Lionel Messi wanted to leave Barcelona. The richest football club in the world did not want him to leave. The matter appeared to be headed for a closer reading of the fine print to come to terms with how the commercials can be worked out.
Finally, Messi has spoken about his differences with the management and said that he would be staying on. At least for this season.
Messi had earlier offered to leave the club, after its lackluster season and the recent ignominious defeat against Bayern Munich. The entire Messi saga again shows how sports icons can make, and occasionally break, teams.
The success of Barcelona, during the times that Messi grew in stature to become a global football hero, has been astounding. Its revenues have jumped over the last few years and that could be central to why the club may not have been very happy about its biggest star leaving.
However, over the last two years, the value of Messi may have dropped sharply, according to Transfermarkt. But he is still a big name to pull the crowds before television screens and into the stadiums.
Barcelona has said earlier that they want to be the first football club in the world to hit €1 billion in revenues. If they have to achieve that, the biggest football star has to continue with his presence in the team.
The value of stars
Since the 1990s, when league football has taken off in a big way, share in broadcast revenues was a big part of clubs’ earnings. As the sport has evolved, clubs are increasingly feeling the need to generate revenues from their own sources. That is why having star players in the team is more important than ever before.
The commercial success of teams is partly driven by the loyalty of the fans that stars like Messi command. The jerseys with Messi’s name have been among the highest sold in the world, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. Statistics culled by sports and entertainment brand consulting firm, Navigate, suggest that nearly two million Messi jerseys are sold annually, which earns teams an average of 15 percent of the proceeds. With jerseys sold between $100-200, it could be earning Barcelona about $45 million a year.
These stars also lend their enormous weight to add to gate receipts, the value of media rights and help get sponsorship of global brands. The commercial success, in part, of Barcelona, is certainly linked to the presence of Messi in their line-up. The 600+ club goals are certainly driving the value.
According to Deloitte’s Football Money League, published in January 2020 FC Barcelona is at the top of the league, grossing €840 million in revenue. FCB’s rival Real Madrid was close behind with €757 million in revenue for 2019 while Manchester United earned €711 million to earn third place in the rankings.
Little wonder, Messi gets top dollar as salaries from his club. According to Germany’s Der Spiegel, Messi became the first footballer in the world whose annual salary surpassed €100 million. The contract, signed in 2017, includes a fixed salary of €71 million, through the end of the 2020-21 season.
In addition, the Argentine star was also to receive a one-time fixed bonus and a loyalty bonus. The performance bonus of €12 million would be in addition to that.
Despite that salary, the strong brand connection that Barcelona enjoys with the presence of Messi in the team makes him an asset that still delivers the goods. Commercially, definitely.
Barca stokes the Messi cult
Across the world, the fans who follow the sport very closely enjoy tracking the content that is delivered from the clubs for the fans. Every word that stars like Messi speaks, for teams or brands, are closely tracked by the fans (as well as rivals).
For clubs, creating engaging content for fans who track their progress is critical. Another set of fans loves being around the team, buying merchandise, sharing the news, and being part of the fan clubs, often cheering their teams from the stands.
Whatever may have been the reason for Messi wanting to leave, for Barcelona, it could have spelt disaster if it wanted to achieve its dream of reaching €1 billion in revenue. And stay there for a while, ahead of all other football clubs in the world.
You can’t give an opportunity to the opponent to score, commercially, when you have Messi in your team!
- Ashutosh Sinha is the founder of WordWiseWeb Media. Read his weekly column on the business of sport here. Connect with him @ashutoshsinha00 on Twitter