The Sign Says One Thing, the Heart Another: Stadium Names

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.

Categorized as Thoughts

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. I’m currently suffering from Rosell’s new membership rules. I’ll have to go to BCN 3 times in the next 3 years and always between the months of June to October. It sucks big time but I will give it my best. It’s not like I really need it but it’s for its sentimental value and sense of belonging there. Therefore I will say I’m in for the long haul. I will absolutely hate the stadium’s name being selled but neither this nor the QF would make me not support the club. I’m mainly here for the football, not the the Catalan struggles, not UNICEF and not the sponsor-less shirt

  2. The stadium naming rights wouldn’t bother me anywhere near like the shirt did. Part of it is because no matter what the name of the stadium is, it will always remain one way to the fans. Here in Chicago, the White Sox (almost typed Shite Sox, which would have been quite the accurate slip) play at U.S. Cellular Field. But longtime Sox fans always have, and always will call it Comiskey Park. Because that’s what it is.

    The stadium is a place in which a team plays. Whether they play at the Camp Nou or the Ministadi, it’s still Barca. I won’t prattle on about what the differences are between UNICEF and Qatar Foundation, but they are significant.

    Presidents come and go, as do stupid decisions. But the club stays. So I can support the club even as I choose not to buy another thing related to it, as long as the front of the shirt is for sale to the highest bidder.

  3. There is a group trying to gather enough Soci signatures to force a referendum on the Qatar Foundation sponsorship:

    The group is seeking answers to questions about the QF deal that deosn’t look so hot when you factor in:
    1. A loss of one friendly game’s profits that will go to QF (Eur 2 million)
    2. Barca gives .7% of the profits from ordinary income to QF for its projects.
    3. Since 2010, the coaching staff and players from EVERY professional section (football, handball, indoor football, roller hockey and basketball) of Barca donate .5% of their salaries to QF.

    In effect, the club is giving back a lot of money to QF.

    Consulta Qatar needs over 7,000 signatures to achieve a referendum, and the antipathy is showing given the # of signatures that they have so far received.

    There are 3 main reasons for this:
    1. Rosell and his board have done such a snow job on the Socis with the financials that people genuinely believe that the club is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
    2. Many of the 60+% Socis who voted Rosell in are too proud to admit that they may have been wrong to support him.
    3. There is fear of a backlash from Rosell’s board against people who support Consulta Qatar.

    Consulta Qatar tried to voice their concerns at the last General Assembly and were shouted down by Rosell’s supporters in the crowd. They were also branded as “traitors”. Rosell and his cronies onstage did nothing to quieten the uproar, nor did they emphasise that Consulta Qatar had every right to be heard.

    We support the coaching team and the players of all the sections playing in blaugrana colours.

    I won’t support a club sponsor who sponsors a radical islamist who publishes outrageous information on how women should behave and be treated (or mistreated, depending on your viewpoint), and I certainly won’t support them because of their views against homosexuality. The latter also contravenes the edicts of FC Barca which stand for equality, and make a point of having gay and lesbian penyas among their supporters’ groups.

    We won’t, however, be rushing to buy kit with QF on the front. Our existing UNICEF kit is much better, and sits better with our moral and ethical values. 🙂

    1. Should have written:
      1. A loss of one friendly game’s profits that will go to QF (Eur 2 million) “PER YEAR”. (Eur 10 million over the 5 years of sponsorship)

    2. I respect your opinion but just to make it clear there are a billion plus muslims and arabs who disagree with everything the US and most Western countries stand for and did in the last century starting from both world wars to the occupations to the ‘warS on terror’ to supporting almost all oppressive regimes in the Middle East to Guantanamo. The world is a terrible place and all countries have their pros and cons. Let’s keep this about the shirt and not about what different countries do, please.

    3. K_Man:

      It’s not about muslims/christians/jews/buddhists/hindus/whatever – it’s about principles, and FC Barca advocating one set of ethics and then supporting another viewpoint in a club’s sponsor.

      I didn’t bring countries into it at all. The Qatar Foundation (which is not a country) could support a radical Christian fundamentalist, and I would feel the same. It’s not about the religion – it’s about the ethics.

      I lived in the Middle East for 4 years, for heaven’s sake – it’s not like I’m ignorant about it. I have very dear muslim friends scattered around the world who are friends simply because we agree on the values and morals that come from within our hearts and souls. The same applies to all who I am friends with, otherwise they wouldn’t be my friends.

      Please don’t make it into a country/religion thing when it’s not what my post is about.

