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The Great Soci Debate

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One of the things that makes BFB so special is the level of discussion in this space. We can debate issues of importance to the club or to football in general respectfully, without it degenerating into a simple back-and-forth of which side is more wrong. Recently a few of the mods were involved in a discussion on twitter about whether FCB membership should be open to all who want it or if the club’s current policy of restricting membership has some merit. Not surprisingly, there were some strong differences of opinion on the subject. Today I would like to present the case for one side of the debate (with thanks to nzm for her contributions and suggestions!) . Afterwards some of the other mods will present the opposite view. We hope this will generate some interesting discussion and look forward to reading your thoughts as well.

When Rosell was elected club president, one of the first things he did was to change the official club policy regarding who was eligible to become a soci. Previously membership had been open to anyone who was willing to pay the fees, and socis had the same rights and privileges no matter where they lived, including the chance to be a delegate at the General Assembly and to vote in presidential elections. Rosell’s board passed a resolution restricting new memberships to a) children under 16, or b) relatives in the first- or second-degree to existing socis. You can find details here.

As you can imagine, when the board brought in these new restrictions, there was quite a reaction. Some saw it as a sensible measure brought in to preserve the essential character of the club in reaction to the ballooning number of foreign members that characterized the Laporta years. Others were outraged at what was seen as an elitist and xenophobic policy. Even many Catalans were disturbed that those who live there but happen not to be related to any current members would be ineligible. In reaction to this (or possibly as had been planned all along?), the Board of Directors quietly introduced a plan whereby eligible adults (even foreign ones!) could still qualify for membership after showing showing “commitment” to the club for a period of three years. Details on the “commitment card” can be found here.

The important points to note about the Commitment Card are that holders do not have voting rights, preferential access to tickets, or the chance to get on the waiting list for season tickets. Also, after the three years they do not automatically become members. The holder must make an official application, which “the Club will consider in line with general requirements laid down in the Club statutes.” In other words, he or she could still be rejected, although no ones knows on what basis that could happen, since the card has only been in existence for 2 years. It will be interesting to see what will happen if the club starts taking people’s money for three years and then turning them down as members, but we will have to wait and see.

So what do I think about all this? While I disagree with the way Rosell and his Board of Directors have gone about it, I understand the impetus behind this policy and in principle I agree with it. I don’t believe that all supporters of FC Barcelona should automatically have the right to become members. I believe that membership should be reserved for those who have roots in the community that Barça represents. That doesn’t mean that membership should be restricted to only Catalans, or even Spaniards, but to those whose daily lives are intertwined with the club, the city, the locality, & the culture. It seems strange to me that someone who may never even have visited Barcelona or ever be able to should have the “right” to vote for the club’s President. Or the chance to be chosen as a delegate to the General Assembly–which they may then have to turn down if not able to travel there. Even if they are able to attend, should someone in Buenos Aires, or Moscow, or Chicago have the “right” to vote on the daily matters of the club? I don’t smoke, and I would have voted in favour of making Camp Nou smoke-free, but is that my call? I’ve never been to a match there, and I don’t know when I will able to afford to go. Should my vote then carry equal weight to that of someone who regularly attends games?

Football has become a global sport, and FC Barcelona has become one of the clubs with the most global appeal, if not the most. People all over the world are enchanted with the way this club plays, with the brilliance of its players, and with the glimmer of the trophies it has won. Many of us have been so inspired by this club that we have researched its history, internalized its values, immersed ourselves in its culture, and even learned the language of its country. Is it any wonder that we want to formalize the connection we feel with Barça by becoming part of it? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But we must also remember that Barça is not just a football club. It is “mes que un club”. From the very beginning Barça has had a “permanent tradition of loyalty and service to club members, citizens and Catalonia” which leads it to be active in social, cultural, artistic, and political spheres. This club has history, it has gravitas, it has Catalanisme. We all know (or should know) what the club meant to Catalans and Catalunya during the Franco years, but with all the knowledge and all the love in the world, I don’t believe it is really possible for someone not steeped in that experience to really understand it. Similarly, can someone not living in the area really understand the impact that changes to the stadium, the training facilities, the sporting infrastructure would have on the neighbourhood, city, or region? I don’t think they can. I truly believe I love the club as much as any long-term soci could, but I don’t believe that I, as an outsider, have the “right” to vote on these things just because the club might take my money.

