Barcelona Competes By Helping the Competition

 By Shlomo Maital


Rob Hughes covers soccer (football) for the Global New York Times, and his writing is always insightful and interesting. In his article yesterday (March 2), “Barcelona’s goal? A stronger Liga”, he describes the behavior of those who lead Barcelona’s remarkable football club, one of Europe’s best, perhaps soon to break the Spanish record for most consecutive games without a loss (34, set by Real Madrid in 1989-90).  

   Barca’s ownership structure is unique. It is not owned by a billionaire sheikh, Russian or Asian oligarch, or American billionaire. It is owned by 140,000 “socios” who pay annual fees in order to own a piece of the club. Like most clubs Barca gets most of its revenue from television fees.   Until now Barca and Real Madrid have cut television deals separate from the rest of the league, known as La Liga, that gave them huge resources.   But starting this summer, the two main Spanish clubs will sacrifice significant financial advantage. In a three-year agreement, Real Madrid and Barca will get 17 per cent of TV revenue, or 160 million euros each annually; the other teams, will receive far more money than they get today.

   Why in the world would two rich clubs give up revenue just to help the other teams?

   Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barca’s president, explained: Giving up revenues to other clubs is a short-term pain for long-term gain…an investment.   “We have to make La Liga more competitive”, he said.

   The logic is impeccable. The more competitive La Liga, the more people will watch the games, and the more revenue all clubs will get, including Barca.

     Is this true capitalism? Is it more enlightened than the distorted short-run capitalism that tries to destroy competitors at all cost?