Price vs cost, and how success is SO expensive

A piece of essential reading by Graham Hunter sparked a number of thoughts about price vs cost, and how for so many culers, the success celebrations come with qualms, quibbles washed away in champagne and Camp Nou speeches. Hunter writes:

Members may not be comfortable with who is footing the bill, but they are enjoying the meal.

Hunter makes the case that Messi, Neymar and Suarez, the vaunted MSN, have a price that makes some piece of massive revenue enhancement essential. If the club isn’t going to sell anyone and supporters want to see the silver parade keep flowing, the most expensive thing that the club has right now is its home, kinda like a jobless geriatric living in a paid-for mansion.

“Well, you could take a second mortgage … ”

Selling the stadium naming rights. The fee for this will certainly be massive, and just what the doctor ordered when it comes to sticking the needle in the vein that sucks down cash. Player-related expenses are just north of 70% of revenue, an astonishing figure for a club looking to pull down north of 600m this fiscal year. And what’s the alternative, really? Arsenal? Lovely balance books and a paid-for, fancy new home that sold its naming rights. But no victory parades.

Meanwhile at Barça, EBITDA danger looms if the club can’t get its books right, resulting in an automatic election, per club bylaw. And make no mistake about it, the only way for the board to continue generating smiles is for the football team to keep winning, and winning requires money, at the front end or back end. Vermaelen instead of Aymeric Laporte? The club saved almost 40m in that transaction, and bought some time. The price is also in what you don’t pay.

Back in the crazy, hazy, glowing days of a Masia-festooned XI, something is omitted: them dudes were still expensive. Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Villa. The only thing missing were the mammoth transfer fees attendant to the acquisition of talent of that quality. Now that players have retired or moved on, if the quality is to continue and the boughs of the academy are mostly barren, what’s the solution? That’s the price, and the cost.

The price is the number, as culers snark about RM and their massive transfer expenditures, but whether you price the Neymar deal at 92 or 57m, that’s still a lotta Euros. Suarez doesn’t need any such parsing, as his price was in the low 80s. With mega-watt talent such as that comes big salaries, atop the even bigger salaries of tenured, trophy-festooned incumbents.

The cost is the comfort, or lack thereof, with the things that the club has to do. Suarez has been found guilty of racist abuse, has kicked and bitten opponents. Toss about Stoichkov all anyone likes, but there was and is a lingering discomfort with that transfer, and always will be for many culers. UNICEF moving to the rear of the shirt, sleeve sponsors that shove aside local broadcaster TV3, the sold shirt, the hunt for revenue. This much success is fiscally expensive, but it also has a high cost in idealism.

Culers scream about this board, say that it is betraying club values, etc. Is it? Or is it just doing why any organism needs to do to survive? And how quickly Laporta went from demon to role model. He liked a party, but more importantly, liked to solve problems with big checks. Guardiola wanted Ibrahimovic, and Laporta sent over a big check along with a mercurial Cameroonian. Wage bills were massive, as were the bonuses paid for the unending successes.

Rosell was elected, and said Laporta almost killed the club with debt, that his small surplus was in fact a mammoth hole that he and his board would be able to dig out of. Was this the real motivation behind the Neymar transfer shell game, that even if official sanction almost certainly won’t happen, has dragged the club’s name through the courts, and raised eyebrows. What if Rosell had just paid up, even as he couldn’t, because that would make him Laporta.

As Hunter points out, renewals for Suarez, Messi and Neymar look to cost significantly north of 200m. There is also the stadium project, and the necessary transfers as names like Pogba fly hither and yon. Maybe once you’ve spent 80m that first time, the next time is easy. But where will that money come from? Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal cost money, and they aren’t playing for food coupons. And when those bills are paid, what about the next ones? The success junkies need their next fix, a harder hit. Trebles, sextuples, septuples …

All of this success has a price, and a cost. There are those who set themselves up as some sort of keepers of the flame. They are much more easily dismissed than the calm, rational ones who say, “I don’t like this. The success is lovely, but the cost is too high. What is the club becoming?”

Some folks, supporters of other club and writers, will misuse mes que un club, because that’s the trend. And we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that Barça has always needed money like a pothead needs snacks. But the modern game and modern times means that the price for those snacks is immense and escalating, which necessitates doing and accepting certain things to successfully manage the cost.

An astute Twitter follower of Hunter pointed out that his piece makes it clear that the actions of the board in seeking out revenue are necessary evils. If you can’t raise success, you have to buy it, even if paying for the talent, whether bought or raised, costs the same mammoth amount of Euros. As people carp about La Masia and this or that talent, different questions are raised for different reasons. Do board members rue the failure of Deulofeu, resulting in the sunk cost of Aleix Vidal? The mishandling of the Thiago situation, whoever’s fault it was, almost directly led to the price of Arda Turan. And as we like it or not, Barça has bought success just like Chelsea or Manchester City. At least it isn’t all oil money? Okay, if that helps manage the cost. But the price is what it is. Ferraris ain’t cheap.