So what is the answer?

No solution is going to please everybody. There will always be those who believe that full membership should be open to anyone anywhere, and those who want it restricted to those who are Catalan unto the 10th generation. Ultimately I think the best compromise would be a two-tiered membership system, but not the way the club has it currently set up. The Commitment Card seems to me like a mean-spirited cash grab without conferring any real benefits until after the 3-year “probation” period has been completed, whereupon the club will “consider” your membership application. It’s demeaning, cynical, and does not address the problems inherent with non-local members having voting rights.

Instead I would prefer a system where a “Cule” membership is open to anyone regardless of location. This type of membership would offer access to deals on tickets, discounts at the botiga and the online store, entrance to the Camp Nou museum, and access to special “members-only” online content, apps, ect. In other words, all the current perks of membership except for the voting rights. A “Club” membership, with the voting rights and eligibility for the season-ticket waiting list, would be available to permanent residents of Catalunya, regardless of citizenship. The applicant would have to prove residency of Catalunya for a period of, for example, 3 years, or 5 years OR that they are related to a current soci (similar to the current eligibility regulations).

I hate to say it, but this is an area where Real Madrid is already ahead of Barça. Although eligibility to become an actual socio of Real Madrid is even more restricted than at Barça (next to impossible if you are not a direct descendant of a current socio), the club already offers two other levels of membership, “Madridista” and “Madridista Internacional” that entitle the holder to various benefits and discounts as well as online content, but without any voting rights or representation in the general meetings. Perhaps our tame Madridista, Bassam, can give us some insight on how this three-tiered system is viewed by Real Madrid fans?

What is clear is that Barcelona is behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with the times. To quote nzm:

“The whole Blaugrana organization really needs a shake-up to make it more modern.  Their marketing sucks.  They don’t even offer an electronic version of the club magazine which hits our letterbox every 2 months – now that would save on colour copies, no?  ;.)

FCB needs to shake up its practices when dealing with the fanbase and bring some more modern approaches into their business model.  All they’re really doing at the moment is opening up new fanbases (Asia and Middle East) but not changing the archaic systems.  When trying to appeal to younger members and a younger fanbase (which is where the growth will occur), their approach isn’t that attractive to that demographic.”

FCB was taken by surprise by the huge influx of foreign members, and in scrambling to protect the cultural heritage of the club, they have managed to offend and alienate just about everybody. I believe they need to take a different approach that more fully addresses the needs of their global fanbase, while ensuring that the club remains firmly rooted in the local community it represents. I fully expect that this point-of-view will be unpopular in this space, but I truly think a two-tiered system of membership would be the fairest way to solve this conundrum.

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And here is Kxevin with an opposing view:

For this soci, it’s simple: If FC Barcelona is in any way to be a closed society, then close it for real. Don’t bother with socis, supplemental members, commitment cards or any other such bollocks. Put the club out there as a closed entity that supporters can choose and become a fan of. Done.

But if it IS going to be a “club” that people can join, to parse devotion in any way is so much bullshit. The implication is that because a soci lives in New York, for example, he isn’t bothered every bit as much by who will be the next president of the club that he loves as a soci who lives in Perpignan or L’Hospitalet. If the club matters to them … all of them, then all socis should be the same.

I can see offering a choice of membership levels, from “Hey, I dig this club” to a full-monty soci that includes voting rights. People can then choose the level they wish, *not the club.* I can’t see or countenance someone telling foreign socis that just because the Camp Nou isn’t in their backyard and they can’t attend matches regularly, that they should be some sort of a second-class citizen. Raise the price of the full soci status, require a Catalan language test, I don’t care. People who want that level of commitment to the club, should have access to it. Period.

