Barcelona aiming to become global sports brand

MeetTheBoss.TV has secured a rare interview with Lander Unzueta, Chief Marketing Officer, F.C. Barcelona: the man charged with making reality of Barca’s strapline, ‘mes que un club’ (more than a club).

THESE are good times for F.C. Barcelona. The world’s favourite team has just won Spain’s La Liga title, and an incredible six pieces of silverware from the last two seasons alone.

Fans and critics alike are lauding Pep Guardiola’s team as the best ever, with its breathtaking blend of sexy football, individual and team brilliance, and a hunger that is second to none.

But it’s not just on the pitch where Guardiola’s men are triumphant. Off the pitch, the Messi’s and Ineista’s of the corporate box are weaving their own quick-footed blend of business artistry: taking on the likes of Man United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – and winning all over again.

Lander Unzueta, Chief Marketing Officer, F.C. Barcelona, the man charged with making reality of Barca’s strapline, ‘mes que un club’ (more than a club), tells MeetTheBoss.TV ( in a rare interview that he has plans to make the club the most recognisable sporting brand on earth.

He believes the sports industry has evolved “too much” over the last 10 years, and that it is indigestion, not starvation, that poses the biggest threat. Too many opportunities, too many sponsors, and players’ wages going through the roof. F.C. Barcelona have adapted well, with a strong and clear direction, and invested in strong assets.

“Stadium development has been key. A stadium is no longer a place where teams play, or athletes run, they are venues to hold big concerts and social, cultural activities,” says Lander. “This has been a big revenue growth for us. F.C. Barcelona is more than just a football club. It’s a theme park, we have an arena, several pitches and a stadium; we even have an ice hockey rink.”

What about the cult of the player? With obscene wages still being paid in a global recession, and players’ antics filling the tabloids, how can Lander – or anyone – protect a football club’s brand?

Lander believes passion is key – and to always keep an eye on the long-term goal - to become “more than a club around the world”. Unlike most clubs, Barca have no lucrative shirt sponsor. Instead, it spends US$2 million a year to have UNICEF’s logo grace the beloved shirt, believing this creates a culture of responsibility and obligation to those less fortunate.

With giants such as Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Real Madrid sure to up the stakes on the pitch next season, F.C. Barcelona’s clear identity and altruistic ideals hold the secret to its success.

“We are at the top, without using our jersey sponsor and without putting a sponsor’s name in writing on our stadium,” says Lander. Which means there’s plenty more money to come…

This is the interview with Lander

MeetTheBoss.TV: Lander, thank you very much for joining us on Meet the Boss television.

Lander: Thank you.

MeetTheBoss.TV: I wanted to really talk about the extraordinary changes within the football industry. Certainly, over the last 10 years we’ve had increased revenue from television. We’ve had players’ wages have just gone through roof. From your own point of view, what have been biggest changes from, I guess, a commercial standpoint?

Lander: Yeah, well, that’s true. That last decade has been impressive, the change, not only the football, the sports industry has evolved too much.

If I had to point out main elements that have driven those elements, I would say that, probably, stadium development. Stadium development has been key. You know, a stadium not any more are places where teams play or athletes run their course, are places where they are doing big concerts and doing many activities, social, cultural activities, and it’s been a big revenue growth, in that sense.

You have mentioned TV rights. That means broadcasting, the regulation, has been probably the most important lack in revenue for clubs. But we should say, as well, that many proposals and actions from the marketing and merchandising standpoint have been enhanced, and the last 10 years we’ve seen many, many changes on that.

MeetTheBoss.TV: From a CMO’s perspective, would say that FC Barcelona has become more of a, I suppose, a global entertainment business rather than people playing football in the park?

Lander: Yeah. Well, we’ve seen, as well, an evolution in that. And we’ve seen an evolution, probably 50 or 60 years ago, we were an important organiser of sports events in the City of Barcelona, but now, whereas with global media, this has evolved and we are not anymore local organiser. We are a global entertainment company.

We have facilities here, in our stadium. This is not anymore just a stadium. We are in a theme park. It’s a theme park where we have an arena, several pitches and a stadium; we have a nice hockey rink. So, at the end, we are saying that the evolution of sport is not only the practice but is the entertainment, with all of the elements that are fulfilled with this fact.

MeetTheBoss.TV: So how do you look for marketing inspiration? Do you look it at other soccer clubs, or do you look outside of the football arena and really look around for your inspiration?

Lander: Well, we’ll look 360 degrees around. We’ll look to everybody. We do not think that we are the ones that have the best and brightest ideas. Everybody has great ideas. We try to benchmark and we try to adapt those things that we think are important to the identity of our club. Our motto, our claim, is “More than a club,” and that has an important implication.

So, in some instances, we are pioneering. We are doing things, sometimes risky. In some others, we try to adapt things that we are seeing that are evolving - that we think we have to be there, probably are not going to be the best. We’re not going to be the first, but we have to be there. Digital, social networking, things like that make us move.

