Qatar says adios to Barcelona

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Barcelona play Saudi cham­pi­ons Al-Ahli in a friendly in Doha today, the Span­ish club’s last ma­jor obli­ga­tion of its four year shirt spon­sor­ship deal with Qatar Air­ways. Stars in­clud­ing Lionel Messi, Ney­mar and Luiz Suarez-all of who have fea­tured in Qatar Air­ways’ ad­verts-are in Doha and are ex­pected to play some, if not all of the match.

It is an ex­tremely rare chance for Gulf fans to see some of the big­gest names in world foot­ball, at least be­fore the 2022 World Cup, and brought about be­cause of the Gulf car­rier’s spon­sor­ship deal with Barcelona. “It has been very suc­cess­ful for us, you know that we were part of Barcelona for the last three years, and this the fourth year,” said Qatar Air­ways chief ex­ec­u­tive Ak­bar Al-Baker on Mon­day. “It has been a very good brand and re­flec­tion of Qatar Air­ways.” All 25,000 seats at the AlGhar­rafa sta­dium in the north-west of Doha have been sold out for days, some­thing Paris Saint-Ger­man could not man­age at a smaller Doha sta­dium when they played a friendly against In­ter ear­lier this year.

But as ex­cited as the fans will be to see their favourites in the flesh, Qatar is also say­ing good­bye to Barcelona. Next June the club’s some­times tur­bu­lent spon­sor­ship deal with the air­line, worth around 35 mil­lion eu­ros an­nu­ally, ends. From next sea­son the “Blau­granas” will play their foot­ball with Ja­panese on­line re­tailer Rakuten splashed across their shirts, in a deal worth at least 55 mil­lion eu­ros ($59 mil­lion) a year.

No­tice­ably, at a time when gas-rich Qatar is mak­ing spend­ing ad­just­ments due to lower en­ergy prices, the na­tion’s air­line could not match the price of its Ja­panese com­peti­tors.

“We have lost it un­for­tu­nately be­cause some­body had more cash than us,” ad­mit­ted Al-Baker.

‘BARCELONA PUT QATAR ON MAP’

They may have also lost out be­cause of an­other rea­son-tele­vi­sion. Barcelona may be a global brand but one thing hold­ing back the com­mer­cial push of La Liga, es­pe­cially in Asia, was kick-off times in the Span­ish league. Tra­di­tion­ally they played late at night lo­cal time, which meant they lost the au­di­ence in Asia and pos­si­bly Asian spon­sors. But now, ei­ther Barcelona or Real Madrid play ev­ery week at 4.15pm lo­cal time on a Satur­day, mean­ing their matches can be watched in Asia. Vi­cente Casado, La Liga’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment, told a Doha con­fer­ence ear­lier this month that the de­sire to build up world­wide au­di­ences was be­hind the change in kick-off times. “This is one of the big rea­sons,” he said.

La Liga is tar­get­ing a global tele­vi­sion au­di­ence of three bil­lion peo­ple by the end of next sea­son-the same as their ri­vals, the English Pre­mier League.

Last sea­son, “just” 1.2 bil­lion fans glob­ally watched La Liga games on TV, said Casado. The deal with the Gulf car­rier has been marked by ne­go­ti­a­tions over money — lead­ing to a be­lated one year ex­ten­sion to the con­tract an­nounced ear­lier this yearand ar­gu­ments over Qatar’s treat­ment of the mi­grant work­ers build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture for the World Cup.

The row even saw Joan La­porta pledge to end the deal with Qatar if he was re­elected as club pres­i­dent.

But he failed and the shirt deal con­tin­ued, and it has proved worth­while for all par­ties, es­pe­cially the air­line says sports mar­ket­ing ex­pert, Antony Mar­cou. “To be as­so­ci­ated with Barcelona in this pe­riod, they have done ex­cep­tion­ally well,” said Mar­cou, boss of Lon­don-based mar­ket­ing com­pany, Sports Rev­o­lu­tion.

“This spon­sor­ship was about cred­i­bil­ity, Barcelona put them on the map.” — AFP

DOHA: CEO of Qatar Air­ways, Ak­bar Al-Baker (L), and Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Com­mit­tee, Has­san Al-Thawadi, hold a press con­fer­ence in Doha yes­ter­day, on the eve of the friendly foot­ball match be­tween FC Barcelona and Saudi’s Al-Ahli. — AFP

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