There are many kinds of socis, even in Barcelona. There are foreign socis who just love the club, and will never do anything beyond that. There are also foreign socis who visit the city, attend matches and even learn the
language. They follow the club’s politics and are every bit as concerned by what the club does and who runs it as anyone else.

But let’s be clear about this: FC Barcelona is a global entity that offers up sporting teams in many different disciplines, the most popular of which is football. That’s the way that it has always been. When that club was crowing about being the only club “owned” by its members, it was without caveats. Now that the barn door is open, so to speak, and those silly furriners want to show the same love and devotion to the club as any other soci, it’s becoming a contextual problem.

I consider that to be the profoundest nonsense. And as a black person and citizen of a country whose constitution for too many years said that I and my kind were but 3/5ths of a person, with no voting rights or very many rights at all because of that status, my views of “citizenship” and “membership” are shaped by that worldview. You’re in or you’re out*. Citizens
vote for this country’s president, whether their family has been American for generations, or just swore the loyalty oath to America.

As a sporting entity, does FC Barcelona represent something different to a supporter in Dubai as opposed to one who lives IN Barcelona? Both live and die with the club. Attending a match might mean even more to the soci in Dubai, who holds it up as a dream, than one who has a season ticket but rarely attends matches, like so many season ticket holders.

Deeper still, as a global sporting entity, FC Barcelona needs to figure out what it wants to be. If it wants to be Athletic Bilbao, then that’s fine. Dump all foreign socis, restrict it to Catalans only and circle the wagons at the social club. It won’t lose very many fans, even as it sows ill will among foreign socis, the critters who if you ask some, shouldn’t matter anyhow.

But if FC Barcelona wants to be a participant in the world with its multi-national conglomerate, then let the world in, up to and including foreign socis.

People misconstrue the “mes que un club” business as some sort of pious thing. In fact, it speaks to the tentacles that the club has sprouted, its deep roots in the community and its extra meaning to not only Catalans, but people who understand the before and after of the Civil War period. It was the only place that Catalans could be Catalan, and it only makes sense that
in this nationalist fervor, some should want to “reclaim” the club, shaping it into some sort of “for us, by us” deal.

Which, for an organization started by a Swiss businessman in company with English and Catalan athletes, is a pretty slick trick.

Now lets hear your views. Do you have a strong opinion either way? Or do you have a different solution to propose?

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24 Responses to “The Great Soci Debate”

  1. Messiah10 says:

    I didn’t read Kxevin’s point because I’ve seen it before. I for one was extremely disappointed when Rosell & Co. restricted club membership to the above status. I had wanted to join since the early 2000′s, but could simply not afford it, for I was young, in school, & had no income to my name. I could not wait to graduate, find a job, and begin paying off student loans, so I could finally become a member. What happens? Rosell comes in and alienates almost all Cules who were non-members by taking an elitist position and restricting membership to relations of an already existing member or having you go on Probation. Even going on Probation doesn’t guarantee you a membership! I WANT to support my club! I certainly won’t do it through shirt sales! Not with Qatar on the Blaugrana! Another point Rosell is missing is that he’s losing out on a potential income of MILLIONS! That would absolve us of having a shirt sponsor! Anyway, I digress. I’m sure Kxevin brought up that point, but I couldn’t read his comments because I have a date! Gotta run!

    • Messiah10 says:

      Love the end of your argument Kxevin! The club founders were predominantly foreign. Espanyol’s were predominantly Catalan and Spanish. SO, which is more Catalan? Espanyol’s beef was that Barca was to inclusive. They also sided more with the central power of Madrid, but there philosophy was more akin to what Rosell’s is now.

  2. Jim says:

    I don’t really have a strong ideological stance on this one. I was actively investigating the possibility of becoming a soci when the hammer came down so i was pretty disappointed but tbh if I lived in Barcelona I’d probably see it as my club and be wanting some kind of priority over those from afar. I just can’t get too worked up about Rosell in terms of his actions so far.

    i suppose Kxevin’s sort of tiered membership would be decent compromise. I’d really just like a chance to put something back into the club which has given me so much pleasure.