But at the end, is not looking at the special places, it’s looking around. It’s looking at everything, this is important.

MeetTheBoss.TV: I mean, I guess, from a CMO’s perspective, your job is to increase market share, may that be a global footprint or increase your fan base and so forth. From your own experience and throughout your tenure here at FC Barcelona, what would you say have been your three biggest challenges?

Lander: Well, that’s true that, at the end, our goal is to increase our brand value. FC Barcelona “More than a club” brand, this is the most important asset that we have. At the end, there is a highest competition, sometimes geographically, sometimes local.

But to maintain that top brand positioning that, at the end, have to translate into how many millions we have as income and in order to get best players, our biggest challenge is to try to be at the top and be at the top. Not trading our shirt, our jersey, you know, top clubs’ jerseys are worth around 20-25 million Euros per annum. But at the same time, naming rights of a stadium, we’re seeing more and more that the stadiums are having commercial naming rights.

But on top of those two, of the jersey and naming rights, I would say that we have to continue being a multi-sport club. That makes a difference. It’s not the same, in terms of the people that you have to invest to work with having only one sport if you have 13 different sports like we have, 5 out of the 13 being at the professional level in competition internationally, that makes a difference. And those are elements that our main competitors do not have, that have a cost, and we have to find other ideas and other resources in order to continue being at the top.

MeetTheBoss.TV: Definitely. I mean, you’ve mentioned, and, hopefully, we’ll get back to Unicef and, obviously, the work that you do through the foundation. I just wanted to mention a recent interview that we’ve had here on Meet the Boss television, and I mentioned him earlier - Kodak CMO, Jeff Hayzlett. I said that he actually believes that marketing is, to some extent a challenge to a company - to stretch it in different directions. Would you agree with that statement?

Lander: Our company, our institution, we challenge ourselves, but we want to challenge the society as well as our community. We challenge our employees, our players, our partners because, by saying that we are more than a club, we want that they understand and they fulfil the vision that we have that not only is sport important, it’s very important, it’s a social commitment. One cannot go with the other. We cannot be someone playing in Africa or playing the U.S. or playing in Asia and not making a reference that sometimes we want to be next to those more vulnerable.

So we have to stretch, but we have to be thinking that we are luckiest because we have a job and we have leisure and we can see matches. But because our ownership and because we have a history of more than 110 years, we believe that we have to grow with our community and that makes a big difference.

MeetTheBoss.TV: I wanted to talk about the world that we live in now. It’s become a very lean world, and I think all of us have to do better. We have to be better at our jobs. We’ve, certainly, got to be better than our competition. I mean, from a marketing perspective, how do you, I suppose, deliver value in clear and concise way, and what are the metrics that you use to gauge if you are doing a good job?

Lander: Say it again. What do you mean?

MeetTheBoss.TV: Certainly, from what you’re saying, the whole social aspect and social responsibility, social commitment, plays a very large role in the grand world of FC Barcelona. How do you weigh up your marketing decisions? You know, where you move forward, where you invest either socially or, indeed, the sponsors that you have here, which you brand the club.

Lander: Yeah, the club has a body that is the foundation. That is the one that runs and is the arm that deals and takes care of the soul of our institution. But at the same time, from the club, from the commercial department, from the marketing department, we take a lot of attention that our sponsors, they are committed with those elements. We ask them to contribute to the foundation. At the same time, we find partners just for the foundation.

There are a number of elements that, for us, are key. We wouldn’t be able to work with companies or partners that do not support children integrity, that do not support defence of rights of elderly people or women, on a different aspect.

For us, it is not only from the social side, it is as well from the day-to-day work basis. We want players being committed. We’re having Unicef on our jersey. We might not understand that something doesn’t feel that children’s rights are important. And players, employees or our partners, for us, it’s very important being committed and far beyond the return on investment that they are having, what we want is, as well, that they are committed and that they show us that it’s important to move forward in order to make changes for the sport side, marketing side, and social side.

MeetTheBoss.TV: And you mentioned Unicef again. I believe that you guys pay for the privilege of having Unicef on your shirts. And, obviously, through that you donate a large amount of money to help those within Unicef. Was that a marketing strategy? I mean, would you consider that a marketing strategy? Because you’ve mentioned before that a lot of other clubs make 20-30 million Euros a year from having some a sponsor on their shirt.

Lander: Not that much. There are many histories that are much nicer to being explained looking backwards than looking forward. You know, we wanted to write a new chapter in marketing, but it’s not only that fact.

There was a moment, when the board said it was important to make a change because, on those two pillars that we are saying that are important for the club, a type of sport and social commitment for a vision of being more than a club in the world. There is an important word - global.

We are global because our members, who are the owners of our club are not anymore owners and people of Barcelona. We have almost 4,000 members in Japan, and we have a huge number of members outside Barcelona. So we have to dedicate our efforts to them, as well.

