Featured case: Futbol Club Barcelona

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The case

Who – the protagonists

Josep Bartomeu, the president of FC Barcelona

What?

Futbol Club Barcelona – known as Barça to its fans. Barça is one of the most dominant clubs on the world stage. By 2015, it had won the Spanish League 23 times and the Spanish King’s Cup 27 times. The club has also won the FIFA World Cup twice and the Champions League trophy five times.

Authors

Why?

Josep Bartomeu and his fellow board members knew that none of the trophies and accolades could guarantee future success. They faced pressing questions about the club’s business model, especially as many of their rivals were backed by billionaire owners.

When?

FC Barcelona was founded in 1899 and has come to be regarded as one of the world’s most successful clubs with an unusually attractive attacking style of play: the ‘beautiful game’ as some called it. In June 2015, FC Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu saw his team lift the UEFA Champions League trophy, completing an impressive haul in the 2014-2015 season.

Where?

The club is based in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

Key quote

‘If we are going to stay competitive, we will need to be more global in our approach, and find new streams of revenues. But we will have to do so in a way that respects the values and traditions of our club.’ – Javier Faus, vice-president of FC Barcelona

What next?

How could Barça continue to win on and off the field in the increasingly competitive and global world of European football, while still protecting its local focus and traditions? Ongoing investment in the youth academy, funding for the club's Foundation and other sports, and its relatively low ticket prices, were all under the spotlight.

‘We will never sell the club, and will never be run as any ordinary company,’ said CEO Igancio Mestre. But what decisions need to be made? Can members continue to benefit from cheap tickets? Should the youth academy be financed differently? And what about plans to build partnerships with brands around the world and to renovate the nearly 60-year-old Camp Nou Stadium at a cost of €600 million?

 
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Futbol Club Barcelona
Ref 9-516-031

The author
Authors

Anita Elberse

Anita Elberse explains her fascination with FC Barcelona and why wider lessons for different types of business can be drawn from her case.

Alt textImportant focus

I am a football fan, so that's one reason why I wrote this case! However, the sports business is an important focus in my research and teaching and I have always been fascinated by FC Barcelona’s talent management model.

Whereas most of the world’s top teams focus on buying superstars in their prime, FC Barcelona is known for developing its core team at its youth academy. I wanted to understand how FC Barcelona could continue to compete for the best talent, both through its youth academy – on which the club spends 30 million euros annually – and through superstar acquisitions.

Wider lessons

Every company needs to think through its talent management model. The case provides important insights about this, and forces students to think though the pros and cons of ‘talent-development models’ and ‘superstar acquisition models’.

Also, every company needs to think through its values and the culture it hopes to set. FC Barcelona’s president, who is elected by the club’s 155,000 members, has singled out four ‘untouchable’ principles that it sees as essential to its identity. Every business leader needs to think though what their core values are, and how those values can be upheld, even when profitability is threatened.

In addition, a number of lessons emerge from this case about how companies can conquer foreign markets and the challenges they might face when doing so. 

In my experience, students really appreciate discussing these issues and lessons in the context of a club like FC Barcelona – it makes for a fun and very engaging class.

Alt textLive video connection

When I taught the case for the first time at Harvard Business School, we had a live video connection with FC Barcelona’s president Josep Bartomeu, in Camp Nou, the club’s stadium. Behind him, you could see the field and stands – it was by far the best backdrop I’ve ever seen during a video conference. Mr Bartomeu followed our discussion in class, contributed his views, and answered quite a number of questions from our students. It was a wonderful experience.

About the author

Anita Elberse is Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
e aelberse@hbs.edu
tw @anitaelberse

 

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