Football in Spain: Just a Game?

By André Francischetti Moreno

When one thinks of Spain, it is hard not to recall La Liga, or at least, its two major teams, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. As Pele for Brazil and Maradona for Argentina, there is a strong relationship between the image of the Iberic country and football. It is not a coincidence that my friends and I got our first contact with a myriad of countries by fulfilling FIFA´s 2010 World Cup album, which was won by Spain. Since 2010, Spanish teams won an incredible six out of nine editions of the Champions League, and today people from all over the world save the date to watch El Classico, the most-watched club game in global football, played by Real and Barça. In Spain, the football industry goes far beyond the pitch, encompassing an astronomical amount of money, cultural identity and social responsibility.

According to Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC), the professional football industry generated approximately 15,7 billion euro in economic activity and 4,1 billion euro in taxes in Spain during the 2016/2017 season. Furthermore, 184,626 jobs were generated, and the industry represented 1.37% of the country´s GDP. Another report from PwC demonstrated that in all regions, except for one, the contribution was over 1% of the GDP. In Barcelona the numbers are outstanding as one can see by visiting the Espai, which is the FC Barcelona sports complex and the greatest of its kind in Europe. In fact, Barça´s museum is the third most visited in Spain, and Nike´s megastore has the highest revenues per square meter on earth. In addition, FC Barcelona is responsible for 6% of the tourism market of the fifth most visited city in Europe and generates 1.7 million overnight stays according to Deloitte. 

Due to TV contracts (keep in mind that only four countries do not transmit La Liga games), marketing, and a massive global communication capacity, Spanish teams can produce impacts on a planetary scale. In terms of operating revenues, Real and Barcelona lead among all sports teams on the planet, and alone are responsible for 1.20 out of 1,000 euro produced in Spain. The Blaugrana team overtook Real in Deloitte´s money league 2018/2019, and is the richest club in the world, reaching 837 million euro against 757 of its rival. Moreover, six out of the 10 most expensive transactions of the sport´s history were made by one of the two, including the most expensive one, the Brazilian player Neymar Jr., who was sold to Paris Saint-German for 222 million euro, surpassing the price of many great European companies i.e, the Dutch IT group Getronics (220 M).  

In despite of the high revenues coming from the stadiums, on the 1st of October of 2017 Barcelona decided to play against Las Palmas behind closed doors in protest to the violent repression of the Spanish police to prevent the Catalonia´s independence referendum. As it says in its motto, written in Catalan, FC Barcelona is more than a club, being a resistance symbol of the region. Catalonian flags are waved at Camp Nou, fans sing cheerful or protest chants in Catalan, Barcelona jerseys now and then are stamped with the Catalonian flag, and the national feeling is amplified when the match is against Real Madrid, which represents the crown and the Spanish identity. 

Having in mind their relevance, the Catalans and Merengues are involved in a series of technological and social initiatives. Barcelona supports start-ups, is engaged in partnerships with universities and co-develops several products, which are tested on what is deemed by Josep Maria Bartomeu as the greatest human lab in the world: 2,500 men and women athletes from 8 to 30 years. Furthermore, the hub of 16 staff is partnering in about 40 studies of muscle and tendon injuries and developed Pol, a new robot that helps sick people to visit places by controlling it from their hospital beds. The team joins technological progress with social responsibility. Real Madrid, in turn, effects its social commitment through the creation of adapted and inclusive social sports schools, supports charity initiatives and triggered the final boost that Spanish women´s football needed to fulfill its potential by purchasing Club Deportivo Tacón as Real Madrid´s official women´s team. According to Xavi Bové, sports marketing consultant, Real will attract global and local sponsors and awareness over the category. Over the past 15 years, the number of women playing football more than quadruplicated in Spain and mixed teams from very young age became frequent. 

As one can see, it may seem so at first sight, but football is much more than just a game. In the case of Spain, it involves matters that range from economic impact to the national identity of a region, to social engagement and public awareness. The football industry can connect fans, companies and players worldwide, and is an active agent who can and should work for society. Regarding the financial impact of the game on the Spanish economy Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, said “ this reinforces our message about the importance of taking responsible and well considered decisions over everything that could affect this industry, one that is so relevant for our society.” After all this data, I finally discovered what to do during this quarantine: training my football skills at home.

Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

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