By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News
They might have lost to Chelsea in the Champions League and surrendered their La Liga title to Real Madrid, but FC Barcelona remain one of the great football clubs in the world.
With its “more than a club” slogan, it also is a flagship for Catalonia, while at the same time being one of the globe’s major sporting brands.
The club estimates it has 349 million fans or followers around the world, including 145 million in the fast-growing Asian market, and some 77 million in the US.
And although its Nou Camp stadium has the biggest capacity in Europe at 99,354, that still means only a small proportion of the worldwide fanbase can actually buy match tickets and get to games.
So the club is looking to use new media not only to inform those other millions, stretching from South East Asia to North America, but to attract overseas supporters to become FCB customers too.
The club is one of the most progressive in using new media and social media to reach those potential consumers.
‘Expanding fan numbers’
“We have been looking at ways of expanding, and generating revenue,” says Pasi Lankinen, Barcelona’s business intelligence manager.
Barcelona has followers around the world
“We have expanded fan numbers in our country and in Europe.
“Now we are looking at gaining a global, profitable, fanbase.”
As part of that, the club’s website is now in six languages, and its Twitter feeds are in three.
Twitter and Facebook are a large part of Barcelona’s new-media strategy, as are YouTube and the provision of phone apps, as well as looking to other sites such as QQ in China.
New media does not build fans or make more fans, but it does open up a window to them”
Pasi Lankinen FC Barcelona
The club recently launched on the latter and already has one million followers.
“New media does not build fans or make more fans, but it does open up a window to them,” says Mr Lankinen, who was speaking at a Sport Business Group conference in Paris entitled Sport and New Media.
“There are more opportunities for communicating and interacting.
“It allows fans to interact [among themselves and with FCB], on multiple devices, with access anywhere, any time.
“There is now the possibility of more variety of content, aided by the explosion of mobile.”
And he says it all enables Barcelona to use low-cost, multiple-format ways to reach fans “with efficiency and flexibility”.
‘Eleven brand ambassadors’
Looking at the numbers, the club has more than nine million Twitter followers, and 31 million “likes” on Facebook.
Also, it regularly appears at the top of, or near the top, of polls to find the world’s most popular club, but Mr Lankinen says that such plaudits mean nothing on their own.
The selling of the club brand starts with Barca’s performance on the pitch
“It is not about how many fans we have, it is what to do with them,” he says.
“We are looking for value from fans. But it all starts with the sports performance, what happens on the field.
“The 11 guys are our brand marketers, they drive the attention to our club.
“When we do something special, win a title, win a special game, that opens a window of opportunity.”
We are trying to use the emotion of fans to create clients and consumers”
Pasi Lankinen FC Barcelona
He says that can then be used in two ways, to promote the club’s values to fans or to monetise the Barca brand.
“Communicating values is more long-term, talking about what we are and making more loyal fans, so that when you stop winning then something stays and they don’t move to the next team that is winning,” says Mr Lankinen.
“But to monetise – that is where the challenge is. The short-term goal is to monetise the emotion felt for the club.”
He says that many football clubs and other sports organisations make the mistake of looking to commercial organisations and big brands for a social media and website strategy, as they face different challenges.
For a start, he says, football club social media budgets are nowhere near that of big brands.
“Commercial organisations have big budgets and purchasing clients, who they are trying to make into ‘fans’ of their products,” says Mr Lankinen.
The club is looking to develop new mobile apps
“But we are trying to do the reverse, we are trying to use the emotion of fans to create clients and consumers – and not just viewers – around the world.”
As part of that commercial drive the club has “lowered the threshold of consumption” – or financial level at which fans make a purchase – over the past 18 months.
We want to move fans to buying our products, whether it is tickets or merchandising, buying both online and offline”
Pasi Lankinen FC Barcelona
Whereas before the club might look at getting fans to buy a replica shirt as their first purchase, now the first point of commercial contact can be for a Barca app costing as little as 75 cents.
“That then gives the chance to take fans to the next commercial consumption level,” says Mr Lankinen.
He says the road to profitability is in driving their huge social media following towards Barcelona’s own website and apps, (or to the websites of their sponsors), and then making a sale there.
“Social networks are the threshold to the world. But if we leverage too much with them we undertake to give some profits in the future.
“We want to move fans to buying our products, whether it is tickets or merchandising, buying both online and offline.”
The club, which is a multi-sporting one including a basketball team, has seven different apps, three of which are free.
The club’s YouTube channel also offers a chance for fans to spend on tickets and products
“Some apps are more focused in terms of monetising, some of them are for other things.
“Certain apps are traffic generators and loyalty builders, and are free.
“In all of this, the end result would be to try and monetise one way or another.”
On YouTube, another builder of brand loyalty and potential sales, the club’s channel has 291,000 subscribers and total views of 97 million.
The channel, which includes things such as the live streaming of training, includes a link to the club ticket sales and also its online shop.
For Mr Lankinen, Barcelona is just at the beginning of the road in using new media in creating financial value for the club
“We are still working with it,” he says.
“There are many challenges ahead and exciting times coming. We are keen to tap all of the opportunities.”