTHER TYPES OF STRATEGIES FOR OTHER SPONSORS?
We will continue working on sponsors because we believe we can grow and improve. The business strategy then involves growing by using new technologies, the Internet and mobile applications, which are business tools but also instruments through which we reach our fans around the world.
We’ll try to capitalize on all the contacts and people interested in having a relationship with the Club. We have 350 million Barca fans around the world, and that gives us great potential for economic growth.
WITH THE NUMBER OF FANS YOU HAVE IN CHINA AND JAPAN, DO YOU HAVE A STRATEGY FOR THESE COUNTRIES?
We recently took a business trip to build relationships with companies, television channels, Internet portals, and the Chinese government in Beijing and Shanghai.
This is in addition to the tour we do in the summer during which we play two or three exhibition games in countries like China. Next summer, however, will mark an exception because we are going to skip the pre-season tour outside Europe because we have got the European Cup and the Olympics, and want to make preparing for the season our top priority.
WHAT STEPS HAVE YOU TAKEN TO BRING IN MORE REVENUE?
Most importantly, the contract with Qatar Foundation. That benefitted us tremendously. This year we expect to post a profit of about 20 to 25 million euros based on the budget approved by the Assembly of Convention Delegates.
And the contract with Qatar will bring arround 30 million per season, so if we had not signed with Qatar this year we would still be in the red. We can’t afford that if we are to grow further. Moreover, in 2013 the UEFA’s Financial Fair Play policy will come into force, and clubs won’t be able to spend more than they generate in a year.
THE FCB IS MORE THAN A SOCCER CLUB, COVERING DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES OF THE SPORT. IT IS A SYMBOL OF IDENTITY. HOW DID IT BECOME WHAT IT IS TODAY?
Thanks to the passion and feeling behind it. When you explain to an Anglo-Saxon, for example, that the club boasts 113 years of history; that it has 176,000 official supporters, even though the stadium only seats 90,000; that this bill Club brings in 470 million euros; that it has the number of sections it does, and over a thousand groups of fans all around the world, they can’t believe it.
They don’t understand how something like this can be sustained without an owner. It is a passion that goes back several generations…many years.