Culers come to Barça for many things, and many reasons. Some just want Messi to do well. Others just want the team to win. Still others drill deeper into tactics, and don’t like the new way of playing. Others go even deeper into the history of the club, its causes and values, and find the way that things are lacking for very different reasons. Success at any cost? Not for these culers, like-minded souls who have legitimate qualms about the club and where it’s going.

As one of those foolish romantics who would rather have sold players than sold the shirt, I also recognize that so many romantics are foolish. We lay in our feather beds, covers pulled up and pillows blocking our ears as we hold on to the way that things were, even if that way was really something of an illusion. The Masia XI still had superstars that made mega millions, whose cost in part forced Laporta into the decision to sell the shirt, make deals and take on debt. History lets us easily forget that Rosell made it happen, but he built the house on a foundation laid by Laporta.

If things are now as they have always been, what’s anyone’s problem with the cost? Just win, baby. The academic exercises that the tactical purists reduce a 4-0 victory to are precisely that. They’re a luxury that is afforded the victor. “Oh, ick. None of the seven goals were Barça goals. If you all want to win like that, okay.” But we romantics are living in ivory towers that are even higher, glistening in the sunlight of harsh reality.

Teams make decisions. Bartomeu and his board members lay out what they would like the club to do, fiscally, and the ways that they hope to accomplish that. And some of us stomp around and say “Fie on thee, churl!” But then as now, money usually buys success. The only reason it hasn’t more effectively for Real Madrid is that they have had the great misfortune to run across their eternal rival at a time when the greatest player in the game is at his peak. And that player is surrounded by world-class talent that even though it wasn’t all bought, still has to be paid for. Iniesta can’t pay his vineyard bills with hugs and standing ovations.

Is Barça like RM? No. Is mes que un club just a slogan, a philosophical boondoggle? No way. But Barça is a big club. No, Barça is a huge club, and a club with a fan base that is besotted on the elixir of success. Is there anyone who would give back last season’s treble for a set of balanced books, a blank shirt front and a clear conscience? No. Not all three. And even if there are some of us who wouldn’t mind less success for a bit more of those good ol’ “Barça values,” that notion is, like right or wrong ways of winning, mostly an academic exercise.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

31 Comments

  1. mr.undercover
    December 2, 2015

    Insightful piece kevin,

    Am deeply worried about our current financial condition. Am affraid we can’t keep our MSN if we don’t get new deal for our shirt’s sponsor. Success has proven costly in recent seasons too with every champion league win means a huge pay out on bonuses to all club staffs. And according to financial experts barca finished up making a loss from their participation in last seasons tournament despite winning it which is scary.english clubs are hunting our best 2 players so the club would break the bank to extend their contract which will cost the club in the neighbourhood of 200 m, if we didn’t find a suitable deal and other diversified source of incomes we can’t help but have to sell one of them to balance the book. And there is only one way to do so is that is to sell the stadium naming right which is a decision that is going to create a lot of fiasco’s to the under-fired board next season. Would cules compromises their clubs values and sell their stadium naming right at the expense of keeping there best players and continue there european dominance as well??
    The club wages bill is currently stands at a unsustainable 73 percent of revenue that’s breaks the clubs own self-imposed financial regulation and the board will have to quit in two years if the ratio is not reduced, a perplexing situation indeed

  2. December 2, 2015

    Excellent article Kevin.

    I am worried about the costs too, but am even more grateful to the club for letting us enjoy this kind of a football. I never thought we would see orgasmic football after Pep. This team is playing different, may be, but this is lovely football, and it came at a cost.

  3. December 2, 2015

    Valencia – this was too much. Gary Neville – I love his analyzing – but him without any experience to be a coach of such a big club in a world class league????? There are even bigger morons than AFA it seems.

    Incredible.

    • December 2, 2015

      Saw this comment in Guardian by Igchoc

      *Phone rings*
      “Hello Gary it’s Phil. Delighted to have you on board mate”
      “Yeah mate I’m ecstatic. Can’t wait to get started! I’ll be down there ASAP.”
      “Great to hear! I’ll get the team prepped for Barcelona at the weekend, hopefully you’ll be down there to take them!”
      “….errmmmm what was that Philip?”
      “Barcelona this weekend!”
      “So listen, I’ve just learned my flight’s been cancelled and I won’t be able to get another one til Sunday morning latest. You’ll be alright won’t you?”

  4. December 2, 2015

    Great Article Kevin,

    Truly the current situation of Barcelona’s finance is a thing worth worrying about. From all indications, it seems the club are broke as things stand and this may force us to sell one of the MSN trident unless we get these sought-after sponsors as soon as possible.