    4. There are a lot of difficulties with the new ‘military regime’ now but we’re still hoping for the best. Thanks for your thoughts. 😀

    5. And – just to be clear and for the record:

      I also disagree with a lot of things that the western world stands for – and will most willingly share that with you if this should ever come up as a topic here. 🙂

    6. Criticizing QF’s politics is essentially criticizing Qatar itself since it’s owned by their royal family. I’m the last one to defend them since my country (Egypt) has a lot of problems with them. But if we don’t approve of a sponsor just because its country is “terrible” then I’m not sure where we’ll find the right sponsor because every country has its fair share of horrible politics/laws.

      In no way am I having a fight with you or criticizing you or you opinoin, all I meant was that the main issue should be “should we throw away 110 years of tradition and is it worth it?”

    7. And again, please let me state that I am not condemning the country. I have fond memories of my time in Qatar and still have friends there.

      As far as I’m concerned, the Qatar Foundation can do what it likes, and it will.

      My issue is with Barca’s relationship with the QF when Barca prides itself on strong values which include equality for all and non-racism, and here it is aligning itself with a foundation that supports otherwise.

      To me, when UNICEF was on the shirt, it stood for a value and a distinction that no other football club had – we gave to UNICEF, not the other way around. It was something to be proud of – our club bore the name of a charity and was active in supporting that organisation through donations of time and money.

      Now that Qatar Foundation on the shirt, we have lost those values and the point of difference. Putting QF on the shirt can also be seen as an endorsement of the values of the QF – and some of those are values which are not supported by the statutes of FCB.

      Congratulations to you and your fellow countrymen for finally ousting Mubarak. I suspect that there will still be difficult times ahead for Egypt as everything is sorted out – especially if the military continue to show resistance to relinquishing control to the people. May it turn out well for all. 😉

  4. For me it’s not about “who is QF” — it’s about the purchase. with unicef it was not a purchase (other than a PR purchase by the club). it was a donation. and yes i overlooked the nike swoosh, at least i tried to. i hate nike as well.

    anyway, illusions are illusions, and sometimes i like to have them. they were ruined, for me, by the shirt deal. the stadium naming rights for me is just as bad. i live in seattle, and Qwest Field just changed its name to Centurylink field. i still call it seahawks stadium. words matter. the public paid half a billion for that piece of s*** and yet we cant call it “peoples park” or anything since qwest gave $50 million, i.e. a fraction of what the public paid, for naming rights. i stopped caring about the seahawks when i left adolescence, nonetheless the whole thing is just utter crap. just more of the same. F*** the world and so forth. but like i said sometimes it’s nice to have illusions. otherwise life can be quite grim.

  5. The ladies of @fcblive have done it again. Read this Pep interview now:

    It’s very tough, you suffer from the pressure and anxiety, you can never catch a breath, you have to deal with the things you do well as well as your failures, and then there’s Stendhal’s Syndrome: where else can I find a place like this, players like these? Happiness doesn’t come with titles, there are more important things.

    “I regret many things, every day. The concept of justice is a very complicated one. Those who don’t get to play feel like it’s a personal attack on them. The closer I get to a player the more I get burned, so I have to put distance between me and them. I want to be able to choose who I’m working with, that is my authority [prerogative].”

    I can’t believe we are so lucky to have a coach who even knows what Stendhal’s Syndrome is, much less suffers from it. <3 Visca Pep.

    1. Here’s the o.g.:

      Otra curiosidad del público fue saber si la rueda de prensa en la que, en la semifinales de la pasada Champions, llamó “puto amo” a Mourinho, estaba preparada. “No, fue espontáneo”, respondió Pep ante las risas de la audiencia. El técnico azulgrana dice dejarse llevar por la intuición siempre y cuando uno haya procesado toda la información. “Cierras los ojos y te dejas ir. ¿Por qué este cambio? Porque en la charla este estaba más despierto. Las entrañas nunca fallan”.

  6. Our existing UNICEF kit is much better, and sits better with our moral and ethical values.

    NZM,BARCA as much as we like it or not,is a business and a big one in that.apart from our football philosophy ,we are every bit as ruthless and cynical as any corporation out there.

    1. When I wrote “our” – I meant the members of my household and no one else. So the statement stands true.

  7. Next time I hear a BPL fan going on about how Barca cheats and all. I’ll remind hem how England beat Spain. Milner threw himself to the ground and earned a FK which resulted in the goal.

    Spain were poor but the English team were so poor. They couldn’t even get out of their own hAlf.

  8. And why is XaBi Alonso so highly rated? He can’t tackle and doesn’t track back and he was supposed to be a DM. I find his passes over rated too. His long range passes are good though but like Pique, they often don’t find their target.

    I was comparing XaBi and Busi yesterday. Busi was involved in attack and defense. He was harassing the English player everywhere on the pitch.

    VdB shouldn’t played Llorente or Soldado instead on Torres. He isn’t even on form at his club for years.

    1. Alonso’s passing to me is much better against a team which attacks, simply because he can find a target much easier in the spaces available. When a team is parking a bus ( in England’s case a huge red double decker ) there is just no space. That is when the Xavi / Iniesta threaded pass is more effective.

