Sinai Says: Money, not peace, is what fueled Barca’s trip to Middle East

Barca’s so-called Peace Tour in the Middle East was all about the self-promotion of the club.

FC Barcelona trip to the Middle East370 (photo credit: Reuters)
FC Barcelona trip to the Middle East370
(photo credit: Reuters)
FC Barcelona’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority had one simple purpose.
And no, it had nothing to do with peace.
Barca’s so-called Peace Tour in the Middle East was all about the self-promotion of the club that is “more than a club,” as the slogan famously says.
There was essentially no difference between Barca’s weekend-visit to the region and the many other tours the Catalans, or any other big club in the world, venture on each and every summer.
It is all about branding, and money.
Indeed, Barcelona was not paid a single shekel for its stopover in the Middle East.
In fact, it could have likely cashed in on several millions of dollars had it instead spent the time playing some exhibition match in South East Asia, Australia, the USA or any other soccer- starved country across the world.
But Barcelona still chose to try and bring peace to the Middle East, or as the club put it in its official press release, to help “institutional ties with the leaders of the two communities and build bridges of dialogue for peace.”
The Spaniards went as far as describing their visit as “historic,” even though it will be remembered only by the few who actually got to meet the players and the politicians who lapped up the disproportional publicity given to it by the Messi-obsessed media.
The media frenzy was what the trip was all about for Barca. While the team may not have received any direct income from the tour, it further enhanced its image as a club which cares about its community, country and entire world for that matter.
For example, it was only in May of this year that Barcelona signed its first-ever corporate shirt sponsorship deal.
Qatar Airways became the club’s first-ever commercial shirt sponsor, agreeing to pay 35 million euro a year for the honor.
The Qatar Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization, had paid millions to appear on the shirt in the past two seasons, but Barca made a statement by choosing UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, as its first shirt partner ever in 2006.
Not only did UNICEF not pay for the publicity, but Barca actually donated 1.5 million euro per year to the organization.
Barca likely came to the conclusion that the loss of income from not having a shirt sponsor would in the long run be compensated for by the expansion of its fan base courtesy of people who are attracted to a brand that exudes empathy and care.
As the money paid to clubs for shirt deals continued to multiply, Barca eventually determined that it couldn’t afford to miss out on such income, officially caving in this summer with its first commercial contract.
But with visits to the Middle East branded as Peace Tours, the club can continue to promote itself as the people’s champion rather than a corporation whose revenue topped $600 million in the 2011/12 season.
Unlike most of the behemoths of world soccer, Barca, and also arch-rival Real Madrid, is accountable to its members rather than a rich tycoon or shareholders.
However, that does nothing to quench the club’s thirst for funds in order to compete at the highest level, hence its quest to exhaust every source of income, including those which require visits to war-torn regions and meetings with obscure and rude bureaucrats.
To make matters even worse, the Blaugrana’s tour didn’t even achieve its aim as it was haphazardly organized and forgot its most important audience, the fans, or if you like, the customers.
At least when the club tours places like Asia (as it is doing at the moment) it plays a friendly match to give the locals a taste of the real thing.
The tens of thousands in attendance at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv and Dura Stadium near Hebron were made to come early and wait in the heat for a mere training session, as ironically no agreement could be reached with the Palestinians on the holding of an actual match in Israel. The so-called children’s clinic in Tel Aviv was so boring that the stands had almost emptied midway through the event.
There’s no doubting that the kids who got to interact with the players, especially those battling cancer, would have drawn great joy from the visit.
But with Leo Messi and company not even being allowed to utter a single word during their two-day stay, almost everyone else was left to watch the tediousness from afar until getting fed up and going home or switching a channel.
As Barca President Sandro Rosell put it: “Putting yourself in somebody else’s skin is the best way to experience how they feel. And if that skin is under a Barca shirt, so much the better.”
He may not have meant it in such a way, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to selling another shirt.
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