    However, let us play the waiting game and see how things go in the nearest future as we continue to support our beloved team.

    http://www.barcalens.com

  5. luisthebeast
    December 2, 2015

    Lucho must rest Suarez tonight.He already played over 1800 minutes until now and he is not 22y old.I guess Neymar Sandro Munir will be the forwards.Or maybe Adriano as LW.

  6. Cyclops
    December 2, 2015

    But dosnt it beggars believe that Club as huge as FCB would currently be scampering for Sponsors? im trying to wrap my head around that. is there something i’m missing? are there more complex issues involved? if so, someone with a better knowledge could do well to enlighten me.. If not, then we return back to finger-pointing at the board. You talk about how actions taken by the board were necessary evil, so well, they aint that demonic. but wait a minute, how about as you pointed out the Mishandling of Thiago’s case, which is just one of several cases. As you pointed out, it kinda indirectly lead to money being splashed on Rakitic and Turan…so if the board didn’t screw up on Thiago and the likes, just maybe some of these supposed Necessary Evils wont have been necessary after all. So the board at the end cant be made to look squeaky clean after all

    All in all,in this situation you caught in between being real scared or not.. Depending on what you figure the real situation to be, how it’d be pan out, if its a ‘legitimate’ situation in the first place

    But really, i think La masia is the way. For instance we all going on and on about needing a fourth striker… And i think it’d be excellent if we instead recall Tello. you derive a lot of benefits from that; you’ve got a young talented spaniard in your team, with a potential to be real worldclass, who’s basically an upgrade from Pedro. If for nothing, atleast if he gets a Munir-esque chance in an el clasico, counts on him to bury it. He wont complain ’bout being a fourth striker- depending on the rapport(MOU?) between him and LE, unlike getting say a Marco Roylce..

    This is just one example among many of how la masia can be relied upon- not just now, but even the seasons before. but guess what, the fans, and even the board- with their supposed intelligence in spotting the necessary evils, are not thinking in that direction. Instead, it gets Marco Roylce, Aubameyang, Pogba- who by the way is touted to cost around 90 mil, and same people cry about being broke, same people aint so botherd about promising masia talent leaving the club aka Samper, Grimaldo etc etc, Ha!…

  7. luisthebeast
    December 2, 2015

    Madrid found a new way to get out of meaningless competitions:-PWell who needs a sporting director after all??;-)

    • Cyclops
      December 3, 2015

      Dont be so sure…they certanly do have Other WAYs of staying put…dont be so so disbelieving as to write them off already, after all whats the AKA of the LFP again ?

  8. luisthebeast
    December 3, 2015

    Well yes maybe they find a way to stay in CDR.But if Barca made that mistake i would want the club to say:Yes we made a huge mistake,we accept the punishment and we ask forgiveness from our fans.Not trying to find stupid excuses.A big club is not only the trophies or the history.Rules are rules for everyone.

    • December 3, 2015

      Ha, you mean like Barça did with the FIFA ban?

  9. luisthebeast
    December 3, 2015

    Barca is the ONLY club until now with a ban from FIFA.Lets wait and see what would happen with other teams.It s very different situations.If other clubs will have the same ban this would have to open in serious questions why they targeted us and let others escape until now.But we made the mistake and we where punished.

    • raj
      December 4, 2015

      We were punished, cool. But did our club say “Yes we made a huge mistake,we accept the punishment and we ask forgiveness from our fans” after the ban? That was the question Levon raised. And everything else you say is irrelevant.

    • luisthebeast
      December 4, 2015

      Well if people cant see how different is this two situations everything is irrevelant;-)

    • December 4, 2015

      Thanks, Raj.

      The point is that few clubs, if any, are as eager to pull out the victim card like our club. Whether for the FIFA ban, tax issues our the esteladas.

    • raj
      December 5, 2015

      I don’t think they are different in the sense that both are big blunders on the part of the clubs. There is no point in saying that ONLY WE are punished, it doesn’t make any difference.

      If anything, Real Madrid were stupid at most. Whereas, we have been doing the same mistake for years, which means we knew what we were doing and hoping that we would get away with it.

      Our club has played the victim card just like RM is doing now (and it seems to have worked out for the board, eh?), like Levon says, when they should have begged forgiveness.

  10. georgjorge
    December 4, 2015

    Hijacking this thread for a very important question…

    I’m going to make the pilgrimage for the Sevilla match in February and wanted to ask about good seats to buy. My friend doesn’t want to shell out too much money so we’re planning for the Lateral side. Are the Lateral 3 Superior seats still good to see the match from or should I really, really spend a bit more money for better seats? If so, where? I would be glad about any information on that, you can also shoot me a few lines at a0351484 AT univie.ac.at.