  9. A very interesting Guardiola quote from the El Pais interview, cited above:

    “The closer I get to a player the more I get burned, so I have to put distance between me and them.”

    So does this mean that he reallyreallyreallyreally liked Ibrahimovic, which was why he wasn’t speaking to him?

    1. ¿Se arrepiente de haber facilitado la marcha de Eto’o, Bojan o Ibrahimovic? “Cada día me arrepiento de muchas cosas. El sentido de justicia es muy complicado. Los que no juegan, se sienten agredidos. Cuando más me acerco a los jugadores, más me quemo, me tengo que alejar. Yo decido con quien trabajo y con quien juego, esa es mi autoridad”.

    2. I think he wanted Ibra to stay. I just think Ibrahimovic took his being benched the wrong way. Not Pep’s fault the Swede got all butt hurt.

  10. Nice article. It made me think about how I feel about the sponsorship idea, especially for a club like Barcelona.

    First of all, I don’t like to get into this whole thing of whether Qatar’s ideals are ethical. Lets just look at it in terms of business which is what its supposed to be. For all of Rosell’s shrewdness, he sold us short.

    This is supposed to be Barcelona, the best club in the world, a club that hasnt supported a sponsor on their ‘pure’ shirts for over 100 years, something that has got a lot of publicity for that, a team that is ruling the world right now. this flat 30M a season deal is fine, when u compare it with other clubs, but not for Barca. He could have made that deal just with the shirt deal alone, instead now we see the QF huge ugly logo plastered everywhere, from the banners to the press conferences to training kits and everywhere in the stadium. If he had sliced and diced the deals, this sponsorship would be much more valuable.

    In my opinion, just to have a new logo on the bodies of these immortal legends alone is worth the 150M for 5 seasons. So its a shitty deal and i am very pissed about it. We have gotten way less for what we’re worth.

    so that brings me, just a fan, not a member, but a huge fan nonetheless to the issue of naming the stadium.
    do I want it? No.
    Why? cos we have already diluted this enough.
    For what cost?
    i would have rather made a good deal naming the stadium, using it to improve infrastructure and stuff and kept the shirt clean.
    and i mean clean. no nike. no Qf. no nothing. unicef, maybe.

    1. Are you sure that you prefer to have Camp Nou changed to a sponsors name?
      It’s easier for you to say that you prefer A when B is done and dusted.

      What if it was reversed? The shirt still a virgin but Camp Nou changed to Camp QF (as an example but sounds like Camp David or something). I’m sure you and a lot of other people would still complain.

    2. how are you so sure?
      of course i don’t prefer the name being changed.
      i am only trying to stay objective and see how i would have done business keeping best interests at heart for the club, the fans and the brand.

    1. a friendly request to post the original spanish link along with the “translation” — thanks.

  11. Surprisingly positive on the personality side ?

    Don’t see a lot of mention of tracking back but that sounds a pretty extensive dossier and quite clearly states we think he will become the best player of his generation. Interesting. Having only seen him for 90 minutes against Scotland I had as many questions as answers about him. Will need to try to see him a bit more.

    Any word on what went wrong with the RM move? It seemed to be done and dusted a few weeks back. If it turns out that he preferred us a lot of my questions are answered 🙂

    1. And you could put the 2009 Confed Cup as an Iniesta-sized hole in the Spanish lineup that ended up with them crashing and burning.

      But man, those Iniestazos never get old, eh? Especially the Stamford Bridge one, what an awesome strike and celebration. 🙂

  12. 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?

    Isaiah asks a really critical question. It’s one supporters for all teams are going to have to face more and more as the game is “monetized” more and more.

    Based on Rosell’s campaign and the discussion around revenues I though (and still think) it’s very possible that the naming rights to Camp Nou will be auctioned off.

    Those last campaign/ election cycle made me personally call into question more than ever the difference between the Club and the Team.

    I doubt there’s going to be much in the way of going back. Once a revenue stream develops and an organization learns to depend on it – it is very difficult to “go back.”

  13. Sport says that we’ve scouted the hell out of Neymar:

    I saw that also. It’s impossible to make sense of any of this. And the whole notion of the entire Barca organization being so held up by Neymar seems completely implausible.

    But the sheer number of stories in the Catalan press and the way they are framing this as a humiliation for FloFlo and a triumph for Rosell makes me feel like this is almost coming from leaks from the Board.

    It would almost be embarrassing for Rosell now for Neymar to wind up at RM. That’s what concerns me.

  14. I run barefoot on my treadmill. I don’t go out running very often anymore. I’m afraid of re-breaking my ankle.

    You guys must be so jealous of my Atletico Madrid. They have no sponsor on their shirt. Just the swoosh.

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