In this article we are going to apply the SWOT Analysis to FC Barcelona. We investigate the strategy & business side of one of the top organizations in sports. The sports industry has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry. Football (or soccer, for the American readers) is the biggest sport in terms of salaries, media attention and fans. In this article we are going to investigate the strategy & business side of one of the top football clubs: FC Barcelona.
FC Barcelona is the 3rd most valuable football team in the world (after Real Madrid and Manchester United), with an estimated value of more than € 3 billion, according to KPMG research. In terms of success on the pitch, Barcelona is also one of the leaders. It has won the Spanish league 26 times and the Champions League (or one of its predecessors) 5 times.
Organization Fact Sheet
Name: Futbol Club (FC) Barcelona
Year Founded: 1899
Industry: football (soccer)
Biggest Competitors: Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Revenues: €855 million (June 2020)
Net Income: € -97 million (June 2020)
Club website: https://www.fcbarcelona.com
SWOT Analysis of FC Barcelona: Overview
In the Infographic below, you’ll see an overview of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for FC Barcelona.
Strong brand name
Everyone who watches more than 1 or 2 football games a year has heard of FC Barcelona. With a rich and successful history, the club has established a strong brand name. Barça is the Mercedes of the football world. The club has been around for over a century and it is widely regarded as one of the most famous and best clubs in the world.
According to a study carried out by consultancy firm Brand Finance in 2018, FC Barcelona is the strongest brand in football. Their successful trophy cabinet obviously helped to reach this status, as well as the global fan base. Another element that contributes to this strong brand name are the partnerships with major parties such as Nike and Japanese electronics company Rakuten. Lastly, having star players such as Johan Cruyff, Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi made people want to be associated with the brand that is FC Barcelona.
The slogan of Barcelona is Més que un club. “More than a club” in Catalan. The club really has its own culture that sets them apart from other football clubs. This already becomes when you look at the ownership structure. Unlike many other top football clubs, Barcelona is owned by the fans (socios). It is not possible to buy shares, but you can buy a membership. This membership gives you a say in the operation of the organization. Although I couldn’t find a reliable source to state the number of socios, I would estimate this to around 120.000 – 150.000. Barcelona is run by a president that is elected by the socios. Almost like a republic!
Another aspect of the Barcelona culture that I should mention, is its Catalan history. In the over 100 years of existence, Catalonia has been through difficult times. Especially during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. FC Barcelona is more than a football club in the sense that it is also a way for Catalonians to express their pride of the region.
Barcelona’s Youth Academy is called La Masia. This academy is famous for producing many top quality players. Some of the most notable ones are Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez & Andrés Iniesta, who all spent most of their youth at the famous football school close to the Camp Nou stadium of the first team. However, La Masia is not only a training center. It also has houses / accommodations for youth players. It currently has capacity for 83 people.
A strong youth academy is not only valuable for the performances on the pitch. The players that break through in the first team represent a value of tens of millions. Apart from covering costs and a relatively small salary, the investment in these players is quite little. Especially if you compare it to the huge transfer fees that are being paid for the average adult player.
Having one of the most renowned and best quality academies is a major competitive advantage for FC Barcelona. The reputation of this academy also means that the best talents want to play there. Players know they will become a better player at this academy. Because of this reputation, La Masia also makes sure Barça can attract the best talents.
FC Barcelona is the football club with the highest revenues (€855 million in 2020). According to the 2019/20 annual report, revenues would have surpassed the €1 billion mark if it wasn’t for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The revenues come from match tickets, merchandising, TV & media rights and transfers of players. The table below shows the revenues for the 2019/2020 season.
|Revenue type||Revenues in millions|
|Media & TV rights||€248.5|
|Transfers & other||€147.6|
Having the highest revenues in the football world allows the club to attract the best players. The revenues can be used to pay higher transfer fees and salaries than the competition.
Looking at the sales revenue, a large part of this chunk comes from sponsorship deals. For example, sports brand Nike has been a sponsor for many years, paying the club at least €€155 million per season since 2018.
Barcelona is in a terrible financial state at the start of 2021. Partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, and partly of what appears to be mismanagement. The club ended the 2019/20 football season with a loss of almost €100 million. Not only that: Barçahas huge debts of over €1.1 billion and a total short term debt of €730 million (January 2021). A major part of the club’s budget is spent of salaries: Barcelona spends more on salaries than any other football club and it takes up the majority of the budget. This is alarming and problematic in situations where revenues are less than expected.
Knowing the bad financial state, Barcelona has still spent massive amounts on transfer fees in recent years. The most expensive players in the last five years:
|Antoine Griezmann||€120 million||2019|
|Philippe Coutinho||€145 million||2018|
|Ousmane Dembélé||€130 million||2017|
|Frenkie de Jong||€86 million||2020|
If these players are financed with transfer fees from sold players, then this could be justified. However, this is not the case. Barcelona’s net spend since the 2016/2017 seasons is -€357 million, according to data from football stats website Transfermarkt.com.
Several of these transfer fees are paid in terms. The current short term debt of €730 million includes payments for the transfers of Philippe Coutinho and Frenkie de Jong.
A deep dive into the financial analysis of Barcelona is a great topic for a separate article. I might write a detailed article on this subject later on.
Barcelona does not have the clear vision it had a decade ago. Back then, the philosophy was to play a certain, attractive way of football. Highlights of this period were during the years where Pep Guardiola was manager: 2008-2012.
Barcelona aimed to play attractive football, and did this with many players who grew up in the own academy. The academy is where players are raised to play a certain way. In case the club decided to buy a player, the club seemed to have a clear view of why it needed that player. This is no longer the case.
Perhaps the lack of having and acting on the basis of a clear vision is a consequence of the many changes in management in recent years. This lack of stability is detrimental for bringing a vision into practice. Below an overview of the managerial & changes:
|Frank Rijkaard||June 2003||June 2008|
|Pep Guardiola||June 2008||June 2012|
|Tito Vilanova*||June 2012||July 2013|
|Gerardo Martino||July 2013||May 2014|
|Luis Enrique||May 2014||May 2017|
|Ernesto Valverde||May 2017||January 2020|
|Quique Setién||January 2020||August 2020|
|Ronald Koeman||August 2020||Present|
*Tito Vilanova stepped down after suffering from cancer and passed away in 2014.
Compare the relative stability during the nine years of 2003 – 2012 to the nine years after that, and you’ll find a clear reason as to why Barcelona is not steering into any clear direction. Football managers are the face of the club they manage. It is impossible to have a clear vision if the leader changes so often.
I already touched upon Barcelona’s transfer dealings briefly. The club has a massive negative net spend on transfers. Additionally, the club does not appear to have a clear plan with players that are brought in. Several players that are bought in recent years did not play much and were moved on quickly, while having big salaries. That just seems to be a waste of money. During the days where Barcelona was managed by Pep Guardiola, there seemed to be an idea behind incoming transfers. I’ll leave the analysis of the quality of players to website that actually focus on football, but I still want mention this as a current weakness. Perhaps this is also linked to not having a clear vision. Having a well-defined vision would allow the club to buy the players that fit into this vision.
Barcelona’s management should read the article about a mission & vision statement that we wrote a while back.
Expanding presence and fan base around the globe
Earlier in this article we talked about Barcelona’s brand. Although the club already has an established brand name, there is still enough potential for growth. The club recognizes this. In the 2015-21 strategic plan (published in the annual report), the club mentions the following objective:
“Boost brand positioning in priority markets”, “achieve a revenue of €1 billion & diversify sources of income” and “internationalize our sources of revenue”. These priority markets are most likely emerging markets in Asia (especially China, India) and the United States, where football (soccer) is a growing sport. The most growth potential can be found in these markets.
A growing presence in these markets would lead to higher broadcasting revenues and merchandising income. It also provides new opportunities for sponsorship deals.
In the football world, there has been talk of a ‘Super League”, a competition with the biggest clubs in European football. Goal of this competition would be to let the best clubs play against each other regularly, to reach a higher level of amusement, more media attention, and more money from broadcasting, match tickets and other sources of income.
There are several European competitions already (Champions League, Europa League), but these competitions exist next to the national leagues. A Super League would mean that the participating clubs only compete in their own super league and not in the national league anymore.
Currently, plans for this competition are not in an advanced stage. In addition, the world football federation FIFA is against this Super League and threatens that players participating in a Super League would be excluded from playing in a World Cup.
Nonetheless, there are rumors that the top European clubs are interested in a Super League. In the light of the damaged financials of football clubs in the pandemic, it is only logical that these clubs look for ways to make up for the money they lost by looking for new ways to make money. Although this will not be realized in the short term, the opportunity of a Super League is something Barcelona should at least investigate.