    Thanks a lot!

    I also think the game tomorrow will be a real test for the team, maybe even enhanced by the effect of a new coach at Valencia. Looking forward to it a lot!

    • December 4, 2015

      Some people think they’re too far up, but you can follow the game well and if you know the players you’ll have no problem recognizing them, though perhaps more easily by the way they move and behave than anything else.

      Lateral 2 is perfect, but I prefer lateral 3 over a lot of other spots (eg. behind the goals or when you’re seated too low)

      [edited. Note to self. Leaving comments from a smart phone sucks]

    • georgjorge
      December 4, 2015

      Thanks a lot for the advice! I’ll go with Lateral 3 then, the unfolding of patterns during attack or defense is one of the most interesting things to me about Barca anyway, and I should see that better from high above. Hope my friend is not afraid of heights ; )

    • December 4, 2015

      Oh, one more thing. The Camp Nou in February is no joke, and the higher your seat, the colder it gets. Bring a hat and a scarf. Also, if the game is during the afternoon, sunglasses are a must because the sun gets in your eyes which makes it hard to follow the game below,

  11. December 4, 2015

    Real Madrid has been expelled from the Copa del Rey.

    • georgjorge
      December 4, 2015

      The king won’t be pleased to hear this. It’s not going to be those filthy Catalans and Basques whistling the anthem at the final again, is it?

      I really feel a bit for Benitez. He finally got to coach his beloved team, but the cards were stacked against him from the beginning in many ways. And the Copa Del Rey incident should really have been prevented by others.

  12. December 4, 2015

    Perez has fired the FAX machine!! :)-

  13. mr.undercover
    December 5, 2015

    Pique should start writing a petition to play the coppa final at the bernabeu. That’s would be yummy

  14. georgjorge
    December 5, 2015

    The gala XI for Valencia, no big surprises. Good to see Samper on the bench now. Is Mathieu injured?

  15. ooga aga
    December 5, 2015

    Mathieu strained his thigh in the copa del rey match midweek. Came out near the end and although we had subs remaining, LE had us finish it out with 10 men.

    Typically tough match at Mestalla, 0-0 at the half. We had chances but Valencia has also looked dangerous. I think valencia will tire but they do look motivated. Messi a tad off but also being hounded by bats.

  16. Dar_vincy
    December 5, 2015

    Really hard to stomach throwing the game away at the death. The attendant frustration is always enormous. Still, the performance wasn’t disappointing bar the last minute lapse in concentration.

  17. TITO
    December 5, 2015

    Strange game, almost as the game had to end a draw.

  18. G6O
    December 5, 2015

    Too many missed chances, then we score, then we stop playing, and then we get punished for it…

    The most worrying thing was how slow Messi looked — you would think that after a week of rest and two weeks of proper training he would be quicker than this (I don’t expect him to be at full strength until January, but still..)

  19. Jim
    December 5, 2015

    Hmm, disappointing ending but really we’d been coasting for most of the second half. Doesn’t really harm us and tbh after the last three wonderful games the team is due a bit of slack.

    Not gonna give them a lot of credit at home with their own fans having to sit and watch their frightened approach to the game. If I’d been sitting there I’d have been booing them long before they equalised. It took us missing quite a few and everything to go right on their goal for this to end a draw.

    Messi was fine but still rusty, Suarez was good again but don’t like to see the instep incident and it’s maybe just me but Iniesta is wonderful. Is there any ball you can hit to him that he won’t control and turn it into good possession or any time that three players around him will be enough to wrestle the ball away from him ?

    Their goal was painful to watch, though. They picked up possession with our whole team between them and our goal. Two passes later we’re in deep trouble. Can’t begin to figure out why Alba didn’t close down the passer. There was nobody behind him. Right from the start Masche’s positioning was wrong, allowing his man behind him where he couldn’t see him. Pique hesitates hoping Alcacer is going to run offside . As soon as he sees Masche is out of position he should forget about offside and get a bit of depth. Masche continues to blythly gallop back still with no idea where his man is until it’s too late. After that you have to say Alcacer did brilliantly. The ball to him was inch perfect but his control was awesome and the eventual finish well worth a goal although I reckon Rakitic could’ve easily followed the scorer back. I’ll cut him a little slack as it was the 84th minute but from such decisions come unexpected goals.

    Don’t know about the rest of you but the result just puts a little on my Saturday . However, my good lady has just put it into perspective. “Would you rather be a Madrid fan tonight? Quit grumbling. And get Strictly Come Dancing on. I’ve been waiting for that match to finish ! “

  20. Jim
    December 5, 2015

    Sorry, dampener *.

    Also, meant to say not having a real go at Masche as he had a decent game up till then. We sometimes don’t credit our CBs enough for passing under pressure the whole game without making mistakes which would be critical.

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