Qatar Foundation Buys Advertising Space on FC Barcelona Uniforms

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September 14, 2011; Source: Boston GlobeSome examples of sports philanthropy are a little hard to fathom. In European football—known as soccer to us Statesiders—the Spanish champion and overall European champion as well is Futbol Club Barcelona. For its 112 years, FC Barcelona has refused to sell advertising space on the players’ uniforms. In fact, instead of the logo of an auto company, airline, or bank, Barcelona uniforms display the UNICEF logo, because the club gives UNICEF $2 million per year.

But despite its success on the football pitch, the club is a financial mess. It lost $12.7 million last year and has a debt of almost $450 million. Now the UNICEF logo will be relocated to a less-visible position on the jersey in order to accommodate the logo of Barcelona’s first-ever commercial sponsor—the Qatar Foundation. A five-year deal between Barcelona and the Foundation, which will infuse $225 million to the team, is now pending.

The Qatar Foundation’s website offers a paean to FC Barcelona, describing the team as a symbol of Catalan culture and identity. The Foundation notes that FC Barcelona gives 0.7 percent of its income to charitable projects through the FC Barcelona Foundation, and the players donate 0.5 percent of their salaries.

The actual deal for the Foundation, whose mission is “unlocking human potential” through “partnerships with elite institutions,” is a bit harder to grasp. The website offers this explanation:

Both the FC Barcelona Foundation and the Qatar Foundation [QF] are committed to unlocking human potential among young people through various projects and programs. We see this new partnership as an opportunity for two organizations who share the same values to work together and develop joint programs aimed at helping to improve lives. Following a deal struck between FC Barcelona and Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) in December 2010, QF was nominated to be the beneficiary of this agreement, which will run for five-and-a-half years until 2016, through the placing of its name on FC Barcelona’s team shirts and training wear.

What’s less than clear is the role of Qatar Sports Investment. The press describes the sponsorship deal as an “investment” by the Foundation in the team, so who or what is Qatar Sports Investment and why would it do this to benefit the Qatar Foundation?—Rick Cohen