Last week, a new era began at FC Barcelona. After years of economic, legal and public relations turmoil, the club swore in former club president Joan Laporta for his second term, hoping that he would help pick up the pieces of the Rosell and Bartomeu eras and start anew.
Laporta celebrating his victory at the Camp Nou / Lluis Gene for AFP
Despite the widespread dysfunction within the club, one of the few sections that has been improving in almost every aspect has been the women’s senior team, FCB Femení. Under Rosell and Bartomeu, they escaped relegation, signed some of Europe’s best players, reached unprecedented heights in the UEFA Women’s Champions League, maintained a hold on domestic dominance for a decade, and are now considered one of Europe’s best club sides. It didn’t come out of nowhere either- the progression of the women’s team over the past fifteen years has been a perfect storm of dedication, commitment, and care being put into the project.
Although Laporta said some questionable things regarding the women’s team on the campaign trail (not knowing player’s names, implying that the women’s team didn’t have an identity, etc.), he seems to have made some attempts to rectify those mistakes. First, he appointed former women’s team coach Xavi Llorens as his sporting director for the women’s side. Although unclear when he'll enter his position, Xavi Llorens is easily one of the best possible hires for this position. He coached the senior side for a decade and brought them from the second division to the Champions League semifinals. Llorens knows almost all the players in the youth and senior sides, and may be the person most dedicated to the advancement of the women’s side that isn’t a player themself. Laporta’s meeting with the team’s captains also seemingly went well, with the hope being that he will begin to familiarize himself with the team and commit himself to making them a Champions League-winning project.
The five Barcelona captains and coach Lluís Cortés attending Laporta's inauguration / photo via @FCBfemeni
Now that Laporta is fully established within the club, he and his board have the freedom to allocate his resources as they feel appropriate. Barcelona need to continue making the women’s section a priority, and there are a few things they can do to bring them to even higher heights on and off the pitch:
1. Expand transfer budget:
One of the most pivotal issues for the club in general is to alleviate the economic strain of ten years of shady business practices and bad deals. Perhaps the most monumental task of Laporta’s second tenure will be returning the club to a healthy financial level.
When the most pressing issues are out of the way, Laporta’s board needs to expand the club’s transfer budget for the women’s side. In the past half-decade, the biggest clubs in women’s football (namely Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon, and most American NWSL clubs) have begun to shell out transfer fees for highly-rated superstars and promising young talents.
Barcelona’s football teams are unique in that they are known for not having to pay transfer fees for their best ever players due to the high quality prospects that La Masia produces. La Masia’s female teams are no exception, and each generation of talent has offered more than the last. Within the last few years, former youth team players like Aitana Bonmatí, Clàudia Pina, and Ona Batlle (now at Manchester United) have emerged as some of Europe’s best young talents in their respective positions. However, even considering the high developmental level of the girls in La Masia, the club needs to start involving themselves in the transfer business again.
FCB Femení is a dominant team with a quality project that plays beautiful football. The league they play in is beginning to show signs of high competition, and every season they are just a step or two away from conquering Europe. On top of that, Barcelona is a beautiful city with weather that the team's foreign players never stop raving about. There is no reason the club shouldn't have enough pull to attract whoever they want. The only barrier there is money.
Considering how low transfer fees are for women in football (€250k is the highest transfer fee in women's football history for Danish striker Pernille Harder), the club should be able to secure plenty of signings once they reach a stable economic level. The ability to buy players so cheaply makes this investment a low-risk high-reward situation.
2. Market the women's side in languages other than Spanish and Catalan
One of the most pivotal parts in building a fanbase for any type of entertainment media is its accessibility. If a product is presented in a way a potential consumer is familiar with, they're more likely to consume the product. It's basic marketing, and really just common sense.
One of the departments FCB Femení lacks the most in is accessibility. How easy is it for potential fans to consume their product? To read articles? To understand interviews or read tweets?
The global fanbase for football in the men's game is generally shared between speakers of both English and Spanish. On the contrary, the women's game is biggest in primarily English-speaking countries, like the United States, England, Canada, and some European countries where English is a common second language, like Germany and most of Scandinavia. In general, the football market is dominated by English speakers, women's football even moreso.
This language barrier is a lot more of an issue than people may think. Most FCB Femení fans who don't speak Spanish or Catalan are willing to learn some of the language(s) or at least pay attention enough to pick up words and phrases, but that's because they have to. The majority of women's football fans, players, and journalists are English speakers, and are not willing to learn another language in order to follow the team.
