The FC Barcelona Edition

On football, community, and scandal

Kevin Maguire (KM) has spent close to 20 years working in branding and advertising. He now lives in Barcelona, dividing his time between his creative consultancy Quickhatch, working part-time in the kitchen of one of the city’s best restaurants, and running The New Fatherhood, a weekly newsletter exploring the existential questions facing modern dads. (As an aside, this was written before this weekend’s news about the new European Super League - Noah)

Kevin here. The Barcelona football club is famously known here as “mes que en club” — more than a club. Here, they’re a way of life. People live and breathe the team. There are over 1,200 penñas (supporters clubs) across Spain that dictate the future of Barça. Local Catalans see the club as an integral part of their character—a global representation of Catalonian excellence, the friendly face of their fierce battle for independence, and those three iconic colors that coat everything in the city that I now call home.

When the club does well? Everyone is happy. ¡Fiestas en las calles! But for the last few years, one of Europe’s most successful clubs has been stuck in a rough patch. After the team was humiliatingly knocked out of the Champion’s League in 2020, being beaten 8-2 to Bayern Munich, they weren’t seen on the streets of the city for weeks. 

That result kicked off a run of drama that would have put the Drag Race finale to shame. Lionel Messi, the world’s current—and maybe all-time—greatest player, asked to leave the club citing dissatisfaction with Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barça’s embattled president. This drove an outpouring of support from outlets as varied as the Chicago Bulls, New Zealand All Blacks, and even Liam Gallagher. The club refused his request, saying it came too late to activate the clause enabling him to leave for free, and as the world’s most expensive player, he just had to sit and wait. Then, after the peñas came together to force a vote of no-confidence in Bartomeu, the club president quit the day before he was about to be ousted, and Messi stood down his request to leave (at least until next year.)  

Why is this interesting? 

OK. So far, so sports. But then things got ugly (and much more appropriate to WITI.) According to recent reports in the New York Times, the club hired a local marketing agency to troll key players—Messi, Piqué, and others who criticized the leadership—vía a series of sock puppets (fake accounts) across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

An investigation by a local paper uncovered the contract, and the club was revealed to have paid I3 Ventures, a local agency, $1.2m to publicly condemn its own players. And, in an approach that anyone who has raised a PO could tell you was a red flag, the club split the payment to I3 Ventures across a series of smaller, sub $200,000 invoices. The agency was allegedly paid six times over the market rate for their services, and these smaller amounts were to ensure the project wouldn’t be spotted by the club’s CFO, who has visibility on all expenditures over that size.

This scandal has resulted in three things: “Barçagate”, an obvious moniker for the scandal; an inevitable one-star review-bombing of the agency (“Corrupt collaborators”, “army of rogues” and “manipulative clowns” being a few of my favorites); and—perhaps most seriously—a series of arrests at the break of dawn last month: their ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, their CEO, and their Head of Legal, who was taken in for misappropriation of club funds.

6 days after the arrest, the peñas celebrated as they brought Joan Laporta back to the club, for his second reign as president of the world’s richest—and most drama-fueled—football club. (KM)

Idea of the Day:

Also in Barcelona—an incredibly smart new business idea that you’ll probably see in a city near you soon. News & Coffee take old, beat-up kiosks and transform them, providing you one of the best coffees in the city whilst you pick up all high-end magazines you can get away with expensing.

Quick links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Kevin (KM)

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