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‘You’ve got two brands looking for new meaning’: Breaking down Barcelona’s Spotify sponsorship deal

As the dust settles on Barcelona’s partnership with Swedish audio streaming platform Spotify, SportsPro takes a closer look at the expansive agreement to unpick the key goals for both parties.

30 March 2022 Ed Dixon

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It was predictably billed by both sides as a ‘first-of-its-kind’ agreement. Yet Barcelona’s sponsorship deal with Spotify could be more a sign of the times than the beginning of a truly unique partnership.

Indeed, the Spanish soccer club has found its famous motto ‘Més que un club’ – or ‘More than a club’ – increasingly hard to abide by. Lasting principles and deep-rooted traditions tend to be tested when faced with a debt of €1.35 billion (US$1.49 billion).

On the surface, the LaLiga outfit’s pact with the Swedish audio streaming platform is an expansive – not to mention lucrative – arrangement covering the club’s most sought-after sponsorship inventory, including shirt branding and stadium title rights. Beyond that, and more existentially, the tie-up signals the chance for Barca and Spotify to forge new narratives as they continue on their respective commercial paths.

With much to unpack, SportsPro takes a closer look at the deal to highlight what it really means for both parties.

Spotify co-founder and chief executive Daniel Ek tried to buy Arsenal last year

The key details

Reports that the partnership was close initially emerged in early February, before it was officially confirmed on 15th March.

The four-year contract, which kicks in from the 2022/23 campaign, sees Spotify designated as Barca’s main partner, handing it front-of-shirt branding for the men’s and women’s teams. The company will also sponsor the club’s training shirts for the next three seasons.

For the first time in Barca’s history, the deal will also see their iconic stadium rebranded, taking on the name of ‘Spotify Camp Nou’.

Additionally, Spotify has been named the club’s official audio streaming partner, which the pair say will ‘bring the worlds of music and football together’. The wider vision for the partnership, both sides claim, is to create a new platform to help artists interact with Barca’s global community of fans.

The Camp Nou looks set to stage more concerts over the course of the deal

The value

As is often the case, the financial terms of the contract were not disclosed. Various Spanish outlets, including Catalan radio station RAC1, have pegged the value of the deal at about €280 million (US$308 million), equating to €70 million (US$76.9 million) per year. 2Playbook has reported it to be worth €62.5 million (US$68.7 million) annually.

“I take figures that emerge in the media with a truckload of salt,” Tim Crow, a renowned sports sponsorship advisor, tells SportsPro.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were much lower. Or, as is often the case, they’re based on if Barcelona win everything that it’s possible for them to win.”

By way of comparison, Barca’s original arrangement with Japanese ecommerce firm Rakuten, whose deal expires at the end of the season, was worth approximately €55 million (US$60.5 million) annually when it was signed in 2016. The two then inked an extension for 2021/22.

The club’s current training kit sponsor is Beko. Barca agreed a cut-price deal for the current campaign which saw the domestic appliance brand opt not to continue as the team’s sleeve sponsor after 2020/21. According to 2Playbook, the one-year extension saw Beko agree to pay around €10 million (US$10.9 million), nearly 50 per cent of the annual €19 million (US$20.9 million) it previously parted with.

As for the Camp Nou’s new moniker, naming rights deals and the like for European soccer stadiums are rare compared to competitions such as Major League Soccer (MLS), not to mention other North American sports leagues. According to US-based consultancy firm Duff & Phelps, English soccer champions Manchester City rake in UK£21.9 million (US$28.8 million) a year from their stadium sponsor agreement with airline Etihad.

“Barca has become a price taker, rather than a price setter,” notes Crow, alluding to the club’s financial situation. “I suspect that Spotify have actually got a pretty good deal.”

Joan Laporta is attempting to replicate the success he had during his first spell as Barcelona president

Cash grab or considered collaboration?

“It’s probably somewhere in the middle,” says Crow. “I was quite surprised because I’d heard rumours about other brands being quite close to doing the deal. Equally, I was aware that Spotify were on the hunt for something in football.”

Prior to its deal with Barca, Spotify previously made headlines in soccer last April when its owner Daniel Ek was linked with a proposed takeover bid for Premier League outfit Arsenal. The Gunners’ current owner Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE) quickly dismissed the approach.

Still, the scale of Spotify’s eventual entry into soccer, and the fact it is with one of the game’s most storied clubs, suggests a ‘go big or go home’ approach. And the company will no doubt look to leverage the Barcelona name as it seeks to change certain perceptions of its brand.

It could be argued that bundling together so much inventory has resulted in Barca possibly underselling themselves. But despite being able to offer a vast following for Spotify to engage with, the club’s economic and institutional issues mean its negotiating position is far weaker compared to the previous decade.

Reports suggest the eventual terms Barca settled on could have been worth even more if a greater share of their alleged 350 million-strong fanbase had actually handed over their data to the club. However, a mere one per cent are reportedly registered. It’s worth noting, though, that the Blaugrana are hardly the only ones with that issue.

