Barcelona, Cadiz and changing the way clubs tap into their global fanbase

By Dermot Corrigan – May 17th

From 2017 until 2021, Graell was Barca’s global brand director, tasked with building connections with all those millions of Barcelona fans around the world. During this time he oversaw the development of the “Culers” membership programme, where members currently pay €44.99 a year for access to Barca TV, a membership card and discounts on tickets and merchandise.

That is part of updating the old model where football clubs made most of their money from fans coming to the stadium, especially milking occasional visitors and VIPs for as much as possible on their few visits. Now the policy is increasingly to sell subscriptions and individualised content to many millions of fans around the world.

“We did some numbers,” says Graell. “We know that only three per cent of Barcelona’s fanbase will ever in their life come to the Nou Camp. Three per cent. So you have 97 per cent that they are really, really fans but they will never come here. Clubs like Barcelona or Manchester United or Real Madrid, are huge, huge brands in terms of following, emotion, passion. The revenue of similar brands (in other industries) is much much bigger. Disney’s revenue is almost $70 billion, versus $1 billion for the biggest football club. If we know what fans want, and can connect with them directly, there are huge business opportunities.”

Graell’s co-founder at his company D2F is Enric Llopart, who was digital director at Barcelona from 2018 to 2021. Llopart says that clubs should divide their entire fanbase into circles of communities — season ticket holders, occasional visitors to the stadium and those who devote their lives to the club but can never afford to visit Catalonia. They can then target each of these groups with different types or levels of content.

“It is about thinking like a consumer brand,” says Llopart. “You create products, experiences, and content that these people will want to consume. So you can have this direct connection with them. Watch my video, subscribe to my newsletter, take out my membership, connect with other fans. It’s a totally different way of thinking about this.”

Both Graell and Llopart were heavily involved in setting up Barca Studios, which was developed when Josep Maria Bartomeu was president and produces audiovisual content for use on the club’s own channels or sale to other broadcasters. Current Barca chief Joan Laporta is trying to sell a 49 per cent stake in Barca Studios for €200 million to help the club pay part of its €1 billion-plus debt.

Barca want fans to view content that builds a stronger relationship with the club. But even more valuable is collecting data from each individual who is watching a documentary or interacting over social media. The model is again based on Disney, which is more frequently eliminating traditional middlemen such as cinemas and TV channels to sell its content directly to fans online via Disney Plus.

“Three years ago, Disney was producing top content and distributing it through channels where they didn’t gather data,” says Graell. “They didn’t really know who was watching, or who liked their movies. Football is the same — with traditional TV, you don’t have the data yet. But by going direct, or by partnering with the broadcaster, you can get the data to understand who is your customer, who is your fan. Then you can sell different communications, different content, different products, different pricing.”

Graell predicts that the traditional power-holders within clubs are going to have to yield some power.

“More and more the fan will have a say on some decisions,” Graell says. “The technology is already there and will evolve. We believe the fan should decide a large number of things and fan-tokens are a great pillar for that.”

With current fan tokens, the decisions tend to be limited to things like the music played when a goal is scored (Juventus) or the message written on the inside of the captain’s armband (Paris Saint-Germain).

Much more potentially disruptive is the rise of NFTs and collectibles, often linked to cryptocurrencies. These are controversial, given how fans can end up losing lots of money, but Llopart says clubs should experiment within the area to see what works.

“NFTs and digital collectibles for fans make a lot of sense for brands like football clubs,” Llopart says. “There is huge potential in all of this. We encourage clubs to experiment, to really try things, learn, see how communities respond to what you are doing.”

As clubs start to think more like consumer brands and content producers, the potential for partnerships with technology companies expand. This was one reason behind Barca’s recently signed sponsorship deal with Spotify.

Graell says clubs that build relationships with millions of individual fans all over the world will generate more money from their sponsors.

“Imagine a club like Barcelona having 300 or 400 million data points or data registers for each of their fans,” he says. “The value of the club would be huge and Spotify would pay 50 times what they are paying.”

Getting to that stage means a change in how clubs operate, which explains why La Liga mandated that only 15 per cent of money from its CVC investment deal can be spent on player transfer fees or wages. Instead, the league wants clubs to invest heavily in new internationalisation and digitalisation departments.

You can access the article in The Athletic here.