Barcelona is cutting out the middle man.
On Wednesday, the Catalan juggernaut announced that it would become the first high-profile club to launch a broad, aggressive streaming service. BarcaTV+ is available globally, runs you about $5.60 a month and streams replays of all Barca men’s games; live first-team friendlies; live women’s team home games; live reserve team and youth games; and assorted offerings from the other sports the club competes in.
It will also have original shows, like a docu-series on the women’s team, a kind of sports game show hosted by men’s team star Antoine Griezmann, a fictional series about its academy, cartoons for children and intimate profiles of the top players.
It’s a move that’s so obvious on its face that you wonder why no major teams have attempted it until now. But then you’re told that Barca Studios, the creator of all this bespoke content, employs more than 100 people, and you understand why: the enormous expense to get a platform off the ground that’s robust enough to justify the consumer’s subscription cost.
At launch, Barca TV+ will have more than 1,000 hours and 3,000 videos available. An archive component to the platform will include every first-team game from the last five years, as well as 65 historic Barcelona games and compilations like Lionel Messi’s best — and heretofore unseen — practice and youth academy goals.
“Our business model evolved from a sports club to an entertainment company,” Didac Lee, a board member responsible for the club’s digital presence, told Yahoo Sports.
It felt like an inevitability for one of soccer’s superclubs to launch a platform that capitalizes on its global appeal, although many of them already have domestic TV channels. Barca will build on a large, international social media following, which the club says is the biggest of any soccer team in the world.
Making a concerted push into media will also make it less dependent on coverage from traditional outlets. If it’s a success, the club’s reliance on a classical broadcast model and the towering rights fees it yields will be reduced, too, in the face of eager cable-cutting.
Barca doesn’t consider itself to be in competition with the broadcasters, exactly, but instead seeks to tap into a level of interest by the hardcore fans perhaps not satisfied by existing media. “They want to know more and better things about Barca at any moment,” said Guillem Graell, Barca’s chief marketing officer. “And we are underserving these people.
“We created Barca TV+ in order to have a direct relationship with our fanbase. We have a huge fanbase of well above 300 million on social media. By providing truly unique Barca content to the core Barca fans, we seen an opportunity to do two things. No. 1, to engage and serve those fans better. And No. 2, to monetize it.”
That monetization flows from more than just subscriber fees. Serving its fans directly will give the club new and proprietary data — far more detailed than it gets from social media — that it can also convert into revenue. “It’s much more to serve the fan directly without the filters,” Graell explained. “Even if you go through social media, I do not own the data so I do not know better my fans and I do not control the reach. I’m losing data and understanding and know-how on what my fan wants and what’s better for him and I’m not reaching him directly.”
That data will give the club the information it needs to deploy highly targeted advertising on its fans. Graell imagines sending a user of the platform who has just re-watched the 2011 Champions League final an offer of a retro 2011 replica jersey, perhaps with a discount for their birthday.
Barca is unapologetic about seeking out new revenue streams. “Unlike other sports clubs, all of FC Barcelona’s income is derived directly from the sports industry,” the club said in its press release. Read the statement between the lines, and the club is essentially saying it can’t rely on outside investment, like its many European rivals owned by oligarchs or foreign governments.
“Our market is huge,” Lee said. “Eventually, we can lose some subscribers in some years, but there is enough market for growth for the next 20 years.”
Barca wouldn’t share the number of subscribers it hopes to reach, but Lee said he was happy with the signup rate in the first few hours.
For the fans’ part, the streaming service offers them an alternative to a traditional cable package. Minutes after games end, highlights will post. And every game will eventually be available to watch in full some time after it ends — the number of hours depends from one competition to another.
In the financial arms race between Europe’s superclubs, Barca has just opened a new front.
“We are not competing only against other sports teams,” Lee said. “We are competing for the attention quota of our audience. And our competitors are Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Fortnite. That’s why, when we realized that the young generation might not spend 90 minutes in front of a TV that sometimes can be boring because nothing happens, we knew that we need to push the boundaries of our core business from sport to entertainment. That’s our focus nowadays.”
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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