  3. Vj says:

    All the talk of ‘Catalisme’ and stuff effectively became lip service once they slapped Qatar Airways on the most treasured symbol of the club, the shirt. It effectively meant opening the doors to the world, and letting only money pass in. Sad.

    That being said I wouldn’t mind a ‘Cule’ membership that Blitzen proposes. Seems practical.

    In any case, I’d definitely not want to be Elies Ferrer Dominguez. I’m happy with myself thank you :P

    • Kxevin says:

      Excellent point, Vj. I feel like the club wants to have it both ways. 170,000 people paying EUR 177 each is a lotta money, about 30 million Euros.

      This isn’t about the season tickets waiting list for me. It’s about some silly quest that RoSELL has to gain control of the membership rolls, particularly now that there is no term limit on the president. Limited membership means limited General Assembly means a RoSELL-centric kangaroo court.

      Go to your local football joint and ask someone about Athletic Bilbao, then ask them about Barça.

      • blitzen says:

        Actually you should go take a look at the club statutes on how the delegates for the General Assembly are chosen. Being a soci doesn’t automatically mean you can vote at the assembly. It’s a lottery system based on a couple of mathematical formulae.

        • Kxevin says:

          Exactly. That’s why it has heretofore been so easy for RoSELL to assemble compliant General Assembly groups, who then shout down dissenters.

          • Isaiah says:

            I think it’s important to point out that, according to a source in Catalunya, that this is *literally* shouting down dissenters. While the administration *literally* looks down at the table in front of them and does nothing to stop it, dissuade the shouters, or allow those speaking to have their rightful say. Shameful.

            It’s also important to point out that hard economic times breed xenophobia. This is true around the world and Spain is being especially hard hit relative to the rest of the Western world. And this is something I believe Rosell is using to his advantage via his “more Catalan than thou” approach.

  4. Robert says:

    Sounds like you are talking about the old “Gent del Barca”

    The Barca People supporters’ card offers a wide range of advantages for all those fans who wish to get even closer to our club. There are two different types of card, Barca People and Barca People Basic, designed to respond to the different possibilities our fans have, especially those from aboard.

    -The Barca People card costs 39€ offers a full service, including the possibility of a free pass for a football match and a basketball game, as well as a free subscription to the club’s new magazine.

    The following discounts are offered:

    -Members’ family 20€
    -Supporters’ Club members 20€
    -Senior ( over 65 ) 20€
    -Junior ( under 14 ) 20€

    -The Barca People Basic costs 19€ and is aimed at fans who are not able to visit the Nou Camp as regularly as others, and offers a free entrance ticket to the Club Museum, access to first team training sessions, autographs and internet pack.

  5. 505 says:

    i feel that the club owes it’s socis equally, whether they be catalan or not. they should have the right to vote, etc. but conversely, the socis also owe the club more than just loyalty on a soci card. in my medical society, a lot of people become members, but they also have an obligation to contribute to the group. there’s a minimum number of conferences and affairs to attend in order to be in good standing. you can’t vote nor avail of any privileges if you’re not in good standing. i think the club would benefit from separating socis in good standing from socis who have been negligent — bring in standards like number of assemblies attended, etc. in this regard, they should really get on the internet bandwagon, because they are horrendously late. reach out to their soci base, not just the ones within easy access. can’t invite everyone to the party, then shut the doors when you feel like it.

    a little perspective — here’s an old docu about the first year of laporta’s presidency. the club was in shambles. he and rosell were so idealistic about the club. this was the time they decided to increase membership in order to generate revenue
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQPnbML1WFY

    • Kxevin says:

      I like this idea. A member in good standing has to do X or Y number of tasks, like the Seven Trials of Culeles. “You say you love me? Prove it.”

