Sure, the Tyneside coast might seem like a very long ways from the sun-filled Mediterranean shore by la ciudad condal, but some of the things happening in Newcastle are worth reflecting on how they affect Barcelona. The news that St. James’ Park was renamed Sports Direct Arena was an interesting anecdote for the non-Geordies out there and barely made a dent in my Twitter feed (though I did learn about it there), which is odd considering the things that appear in front of me while I browse the news, 140 characters at a time.
Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, has gone the route of renaming St. James Park after his own company, Sports Direct, and has thus pushed Newcastle fans into a spot where they either accept that their stadium is named something other than St. James’ Park or they stop going to matches. As The Fiver points out,
…with the club sitting third in the Premier League almost entirely as a result of business decisions made by Ashley and his henchman, they continue to attract the ire of locals who, typically of football fans, are happy to protest about various perceived injustices, as long as it doesn’t involve any effort or sacrifice beyond a pre-match “march” from a pub they were going to be in anyway to a match they were going to anyway. Meanwhile outside St James’ Pa … sorry, the Sports Direct Arena, Ashley laughs up his sleeve as the House Full sign lights up again.
And there’s the question about Barça that appears before this particular writer: can you support a team financially and still have the leverage to make changes to that club’s approach or rules? I’ve been fairly vocal about my dislike for the new membership rules instituted under Sandro Rosell’s administration and I don’t think I’ve ever come across as a sympathizer for his particular brand of catalanismo (though such a statement should probably come with several explanatory statements for clarity), but I’m also a dues paying member and a regular purchaser of multiple Barça logo-ed products a year. I can rail against the Qatar Foundation soiling my beloved shirt as much as I want, but doesn’t my money say I don’t care that much?
Well, perhaps. Cules are in a different position than Newcastle supporters: we own the club and Rosell is just renting it for a couple of years. Like how I still pay taxes and live in the US even though I don’t support [insert 80,382 hour political rant you’re not interested in]. At least that’s my current rationalization. We’re capable of changing the system by voting down the budget each year or, come the end of the president’s term, rejecting his vision outright and choosing an opposition candidate. Yet we’re also ultimately human animals as persuaded by success and the status quo as any other fan base.
Come the end of the Qatar Foundation sponsorship for the front of our shirt, will FCB simply sell to the highest bidder rather than restoring either UNICEF or the complete lack of a sponsor? Are we becoming used to the idea that the blaugrana is just another part of our business model? Or are we principled enough to have a few pre-match marches that can be derided by the general media and understood to represent massive voting blocs come election season?
And, more directly comparable to St. James’ Park, what of the Camp Nou? Is that next on the “monetizable assets” list? Are we going to see the Estadi La Caixa? Turkish Airlines Arena? We’ve got official sponsors for just about everything (and possibly actually everything), from our beer to our cars to our handball team to, I imagine, our urinals: piss on Bwin!
Perhaps you scoffed at the Newcastle fans for their marches and their fake caring while still attending matches, but are we so far away from selling the things we claim are the most important to us? There are socis out there who no doubt don’t care about the ever-expanding corporate sponsorship and it’s hard to say they’re wrong when they suggest it would hard to hold onto superstars like Lionel Messi if we couldn’t offer massive contracts. But it would be nice if the general membership could feel confident that they would be asked, in a referendum, if these changes were acceptable.
But Sandro Rosell worked for Nike and no doubt learned the valuable lesson that money makes might and might makes right. Running shoes will never be the same thanks to the swoosh’s advertising, but at what cost?* Are we so sure we want to give ourselves over to the monetary extravagances of PR campaigns from World Cup host nations? To some the UNICEF shirts may have felt like the rich buying off their consciences, but to others it was validation of a motto now emblazoned everywhere like a corporate logo.
The question becomes, I suppose, whether Newcastle fans will make that march and still fill up the seats or if they’ll take their money elsewhere. If you’re a member, what’s the last straw for you? Have you pulled the plug? Are you considering it? Are you in this for the long haul regardless? If you’re not a member, would you become one if you could? Would it matter to you if there was UNICEF on the shirt? Is QF where you draw the line or can we play in Nike Stadium and you’ll still go for that carnet? Let us know in the comments. My own, personal response, will be forthcoming in the next couple of days.
*Not to get too tangential, but here’s a good quote from a different NYT article: ‘“On the one hand, no one has yet published a study on whether barefoot running is better for you — the evidence is all anecdotal,” Lieberman says. “On the other hand, no one has ever published a study showing that running shoes prevent injury.”’
Yet here we are, all wearing these shoes when we go running and fighting off ridiculous injuries. Some of us are better at it than others and I generally believe in technology, but McDougall’s story about Runner’s World is as illuminating a description of a corporation creating reality through money as you’re likely to find.