“Anybody who’s been around the business for a while knows that the number of fans who are genuinely opted in to communications, particularly in the post-GDPR world that we’re in, is pretty small,” Crow points out.

Barcelona are still coming to terms with the departure of Lionel Messi last summer

What’s in a name?

The purists would have scoffed upon hearing that Barca’s stadium, their home since 1957, would be renamed ‘Spotify Camp Nou’. Not that anyone outside of Spotify circles will religiously call it that.

The naming rights, reportedly worth an additional €5 million (US$5.5 million) a year, will not be the end of Spotify’s influence at the stadium, which the pair said will provide a ‘global stage’ for music artists.

“It’s all about the execution of it at the end of the day,” says Crow. “The way they are positioning it is that Camp Nou will be used for gigs and for artists. It’s about the activation rather than about putting a name on it.”

So should we be reading much into the fact that Barca and Spotify are referring to Camp Nou’s new moniker as a rebrand, rather than describing it as an outright naming rights deal?

“You can slip a cigarette paper between the two definitions, it doesn’t really matter,” Crow continues. “Clearly there is an added element to it that Spotify wanted and it seems to be using Camp Nou as a platform in some way.”

The Camp Nou will undergo a €1.5 billion revamp

It should be noted that Barca have been seeking a partner for the Camp Nou as the ageing stadium prepares for an extensive renovation projected to cost around €1.5 billion (US$1.6 billion). Having Spotify in their corner will help Barca to present the venue as a multipurpose arena that can stage concerts and other non-soccer gatherings. The club will need to welcome lots of those considering the rebuild is only heaping on more debt.

The ubiquity of Spotify is also largely unparalleled compared to Barca’s previous commercial deals. However, it means the brand has its work cut out to convince sceptical fans still adjusting to how their club operates in the modern game – for context, Barca only started earning money from shirt sponsorship as recently as 2011.

“Spotify will have to work very hard to earn the respect of Barca fans, which is not easily won. Just because they write a big cheque, ride into town and their brand is everywhere doesn’t mean Barca fans will welcome them,” says Crow.

“They’ll be more positively exposed to them, but they have to work hard to get supporters to change their behaviour, which is to become a Spotify user.”

Changing tune

“I think the thing that surprised me was the idea that it’s music and sport coming together,” says Crow.

“Spotify is not a music company in the same way as Apple is not a music company. Spotify is a tech company which uses music as a means to an end.

“It was interesting the way they positioned it. Spotify is not very popular with the music scene, to put it mildly. So I think the undercurrents that we’re seeing already will carry on and get bigger in terms of the way the music community reacts to this deal and actually uses it to put pressure on Spotify.”

Indeed, Spotify is currently in the midst of one of the more controversial periods in its history. Accusations levied at the company include underpaying artists, privacy policy ambiguity and allegedly creating tracks to place on its popular playlists. It has also been criticised for allowing podcasters such as Joe Rogan to spread misinformation on its platform.

For Crow, the various musical activations will be crucial for Spotify as it bids to improve its reputation and avoid dragging Barca into a dispute with disgruntled musicians.

“By stating that they want to give a platform to artists, they are saying: ‘We want to promote musicians’. They’re very clearly saying that they want to do something about their Achilles heel, which is that musicians regard Spotify as incredibly exploitative,” Crow notes.

“That is the hurdle over which it needs to climb to make this deal work. So how do you make that real? The music community are going to say very simply: ‘Pay us more, you’re ripping us off’. That’s their position.

“Spotify will have to work very, very hard to combat that because it is a deeply unpopular company. I think they’re in for a rocky ride.”

Spotify has been accused of underpaying musicians

An identity crisis

Barca are a far cry from the tiki-taka style of play that brought them unprecedented success over the last decade. Returning president Joan Laporta continues to rebuild on and off the pitch, though there are hopes the team’s recent 4-0 thrashing of arch rivals Real Madrid heralds a new dawn.

But amid continued spending caps and reports of boardroom tensions, a tangible vision of this contemporary Barca is yet to take shape. In that sense, the shared search for identity is perhaps what makes this relationship work. And the hope is that the Spotify partnership proves to be a precursor for another period of success.

“They needed some good news post-Messi, post-Super League,” explains Crow. “Spotify is a brand that just about every football club would have liked to have had as a partner, so I think it’s a good deal for Barca.

“One of the interesting things is what the post-Messi Barca brand looks like – ‘more than a club’, the Catalonian identity, what it stands for. What does Spotify do to the Barca brand?

“You’ve got two brands who are both looking for new meaning in a changed world. If this is about Spotify acquiring new users then, given that there is a fair degree of scrutiny about how Spotify reports its numbers, this is going to be a test of whether this deal works.

“There are two KPIs. One, Spotify’s image. Does it become less unpopular with the music community? Second, does it grow numbers? It’ll be really interesting how they actually report it and how they post-rationalise it.

“For Barca, that’s not a problem at all.”

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