• The FC Barcelona budget was already sewn on edge by the Corona crisis.
• Now the club is looking for ways out of the financial misery.
1210 euros for the short-time worker Messi
In a time that was in every respect, but not so long ago, FC Barcelona broke a sound barrier – on September 19, 2019, to be exact. Oscar Grau, executive director of the Spanish champion, proudly announced numbers that set a world record “for a sports club”. The club’s budget for the season, which is still at least in terms of bookkeeping, will amount to more than one billion euros, more precisely: to 1047 million euros.
190 days later, as can be heard in Barcelona, those responsible shake their knees. The club of the multiple world footballer Lionel Messi is also badly hit by the corona crisis.
In Spain, this crisis is so dramatic that the national football federation RFEF and the league association LFP have agreed on a new language regulation: Instead of talking about a fixed date when the ball should roll again, as was the case a few days ago, people have now explicitly in the hands of the government: The Primera Division will rest until the authorities allow the restart, it said on Monday. On Wednesday, the number of corona deaths in Spain (3434) already exceeded the death toll from China. In Madrid, by far the most violently beaten city, an ice rink will soon serve as a morgue. Barcelona is also experiencing Hell Days.
Many of Barcelonas money sources are drying up
The Presidium of FC Barcelona met on Friday and tried to reassure the members. They have “approached various scenarios and possible measures – with the aim of minimizing all economic effects,” it said. How to do that? Good question.
Unlike most clubs in Spain, FC Barcelona is not a sports stock company, but like Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao it has remained a member club. There is no such thing as a wealthy owner like Paris St. Germain or Manchester City who could inject money if necessary. Barcelona relies on audience revenue, Champions League premiums and TV money. But there are no games.
Other sources have also dried up, for example the income from the club museum, which is one of the most visited in the city, not least because it includes a tour of the stadium in Camp Nou. These revenues alone amounted to EUR 60 million in the previous year. The fan shops with the club’s globally requested merchandising items even brought in 86 million – they are now closed.
However, the high expenses remain, at least largely. For Barcelona, this means an unparalleled stress test that leads to speculation. The newspaper Sports spoke on Wednesday of a list of possible sales objects: Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal, Samuel Umtiti and the Coutinho awarded to Bayern Munich are said to be at the disposition.
The largest item at FC Barcelona is personnel costs. They had been reduced noticeably in the past few years – two years ago they still accounted for 70 percent of total spending, now they are still said to be 61 percent. Nevertheless, the club’s budget was sewn on edge even before the crisis, as was shown last summer: in order to handle the transfer of world champion Antoine Griezmann – 120 million euros went to Atletico Madrid – the club had to take out a loan.
Barcelona apparently wants to apply for short-time work
In the past few days, club boss Josep Maria Bartomeu has contacted the team council and asked for a voluntary waiver. “I advised those responsible for FC Barcelona, but also other clubs,” said Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, economist at the University of Barcelona. According to local media, Bartomeu is said to have had open ears at Messi and Co.
However, other reports say that the players are generally willing to give up, but not in the amount suggested by the club. There is talk of a 70 percent waiver of salary – temporarily, i.e. for the duration of the de facto ban on employment. According to the newspaper As but this would only affect part of the salary, the official salary. For most professionals, this should only be in the five-digit range, even for top earners like Messi, who is supposed to collect 50 million euros net. The majority flows for the services as a licensed player, image rights and bonuses – and the area remains untouched, at least for the time being. However, this could change after a big drop in the club’s cash register. The club only confirmed that various models are being tested.
The background is: Barcelona apparently wants to apply for short-time work. The Spanish league LFP has already assured all clubs that they will provide legal advice on this. That could also affect football professionals. Jesus Cruz, employment lawyer at the University of Seville, believes that professional clubs can apply for short-time work for their entire workforce.
The short-time working regulations are somewhat different in Spain than in Germany, explains Cruz. The companies can, among other things, if there is “force majeure”, reduce the working hours or temporarily terminate the employment contracts. The employees are immediately entitled to unemployment benefits; the employee is then no longer obliged to pay into the social security funds.
For a gigantic club like FC Barcelona, this is a relevant factor: there are 1,300 permanent employees worldwide, social security payments and unemployment benefits are capped. Statutory social insurance covers (for Messi and Co.) a maximum of 6000 euros; the monthly unemployment benefit for single persons is a maximum of 981 euros per month. Messi would be a little better off: Because he has three children, he would get 1210 euros. Amusing? In Messi’s case, you can see it like this (ignoring real claims).
But it highlights what threatens social drama in Spain – including for FC Barcelona employees, including ticket inspectors, operators, and cleaners.
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