Covid-19 and Economic Uncertainty
The pandemic had a major impact on Barça. In its annual report, Barcelona has estimated the (negative) impact of the coronavirus on revenues. The numbers are quite shocking:
|Revenue type||Covid-19 Impact in millions|
|Media & TV rights||€35.4|
|Transfers & other||€28.6|
Overall, this means revenues were 18% less than budgeted.
Especially when looking at the stadium & sales categories, the covid-19 impact is immense. This is a threat for the short term future, because it is unclear how long the pandemic is going to last. Additionally, It is not clear how fast people will return to the stadium and buy merchandise when the pandemic is on its return. How fast will the economy recover and how fast will things go back to normal?
Competition is fierce in the world of top football. Traditional competitors in the Spanish League are the rivals from the capital: Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Internationally, competition has massively increased in the last 20 years. Reason for this is the emergence of ‘new’ money in football: rich owners of football clubs who invest in their ‘toy’. Examples of this are Manchester City, Chelsea (England) and Paris Saint-Germain (France). Clubs that did not play a big part in international football 20 years ago. Consequently, the increase in competition means that clubs have to spend more on players and salaries to stay on top.
Top players leaving / not signing for the club
Barcelona currently is the club that pays the highest salaries and is able to compete with high transfer fees. However, with the rise of new, rich competitors, as well as the current (bad) financial state, Barcelona is at risk of not being able to attract the best players anymore. That, in turn, could lead to worse results on the pitch. This is a vicious cycle you do not want to be in.
Dependency on Champions League revenue sources
The UEFA Champions League is the biggest and most lucrative European football competition. Football clubs that participate in this competition generate massive amounts of income through broadcasting, match tickets, and performance bonuses for each won match, as well as for each round that is won.
Since the amount of revenues from the Champions League depend on sporting performances on the pitch, there is always a risk that these revenues are worse than anticipated. Especially considering the current poor financial situation, the club must be aware of this. Fortunately for the club and the fans, Barcelona has always reached at least the quarter finals since 2007. It is easy to take the revenues that come with this performance for granted. However, football clubs always go through years of highs and lows. Therefore management should not ‘gamble’ on performing well in the Champions League each year.
We already talked about the bad financial situation of Barcelona as one of the weaknesses of the club. Is the financial situation does not improve, Barcelona is at risk of bankruptcy. Could Barcelona be ‘too big to fail’? Although it is tempting to think that, there are examples of other football clubs who went bankrupt or dramatically declined because of financial issues.
- Glasgow Rangers (Scotland)
- Parma (Italy)
- Leeds United (England)
- Malaga CF (Spain)
I hear you think: ‘but these clubs are not as big as Barcelona!” Even though that is true, Barcelona will undoubtedly suffer more if the club does not manager to improve its financial state drastically.
Barcelona has been involved in several legal proceedings / trials in recent years. Three of the most notable ones:
- In 2016 a trial commenced at the Spanish national High Court. The lawsuit was based on alleged crimes (fraud and corruption) during the signing of player Neymar Jr. from Brazilian club Santos.
- In 2009, The European Commission received a claim that Barcelona (and 3 other Spanish clubs) received preferential treatment with regards to income taxes. Although the European court dismissed this claim, the European Commission has appealed the decision.
Update March 2021: the EU High Court ruled that the beneficial tax arrangements received by Barcelona were illegal. The club will have to have to pay back several millions.
- In March 2021, there were several raids around the city of Barcelona including in the Camp Nou office. Former Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu was also arrested related to an investigation the media have named “Barcagate”. The investigation involves a smear campaign against several (ex)-players and presidential candidates led by the Barcelona administration during the presidency of Bartomeu.
Regardless of the outcomes in these specific cases, legal situations in the future could be damaging in terms of revenue was well as the club’s reputation.
We have now finished the complete SWOT Analysis of Barcelona. Do you think I missed any Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities or Threats of FC Barcelona? I would like it if you let me know in the comments!
- FC Barcelona (2020). FC Barcelona Annual Report 2019/20
- Everything Barça (2020). Barcelona in €1.2 billion debt which includes transfer related fees
- FC Barcelona (2018). FC Barcelona, football’s strongest brand.
- Sky Sports (2016). Barcelona confirm record kit deal with Nike
- Forbes (2020). Even Cristiano Ronaldo Can’t Keep Juventus In KPMG’s Top 10 Most Valuable Club
- Financial TImes (2021). FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will be forced to pay back illegal state aid