Spanish soccer giants Barcelona are reportedly set to pull their last ‘economic lever’ by selling another stake in Barca Studios, the club’s media production arm, to an unnamed German investor for €60 million ($65.73 million) to meet LaLiga's budget rules ahead of the new season.
The ‘economic levers’, a term coined by club president Joan Laporta last year, refers to the club offloading two portions (a 25% stake in total) of future LaLiga media rights to US investment firm Sixth Street in June and July last year, for a total of €667 million.
The club then sold its first 24.5% stake in Barca Studios to fan token and engagement platform Socios.com for €100 million in July and its second 24.5% stake in the division to web development agency Orpheus Media for another €100 million, initially allowing the club to balance their books and buy a raft of new players ahead of the 2022-23 campaign. Barcelona then finished last season as LaLiga champions.
At the time, through a new sponsorship deal with Spotify, the departure of players, and increased revenue, Laporta said the club had brought in €868 million.
However, while Socios and Orpheus Media initially handed over €10 million each to the club, both companies agreed with Barcelona to delay their scheduled €30 million payments last month, leaving the club with a €60 million gap in their books ahead of 2023-24 (which for LaLiga teams started in mid-August).
The delayed payment has complicated the club’s navigation of LaLiga’s strict budget rules, with Barcelona looking to register new contracts by first-team players Gavi, Ronald Araujo, Inaki Pena, Marcos Alonso, and Sergi Roberto, plus their three new signings in Ilkay Gundogan, Inigo Martinez, and Oriol Romeu.
However, according to Spanish outlet El Confidencial, Barcelona have now struck a new agreement for both Socios and Orpheus Media to cede 8% of their shares so the club can re-sell the combined 16% to an unnamed German investor.
This will allow Barcelona to immediately incorporate €60 million into their books, potentially solving their salary limit issues.
It is not yet clear how the new deal works with LaLiga’s latest set of financial rules brought in last November, which state that only 5% of income from the sale of assets can be counted towards the salary limit, making the addition worth only €3 million.
However, it may count as part of the previous deal, with the club having taken back the stake from Socios and Orpheus Media.
The overall deals come on the back of Barcelona’s members agreeing to sell up to 25% of their LaLiga television rights to one or more investors, as well as 49.9% of the Barca Licensing and Merchandising arm of the club at an EGM last year.
These piece-by-piece asset sales by Barcelona represent an effort to get the club’s finances to a point where they can gain the approval of their auditors – who have been investigating the club’s accounts on behalf of LaLiga – to sign new players.
LaLiga’s salary cap measures a club’s financial state based on the previous season’s budget and considers if the pre-season balance sheet has enough funds to cover the summer transfer budget and proposed wage bill for the upcoming campaign.
LaLiga’s financial regulations mean clubs attempting to sign players without meeting the threshold will have their registrations blocked. Therefore, the Catalonian giants have had no choice but to find buyers for some of their assets – such as media rights.
Meanwhile, UEFA has provisionally cleared Barcelona to play in the 2023-24 pan-European Champions League season despite the governing body’s investigation into allegations the club made payments to a referees’ chief.
In March, UEFA announced it had opened an investigation after it was reported Barcelona had paid €8.4 million to companies owned by Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former vice president of Spanish soccer's referees' committee, between 2001 and 2018. The club have denied any wrongdoing.
However, UEFA’s appeals body yesterday (July 27) announced it had granted the club provisional access to compete in next season’s top-tier Champions League but said that “a future decision on admission/exclusion from the UEFA club competitions is reserved.”
It added: “The investigators in charge of the case are invited to continue and finalize their investigation and to send a further report to the appeals body if and when they consider that the admission/exclusion of FC Barcelona should be assessed.”
The payments were first revealed by Spanish radio station Ser Catalunya following an investigation by tax authorities into Negreira’s company Dasnil 95. It has been alleged that Barcelona made payments to the company totaling €1.4 million between 2016 and 2018, while it paid Negreira about €7 million between 2001 and 2018.
Barcelona acknowledged the club had paid Dasnil 95 as an “external technical consultant” to compile video reports related to professional referees for its coaching staff but argued that contracting reports were “a habitual practice among professional clubs.”
The 2023-24 LaLiga season is due to start on August 11 and run through May 26, 2024, while the main Champions League competition runs from September 19 to June 1, 2024.
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