We need to help organisations that are defending the rights of children to shake people’s mind, to say, listen, there are things that we are important. You are here enjoying having a good match, but it’s important that you learn that other people are not.

So, when we thought about Unicef, it was not that much thinking on, well, we’ll be doing something different. We knew, at that time, that would be a mighty decision, risky, pioneering as well. But we were convinced that this was another proof ehy we are saying that we are committed, that we are more than a club, this is important. We say, we do not want to have 20 million in our account or that we want to give $2 million to Unicef. We are saying, we want to give them $2 million and we want be involved. Involvement is probably more important than the amount of money that we are giving them. We are doing actions in Swaziland, we are doing actions in Rwanda, in many places and this the important. It is important that we follow our actions. We have to talk the talk, and walk the walk, so it’s important in that sense.

MeetTheBoss.TV: I wanted to talk about, obviously, the vision for Barca moving forward. And we’ve talked about inter0-weaving sport with social issues, social commitment, global identity and also economics. Can you shed some more light for the vision, for the future, for Barca on any of those levels?

Lander: Yeah, well, by all means, we are going to continue willing to be global, and willing to be global means to continue investing in elements of mobiles, TV, Internet, and social elements that are able to communicate better and deeper with our fans.

At the same time, we have to continue having broad actions with schools and summer camps and international tournaments that we are doing. We need to maintain this globality that we have also have to be local. When we are talking about being local, we mean to maintain this identity that we have being a Spanish club where we love to maintain our language, where we want to maintain our presence in our city and to help those that are around.

We will see the future more global but will not forget our local identity, as well.

MeetTheBoss.TV: Thank you very much for your answers. They’ve been fantastic. I wanted to talk a little bit about you, Lander. You have a degree in medicine. I believe the University of Barcelona. I guess it was obvious at that time in your life that becoming the chief marketing officer of one of the biggest and most successful football clubs in the world was ever really on your agenda, your sort of life plan, as it were. What changed? What made you become who you are today?

Lander: Yeah, well, there is a moment in time that you have to take big positions or important decisions, at least, that might decide, that change the path of your life. I still love medicine. But there was a moment when I said, but there were many other things outside that I might give my passion to. I was not targeting to become CMO for Barcelona. These things happen because sometimes you are at the right place and in a good moment.

But what is important is that I still wake up every morning saying I want to have fun in what we are doing. I want to have fun with the people that I have around. I want to learn from them and from above and from those outside. And the illusion of having fun every day, this is very important.

So all of us, we have probably two, three or four moments in our life that we have taken a decision of not going right but going left and made a change. And at the end, being a doctor, a physician or being marketer, at the end, you are doing the same. You are listening at the beginning.

I always say that we have two ears and one tongue because we have always to listen to double of what we talk. And physicians, at the beginning, do the same. At the beginning, they have to listen to patients and they have to analyse and they have to see around and to make different diagnoses and some analysis, probably, using external companies and medicine. At the end, we are applying either in a company, either in a sport club or in hospital they know the same thing.

MeetTheBoss.TV: How do you balance your work life?

Lander: Well, it’s difficult. I’m going to give you the cell phone of my wife and she will give you a much better input on that. I’m a tough worker. I’m a heavy worker. I have fun from Monday to Friday.

But I was about to say unfortunately. It’s not unfortunately. It’s fortunately that the work that we have now with Barcelona, with FC Barcelona, on the weekends, you have to do plenty of things, as well, because we play over the weekend and Wednesdays and so forth, so weeks are long.

Fortunately, family, my wife, she supports me a lot. She loves sports, as well. She was very sportive, as well. But, definitely, this is a big thing to improve. I confess that sometimes I would say I should probably go a bit earlier home, but children, they live, they understand that this is a period and it is good moment, though, something to improve.

MeetTheBoss.TV: Definitely. How do you go and relax? I mean, how do you relax, as a person?

Lander: Yeah, well, I love sea. I do a little bit of sailing. And I do painting. I love painting. I have painted since I was a child. I start drawing countryside and things. And then you evolve and there was a moment that I discover, I stop it while I was at university. Then I remember because I always like to go visit museums and things. And one day I discover something, that I discovered that it was called expressionism, and I was completely astonished and I say, “Wow, this is amazing.” So I start painting again.

So, I do painting. Unfortunately, you need some space and some time and it’s not the best moment. But on a personal side, I would say that going to the sea and do painting.

MeetTheBoss.TV: What’s next on the agenda for your personal goals? I mean, you’re obviously a very motivated.

Lander: Well, continue having fun on whatever assignments; continue meeting great people from whom I can learn a lot; continue listening because there are new things that come on the digital world. I had to put myself on Twitter and Faceboos and all those social media keeps you awake and keeps you young, as well.

But I think that the most important thing is looking at the future - probably in a different position in a different company, different sector. But this is the vision - to continue to have fun.

MeetTheBoss.TV: It really was fantastic. Thank you.

Story courtesy of MeetTheBoss.TV.

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