      For me, if Barça were still the local, provincial club that it used to be, the decision would be a lot easier. But in opening its doors to the world, I feel like the club opened its doors to everyone.

  6. IamXavi6 says:

    I have no problem with what Rosell did, and being a fan since I was a wee lad, I should’ve joined when I still could. I fully appreciate what Rosell is trying to protect and the actions behind the motive to get it done.

    What you need to appreciate is at the end of the day, the next president can come in and alter this policy.

    The fact is the club is unique in its’ history and its identity and opression history. I for one would be sad to see that history and background dilluted due to an infulx of any joe blow comming in and being an member of the ideaology and ethos of this football club.

    • Kxevin says:

      I would suggest that the club is already diluted, even as it isn’t diluted at all, and wouldn’t be however many foreign socis came on board.

      The core of the club is, and will always be, Catalan. But with Qatar Airways on the shirt, it’s hard for anyone to act particularly pious in that regard. Kinda makes a few thousand foreign socis seem pretty benign in comparison.

      What’s also fascinating is if the club’s football side sucked, nobody would care.

  7. fotobirajesh says:

    This is an excellent topic, thank you BFB for this. Wonder whether these debates are ever noticed by the club.

    I simply think, club could have 3 levels of membership.

    One – for the Catalans or those who live in Barcelona – with all sorts of benefits possible and voting rights.

    Two – for the international fans who all can hope to be at Nou Camp, at least once in 3/4 years, to make use of some benefits – like a free museum visit or something – and may be after a prescribed no. of years – minimum 5 or 10 years, could pay an even lesser yearly membership fee

    Three again for the international fans, who are never in a state to visit Barcelona in the foreseeable future, say like next 4-5 years. The membership fee could be quite low, but I think, club will have maximum members in this category and can make a big sum out of such members. Remember the Oviedo campaign. If all these members can just have a certificate that they can display, they would be happy enough. I know so many people in my city and native village who are mad about our football, but cannot even dream about visiting Barcelona in the near future. But they wouldnt mind paying 10 or 15 euros to have a Barca member certificates. (I am from India and when Argentina came to India, many of these people spend way out of their budget to watch Messi)

    I cannot say anything about the Catalan memberships, but the international memberships should be renewable every year. I am sure club can make a big fund out of this. If this is possible, I will right away be one in category 2.

    I strongly feel, the voting rights should be restricted to Catalans and those who are residing in Barcelona for long time.

    • Kxevin says:

      Thanks for the comments. Good thoughts. I wonder what and how much the club or board members see in this world of social media, Tweets and Facebookings. My world often bisect those of folks such as Laporta, Funny Suit Man, Godall and the like in social media. Hmmm ….

      • blitzen says:

        As nzm pointed out above, it’s actually quite shocking how far behind the curve FCB is in this area. I believe that Barça is the club with the most “likes” on Facebook, but they hardly do anything with it. Now and then they do a bit of a social media round-up on the official website, but it’s frankly amateurish compared to what they could be doing.

        Someone at Barça should take a long hard look at what Manchester City (just for example) is doing on their website and in the social media realm.

      • nzm says:

        The man that you should be tweeting to is FCB Board Member Didac Lee who is in charge of the Social Media/Website yadda yadda as the Director of New Technologies.

        @DidacLee: https://twitter.com/DidacLee

  8. Calvin says:

    This doesn’t have to do with soci membership, but I’m currently reading “Brilliant Orange” and I came across a quote that I thought was particularly telling with this current Barcelona team:

    Barry Hulschoff (defender at Ajax during their golden era): “The team is stronger when play from their normal positions… the quality of the attack is not so good when the attackers are defenders. It is good, but not so good. And the attackers are not such good defenders.”

    Apply this to how Tito is using the wide forwards in Barca’s current tactical setup, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

  9. alpinegroove says:

    OT: in the last couple of months, someone posted a link to a thorough tactical analysis of FCB in Spanish. I believe it was a PDF, around 40-50 pages. I can’t find it.
    Does anyone have that link?

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