The summer of 2021 was a tale of turmoil for Spanish soccer giants FC Barcelona.
The LaLiga side had to bid a teary farewell to Lionel Messi, the most decorated player in its history, who reluctantly left for Paris Saint-Germain as the club’s debt spiralled to more than €1 billion. The Argentinian’s departure was swiftly followed by reports that the 2021/22 season would be the last Barcelona would play with the Rakuten brand adorning the front of their playing shirts.
With the team in a perilous financial position, securing a new sponsor that both matched the prestige of one of the world’s biggest soccer clubs and was willing to commit significantly more than the €30 million Rakuten paid in the final year of its partnership became a key focus for Barca.
Despite their financial situation, Barcelona’s brand strength meant they remained an attractive proposition for potential partners and the club was linked to countless potential suitors in the press, even resisting the temptation of a lucrative deal with a cryptocurrency exchange company, according to Marca.
However, a standout candidate soon emerged. In March last year, Barcelona confirmed an expansive four-year partnership with music streaming company Spotify, which not only became the new shirt sponsor of the club’s men’s and women’s sides, but also secured the naming rights to the team’s famous Nou Camp home, marking the first time the venue’s name would incorporate a brand.
Spotify’s deal covers Barcelona’s men’s and women’s teams, as well as the club’s Nou Camp home
The first season of the partnership has coincided with a return to form on the pitch for the men’s team, who were crowned Spanish champions for the first time since 2019. The women’s side, meanwhile, have won their fourth successive league title. But what impact has the sponsorship been having for Barcelona and for Spotify as a business?
Speaking at SportsPro Live at London’s Kia Oval in April, Sergi Ricart, Barcelona’s chief marketing and revenue officer, and Marc Hazan, vice president of business development at Spotify, outlined why they decided to partner with each other and how the two sides have been leveraging the relationship so far.
Challenging the traditional partnership model
Barcelona’s striped red and blue jersey has always been cherished real estate. The club didn’t have a main shirt sponsor until 2006 and even then the space was donated to the Unicef charity. Over the years, though, the Blaugrana have started to commercialise the inventory to keep pace financially with other teams in Europe, with Qatar Airways also featuring on the shirt from 2013 to 2017.
With Rakuten’s deal expiring in 2022 and the club entering a “transformational period”, Ricart says Barcelona saw an opportunity to “really challenge the traditional partnership model”.
“We wanted to lean first towards Gen Z and Gen Alpha,” he adds. “So the question we asked ourselves was: is there a partner that could really support us on that huge challenge?”
That meant being flexible in terms of the sponsorship rights the club was willing to grant a potential partner, especially when pitching to a brand like Spotify, which has historically partnered with hardware manufacturers, mobile phone carriers, and gaming and social media platforms – rather than sports properties.
What’s really interesting for us is understanding geo breakdowns, where the club’s fans sit, and how we can work best to activate them.Marc Hazan, Vice President of Business Development, Spotify
Typically, Hazan notes, the Swedish firm teams up with partners that have scale, can help it reach new audiences, and are agile in their approach. To that end, he says that Spotify was keen to work with Barca to “turn it into a true platform for us” so that the company had the ability to integrate both its own brand and its artists across the team’s physical and digital assets.
More than 85 artists have now used the LED boards at the Nou Camp for promotional purposes and Spotify has also leveraged geotargeting technology to ensure that fans watching in specific countries are seeing promotions featuring artists relevant to that market.
Barcelona’s following on Spotify remains at a modest 31,608, but the company has been working with the club’s current and past players – such as Pedri, Alexia Putellas and Ronaldinho – to curate matchday playlists to post on the platform, which is also now available in Catalan.
“I think we have over a million followers of those [playlists] of the players that have done it so far,” Hazan notes.
How Drake and Rosalía are helping Barcelona reach new audiences
Some of the partnership’s more eye-catching activations to date have been those where sport and music collide. The first of those came in October, when Barcelona sported Drake’s OVO owl logo on the front of their shirts against El Clasico rivals Real Madrid to mark the Canadian rapper and singer becoming the first artist to surpass 50 billion streams on Spotify.
“[Drake] broke the news via an Instagram post which got over four and a half million likes,” Hazan says. “That was just a real example of how these two worlds work so well together. The artists typically love sport, the players typically love the artists. They loved when we dropped the shirt, the fans liked it, they wanted to buy it.”
