BY STEVEN BELL
“If Spain breaks apart, the league breaks apart”
Stern words from Spain’s LFP president Javier Tebas, of course referring to Catalonia’s desire to move towards independence. In recent weeks we have witnessed the success of pro-independence parties in regional elections, showering optimism over Catalonia and causing just a little concern in Madrid. Catalonia’s biggest football club just happens to be one of the biggest clubs in the world and as a result, FC Barcelona has at times been at the very heart of the debate. The strained relationship between politics and football has been tested and will almost certainly continue to be. The aforesaid comments indicate a fairly simple yet devastating outcome for football. If Catalonia becomes independent, FC Barcelona’s long relationship with the Spanish League is over; the history, the successes, the Clasico – the delightful football which we have been able to cast our eyes over will be gone as the club starts in a new league and builds from there. Threats indeed.
To abridge: in September, Catalans voted in record numbers in what was considered a de facto referendum on independence. The result, a potential alliance between two pro-independent parties could give secessionists an absolute majority in the region. Of course, as Madrid has been more than content to make apparent, this outcome is rendered redundant at this stage; a specious conclusion but for many Catalans, it undeniably serves to drive forward the movement. However, Tebas’ comments are sparked from sheer uneasiness regarding the success of an independent Catalonia, a distinctive political reaction to squash the potential voters. The reason for this apprehension is straightforward; money.
A cursory glance over some numbers explains exactly why football is mentioned when talk of such radical reorganisation is put forward. The economic ramifications of a Barcelona exit from Spain’s footballing calendar would be catastrophic for the league. According to Forbes, Barcelona are the second most valuable football team in the world (Real Madrid pipping them to the post at no.1) with brand value alone estimated at €400m and a €608m turnover as of October 2015. The pull of such a business isn’t something that can be disregarded, especially by assumingly educated league executives. These numbers are an asset to their own product.
Barcelona ended the 2013/2014 season with a club record income of €530m and profits of €41m, again highlighting the truly global brand that is the club. Partners range across the entire globe, spread over continents and contributing to an average profit of €35m over the four seasons prior to 2014/2015. To any city in any part of the world, having this business and footfall it produces is simply an asset to the economy and the market it exists in.
TV money is another area worth looking at with both Madrid and Barca expected to pocket €140m for the 2015-2016 season; this accounts for almost half the total and it would be difficult to see broadcasting rights redistributed throughout La Liga without complications if previous attempts are anything to go on. In fact, would Sky and Co. want to invest so heavily in a product with no Barcelona and the potential for a Real Madrid dominated league year after year? From FC Barcelona’s side, it is also fairly simple. They gain from Real Madrid and Atletico’s successes as well as Spain’s recent success on the international stage. To go it alone and start a new league would inevitably fail to lure players and as a result, performances, investment, sponsors, money and worldwide appeal would almost undoubtedly all fall by the wayside. UEFA competition membership and the well documented money it generates would become unclear and with that, we revisit the above issues. A powerhouse no more, you could say.
Outside the numbers, FC Barcelona’s contribution to Spanish football and its remarkable league history is also something Catalans feel they should continue to be part of; they contributed heavily to Spain’s World Cup 2010 squad let alone the European Championship wins on either side. UEFA Champions League wins and an identity and playing style are all associated with not just FC Barcelona, but Spain as a footballing nation. The reason for no panic and illogical thinking is this; Spanish football needs Barcelona at the top of their game and Barcelona needs a strong Spanish league to compete in. An absurd paradox, yes, especially when we are talking about a profoundly engrained craving by the people for their state’s right to stand alone. Should a football club be so high on the importance list when speaking of a state’s battle to become independent? Ordinarily, no, but as outlined, this isn’t any old football club now, is it? My advice to anyone worried about the future of the league and Barcelona’s membership; don’t panic, it’s simply too valuable to everyone involved. Catalonia has far more pertinent issues with Madrid to address in the future.
STEVEN BELL is a statistician and economics graduate with an interest in football and finance. Follow him on Twitter @lexsteven