In order for FCB Femení to have a greater media presence in the English-dominated women's football world, it needs to start marketing themselves in English, and preferably in other languages as well. On the men's side, they have social media accounts in Catalan, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Japanese, Indonesian, Arabic, French, and Turkish. In fact, the men's main Twitter account, @FCBarcelona, is primarily an English-speaking account. It's also worth pointing out that, despite FC Barcelona being located in Catalonia/Spain, its most followed account isn't its Catalan or Spanish account- it's their English account.
This isn't to say that the club needs to rid itself of its language-based identity. Any culé knows that the identity of the club is very closely tied to the Catalan language. FCB Femení in particular is known for how they prioritize using Catalan over both Spanish and English, and many fans see this as an important part of preserving the club's values. This is not something that should go away, but should instead be expanded upon. Catalan players should continue using Catalan in interviews, but those same interviews should be shared on an English FCB Femení account with both Catalan and English captions. There's also a greater conversation to be had regarding captioning and accessibility for deaf/hard-of-hearing people, and this would be a good place to start on that front.
3. Better accessibility for streaming
While we're on the topic of accessibility, something that is often a problem in women's football is how difficult it is for fans to watch games, if they can at all.
One of the most disappointing things to come out of the BarçaTV+ channel that was launched last summer was the fact that FCB Femení matches were no longer free to stream. Previously, the team's home league matches could easily be viewed with the click of a link that directed them to the BarçaTV website. Beginning in the 2020-21 season, viewers had to pay for a BarçaTV+ subscription if they wanted to watch the women's team's home matches, a decision that definitely threw off casual viewers and potential fans. Bartomeu's latest ploy to rid the club of it's debts only managed to harm the club's less-prioritized sections like the women's team and La Masia teams.
Not soon after, the RFEF's disaster planning regarding streaming rights screwed over half the league's clubs, even further damaging the league's accessibility for viewing.
Luckily, Barcelona are a big enough club that they can finance their own streaming services. If Laporta does what he aims to do and reduces the club's debts, the club should have more freedom in spending money on their marketing and production budgets. Until then, the women’s section still needs to continue growing their fanbase. The best possible way to do that is to make streaming free again for home games like how it was the year prior.
Unfortunately, it's clear that the RFEF has little interest in providing quality, accessible streaming to viewers. With that in mind, it's in the clubs best interests that they make their team the easiest one in the league to consume.
4. Improve shirt customization and supply chain process for merchandise
A personal anecdote here- last year on Black Friday, I took advantage of the jersey sales on Barcelona's merch site. For a while I had wanted an "ALEXIA 11" shirt, and I figured I should take advantage of Nike having an aesthetically pleasing shirt design for the first time since I became a culé in 2016. I live in the United States, and it took me by surprise that the club did not ship the women's shirts to my country. In fact, the FC Barcelona website does not ship any Barcelona shirts outside of Europe. That same night, I had to find a friend from Spain (a Madridista, might I mention), who was willing to have it be delivered to her house and then ship it to me internationally through Correos. The process took about two months, and although I was very satisfied with what I ended up getting, it was a completely unnecessary process to get a Barcelona shirt with the Stanley sponsor instead of the Rakuten one.
I am one of many international fans of the women’s team that have had difficulties in trying to buy a shirt of my favorite player. The two main avenues for buying women’s team shirts- the Barcelona website and the Nike website- have a lot of unnecessary roadblocks in getting basic, customized women's team shirts.
The biggest problem is that if you live outside of the European Union, you cannot buy a Barcelona women’s shirt either in person or online. In non-EU countries you can go to a Nike store and find FC Barcelona shirts there, but it’s nearly impossible you’ll find shirts specific to the women’s team, let alone those that are already customized for first-team players. The majority of Barcelona’s fans are in non-EU countries such as Mexico, Brazil, the United States, India, and Nigeria, the latter of which has a large potential consumer base due to the many Nigerian fans who adore Barça striker Asisat Oshoala. No fan from any of those aforementioned countries can purchase a women’s shirt directly from the source.
If you are a non-EU fan and want an FCB Femení shirt, you either have to buy it and have it shipped to you from someone in an EU territory, or go to the EU yourself to buy it. Even then, Nike, one of the only carriers of the women’s kit, does not allow customization for their women’s team shirts online for its EU-based customers. The FC Barcelona online store does allow customization for the women’s shirts, but customization options are limited compared to the men’s shirts customization options.
Currently on the FC Barcelona merchandise website, the only option for shirt customization with women’s shirts is a 9-character name. For comparison, the men’s team shirts an 8-character name customization and a dropdown menu of all first-team players to choose from. The 9-character limit on names without a dropdown menu prevents people from ordering the shirts of popular women’s players such as “CRNOGORČEVIĆ" or “MARÍA LEÓN.”