The shirt wasn’t made available for purchase, but Ricart says the club borrowed practices from the sneaker industry, where brands regularly create hype and anticipation around new releases. The only way for fans to get their hands on the limited-edition shirt was by entering a prize draw, which saw 72,000 people sign up in the first 24 hours.
“In the end that gives us qualitative leads,” Ricart notes. “60 per cent were new [users] and the campaign was 100 per cent organic.”
Barcelona later repeated the trick with Spanish singer and songwriter Rosalía, a move which has helped both the club and the artist reach new audiences. In the aftermath of the campaign, Hazan says searches of Rosalía on Spotify were up “a couple of hundred per cent”. Barcelona, meanwhile, got half a billion impressions on content badged with the singer’s Motomami logo across all club media channels.
Plus, a TikTok video featuring Rosalía remixing the club’s anthem, which was posted on Barcelona’s account to promote the campaign, has now amassed 86 million views, further illustrating how Barca have been able to leverage Spotify’s relationship with its artists to better target Gen Z.
@fcbarcelona Cant del Barça with a #Motomami remix! ❤️🔥🏍️ #ElClásico #spotify #rosalia #barçaontiktok #fcbarcelona @Spotify ♬ sonido original – fcbarcelona
“We’re meeting Gen Z where they are,” says Hazan. “They’re loving the campaigns that we’re doing, there’s social noise about them. I believe half the followers that we have for those [player] playlists are from Gen Z, so they’re really enjoying that new level of intimacy they’re having with players.”
Has it been a success so far?
Artist development is just one way that Spotify is tracking the success of its partnership with Barcelona, which probably isn’t a metric integrated into many sponsorship analytics platforms just yet.
Either way, Spotify will be monitoring the numbers behind the collaboration closely given that the company is spending a reported €280 million on the deal. Hazan says the media value Spotify receives, coupled with the success of some of the campaigns so far, makes it easier to justify that investment internally.
“In terms of raw metrics that we keep an eye on, it’s the actual media value that we’re getting,” says Hazan. “Equally the engagement and the impressions that we’re getting on some of these campaigns and looking at what relative value it would cost to do some of these campaigns.
“Arguably the Rosalia campaign is the largest piece of music marketing that we’ve done as a company and the fees that we’ve spent over and above the sponsorship fees were absolutely minimal. So demonstrating internally that we can use this platform to get incredible value out of it is something that’s really, really important.”
'The Rosalia campaign was the largest piece of music marketing we've done' – Marc Hazan, VP for business development and partnerships at Spotify, on the value it gets from its sponsorship deal with Barcelona.#SPLive23 #SportsBiz #Barca pic.twitter.com/cwH3xeE69d— SportsPro (@SportsPro) April 25, 2023
Spotify has more than 500 million monthly active users and Ricart says that the partnership is helping Barcelona “improve the quality” of first-party data they have access to. Hazan also reveals that the two parties are working closely to figure out how they can “combine” some of their data assets, which will help inform how they will activate their relationship moving forward.
“What’s really interesting for us is understanding geo breakdowns, where the club’s fans sit and how we can work best to activate them to either showcase new artists or for users to discover Spotify for the first time,” Hazan adds.
Where will they take it next?
With another three years to run on the partnership, there is still plenty of time for the pair to be more adventurous with their activations. Ricart says both sides have gained “a lot of learnings” during the first season about where they should concentrate their efforts and says “there is clearly appetite for more”.
In terms of where Barcelona and Spotify will be focusing that activity, Hazan alludes to the club’s strong followings in Southeast Asia, India and Latin America, which are markets where he describes the music platform as “big” or “growing significantly”. Some initiatives have already been tailored towards those markets and Hazan says there’s “tons” they will continue to do over the remainder of the partnership.
He also says Spotify is “really excited” about the prospect of the Nou Camp being revamped into an entertainment hub as part of the club’s Espai Barca project, hinting that the redevelopment could also lead to further activation opportunities down the line.
Ricart, however, is coyer about what comes next. But whatever it turns out to be, Barcelona and Spotify will be making sure that someone, somewhere hears about it.
“Things are coming,” Ricart says. “We cannot unveil yet, but you’ll get news very soon.”