Futbol Club Barcelona has today announced that, as of next season, there will be a new sponsor name on the front of the Barça samarreta.
Qatar Airways commenced operations into Barcelona in June 2010. Behind Madrid, the Catalunyan capital was the 2nd Spanish destination for the airline.
The airline’s recent history has been mired in some minor controversies which, naturally, have proved themselves to be beneficial to the airline, but not necessarily for the companies that it has singed along the way.
The Qatari government was involved in a 4-way deal with other Gulf States and emirates – Oman, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi – to purchase the BOAC (now British Airways) shares in Gulf Aviation in 1973.
From that, Gulf Air was formed and flew as a notable carrier throughout the Middle East before commencing flights to Europe, Africa and beyond.
In 2002, Qatar announced its intention to withdraw from Gulf Air to concentrate on building up their own airline – Qatar Airways. This was a highly contentious move which ultimately saw Abu Dhabi and Oman also leave the pact to start their own airlines – respectively Etihad and Oman Air. Gulf Air is now owned outright by Bahrain.
Qatar Airways had started as a private enterprise in 1973 and was owned by the Qatari royal family – primarily to transport their Royal Highnesses to wherever they wanted to go. (Harrods was a popular destination.) Official reports now state that the Qatar Government holds a 50% stake with the rest held by “private investors”. In other words, that pretty much guarantees that the Qatari royal family still owns a large chunk, if not all, of the airline.
After touching down in Barcelona, Qatar Airways then started to look at ways in which the airline could increase its traffic into Europe. One of those ways (and by far one of the easiest) is to purchase (or enter into a codeshare agreement with) another airline which already has flights and designated time-slots into airports around the region.
Enter Spanair onto QA’s radar.
Spanair was a Catalunya-based airline which was started by the SAS (operating Scandanavian Airlines) Group who held a 94% stake. In 2007, SAS announced that it would sell its shares, but failed to find a buyer. In 2009, SAS accepted a token €1 bid from a Catalunyan consortium and reduced its 94% stake to 20% ownership.
In January 2011, Spanair announced that it was in “an emergency financial situation” and the Catalan Government approved a €10.5 million loan plan to help save the company. Cost-cutting measures saw operations and revenue improve at the airline, and it all looked favourable when Qatar Airways expressed an interest in purchasing the company, or at the least, investing into it as part of a rescue deal.
On 27th January 2012, Qatar Airways announced that it had pulled out of the deal with the Catalunya company. That very day, Spanair ceased operations, leaving thousands of travellers stranded and out of pocket, as well as the loss of 3,000+ jobs – most of them within Catalunya, i.e. in Barcelona.
So there will be a few ex-Spanair employees and their families who most likely won’t be buying next season’s camisetas! But it’s all business.
Where this leaves the current agreement with Turkish Airlines as the club’s official carrier is anyone’s guess until the club makes a definitive statement. I don’t imagine that they will be all that pleased with this situation but there would be little that they could do about it, given that it is Qatar’s right to change the sponsorship name, as per the contract with FCB.
My thoughts are that this change has come about for a couple of reasons:
1. The shirt has not been as popular with the QF logo on the front, so the change of logo is being done as a test to see if merchandising sales will improve.
2. Emirates Airline (from Dubai) has recently started flights into Barcelona. The airline is well-known for its generous sponsorship deals (in the football world alone – Arsenal, Hamburg, PSG and AC Milan have all hugely benefited from Emirates’ deep pockets) to sporting teams. For Qatar Airways to be emblazoned on the Barça kit is a victory for the country of Qatar over the emirate of Dubai.
In other news today, Victor Valdés and his wife Yolanda welcomed second son – Kai Valdés Cardona – into the world.