Difference in women's shirt order and men's shirt order in the FC Barcelona Shop
It doesn’t make sense that the merchandising team wouldn’t implement a simple dropdown option for the women’s team’s kits. This would actually make shirt sales easier to organize as they could make mass orders of top players’ jerseys rather than individually producing each one, which presumably is what they do now. Even if they don’t want to go through the hassle of changing anything about their supply chain and still want to produce jerseys individually, a simple drop down menu makes it easier for fans to purchase jerseys for their favorite players regardless of character length.
This isn’t just a issue for fans either. Caroline Graham-Hansen recently stated on a podcast that she has to act as a jersey distributor for friends and family back in Norway because it’s too difficult for them to access the jerseys.
The bottom line regarding shirts is that it’s an easy fix that involves minimal headache on the merchandising team’s end, but makes the buying experience much simpler for fans.
5. Create more social media content (graphics, videos, etc.)
Barcelona has come a long way in the media department in the past few years for their women’s team, but more can be done to give fans an in-depth look at the squad.
BarçaTV+, Barcelona’s newest content haven, features player interviews, profiles, behind the scenes clips, full matches, historical documentaries, and much, much more. However, the overwhelming majority of it is centered around just one team, the men’s football team.
An essential part in growing an attachment to a team is by getting to know their history, getting to know individual players more personally, and being able to see the team in action. The content for the women’s team covers some of that, but there’s not nearly as much as there could be.
BarçaTV+ also has a massive disparity in the content made for the men’s team vs all other teams, including the women’s football team. The club’s other teams like Barça B, Handbol and Bàsquet all deserve more attention and recognition, especially considering how successful they have been in recent years. They are all sections that deserve to be appreciated as a collective instead of being relegated to the “More” menu of the FC Barcelona app.
To be clear, this is not to say the men should have less content, but that the women’s team and the club’s other sections should have more.
6. Playing in the Camp Nou more often
FCB Femení playing in the Camp Nou in January was a huge milestone for the team in terms of visibility and marketing. Despite the stadium holding no fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the club’s women thrashing historic rivals Espanyol in one of the world’s most iconic stadiums was a monumental feat.
Barcelona and Espanyol lining up before their league match at the Camp Nou / Alex Caparros for Getty Images Sport
This match was the first time in 50 years that a Barcelona women’s team stepped onto the Camp Nou pitch, and the first time ever where they played a competitive match there. It’s a clear sign of how the team has grown in both quality and popularity, and further down the line, they deserve to play in the stadium with tens of thousands of fans cheering for them.
Laporta specifically was asked about this on the campaign trail and responded that the Estadi Johan Cruyff needs to be where the women’s team grows. It’s hard to argue with that. The team usually gets good numbers in the Johan, but there is still an in-person audience to be grown there before they move up to a stadium the size of the Camp Nou.
That isn’t to say there isn’t an existing audience willing to watch FCB Femeni’s biggest matches of their season, though. Two years ago, Barcelona broke the women’s football club attendance world record when they played rivals Atlético Madrid in the Wanda Metropolitano in front of a 60,739 person crowd. With proper promotion, this match nearly filled out an entire stadium dedicated to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
The same can be done in the Camp Nou for FCB Femeni’s biggest matches. Of course it may not be able to happen too frequently, but there’s clearly enough interest in the women’s team to fill out the Camp Nou once every so often.
7. Going on international pre-season tours:
In 2018, the women’s team joined Barcelona’s men in preseason to the United States. Although they only played against semi-pro and college teams while they were there, it was a quality experience that could easily be repeated again on a much bigger scale. Going abroad to play international matches, especially in major women’s footballing countries like the United States, France, or England, would be an excellent opportunity for exposure for the women’s section. Aside from the obvious marketing potential, it would also help them become accustomed to the style of play of other countries’ teams.
A good place to start on this front would be joining the International Champions Cup preseason friendly in the United States when it (presumably) returns for the 2021 or 2022 season. In years past, this tournament featured the NWSL’s top club and a group of three of Europe’s best clubs. Also, some months ago, FCB Femení was included as one of six potential teams that could play in the tournament Racing Louisville FC is hosting in the United States this summer. Taking advantage of this opportunity would be quality exposure to the NWSL’s large fanbase and to the American women’s football media.
Laporta at his inauguration at the Camp Nou / David Ramos for Getty Images
Laporta gets a do-over of his previous handling of the women’s section that got relegated under his presidency in 2006. His incoming board has a lot of opportunities to build upon the success of the women’s side that was brought to new heights under Rosell and Bartomeu. Under his guidance and with the newfound competency of a board free from corruption, FCB Femení should be fully capable of evolving into a European superpower akin to that of Lyon. Given the quality of his appointments and the overwhelmingly positive direction of the team, there’s a very real possibility that dream could come to fruition in the near future. Only time will tell if the club will continue to develop one of its most successful and beloved sections.