Barcelona stand by extension of shirt deal with Qatar Airways
Barcelona's marketing and communications vice-president Manel Arroyo has defended the club renewing their shirt sponsorship contract with Qatar Airways.
The deal has been extended at a much lower rate than expected, but Arroyo insists the deal has "long-term" benefits which are not just about the total sum received.
With the original five-year partnership with Qatar ending last month, Blaugrana president Josep Bartomeu had told the club's AGM in October that his aim was €65 million-a-year over at least three years.
There followed months of speculation and negotiations, in a market in which Manchester United receive £52m-a-season for their kit sponsorship deal.
It was therefore a surprise when Catalan club announced a one-year continuation of the deal with Qatar, on the same terms which was worth €165 million over five seasons.
Speaking to Barca TV, Arroyo explained how the new deal was not worth as much as they had hoped for, but was still good for his club.
"The number we wanted was around €65 million, but this contract, besides the financial aspect, is about expanding Barca's message," Arroyo said. "A contract like this is not just about money, but also the association with a company that helps you extend the message and the image of Barca. And with Qatar we have managed that."
Arroyo appeared to accept that the deal was for less than had been agreed verbally, as an attempt to find a new sponsor had not succeeded.
"In May last year, then economic vice-president Javier Faus had a verbal agreement on the day of the [2015 Champions League] final in Berlin," he said. "It was put on paper and sent to Qatar but things then changed.
"In the second phase, Barca decided to go to the market, with all those consequences, looking without hurry for the contract the club deserves. In the end it was decided to extend the deal with Qatar, who have been an excellent partner.
"They really wanted to continue. Accepting the one-year extension shows full confidence, they are happy and they can continue."
Last weekend, it was reported that a bumper new deal was being done with Amazon to have the web giant as official sponsor for four years from the summer of 2017. Arroyo did not mention it during his interview, but spoke about "long-term" thinking.
"We were advised it was best to extend the same contract to continue working in the same way we had done up until now, professionally and rigorously," he said. "There will be those who will not understand it, but we have decided that the best for the club at the moment is to think long term."
Barca famously had no shirt sponsor at all until it partnered with UNICEF in 2006, and from 2011-12 until 2015-16 their jerseys featured first the brand of the Qatar Foundation and then Qatar Airways.
The deal proved controversial among some Blaugrana supporters and pundits, and relations between the parties grew strained after Bartomeu criticised the Gulf state's internal politics during presidential elections last summer.
Arroyo said that Barca's socio members had always backed the relationship with Qatar, which is also providing support for Barca's planned €600m expansion of their Camp Nou stadium and is generally building close links with the Catalan business community.
"Our members approved the entry of Qatar Foundation at the 2011 assembly and we ask them again every year [in surveys]," he said. "The maximum level of concern has been 4 percent and the minimum 1 percent.
"More and more Catalan companies in the construction sector are doing business with Qatar. Our association with Qatar is good for the club and our members are relaxed about it."
A new deal with kit suppliers Nike coming soon would show how Barca's board, under recent presidents Rosell and Bartomeu, continued to grow the club's global commercial reach, Arroyo said.
"It is the best sports clothing deal in the world, and shows the values the club transmits," he said." We will announce it soon together with Nike. There were five international sponsors when Sandro Rosell came on the board, and now there are 42."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan