“The Model of Governance at FC Barcelona in 2008: Balancing Member Democracy, Commercial Strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sporting Performance.”

The Business of Sport – Seminar Series

Room 101 – Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1 7HX

Wednesday 28th January 2009 at 6pm
(for directions click here)

“The Model of Governance at FC Barcelona in 2008: Balancing Member Democracy, Commercial Strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sporting Performance.”

Given by:

Sean Hamil, Geoff Walters & Lee Watson, Birkbeck College, University of London

A popular justification for takeovers of English football clubs by millionaire private owners is that in order to be successful at the highest level a club needs to be able to attract major private investment to compete in the international football player labour market. However, ironically, FC Barcelona, one of Europe’s most successful clubs, is a not-for–profit sporting club owned by over 150,000 members, or socios. This presentation, drawing on a soon-to-be published book chapter by the presenters, critically considers the reasons why the untypical ownership and governance structure of FC Barcelona does not appear to hamper its ability to compete in financial and sporting terms. It also addresses the charge by critics that the mutual form of ownership is inherently unstable at a major football club due to the alleged potential for political machinations provided by the democratic process for electing club presidents, making reference to the recent vote-rigging scandal at Real Madrid – see commentary in The Guardian (16th January, 2009), FourFourTwo (13th January, 2009), and The BBC (16th January. 2009).

This presentation begins by briefly discussing the historical role of FC Barcelona as a symbol of Catalan nationalism, in particular during the years in which Spain was under the rule of the fascist dictator General Franco. It then considers how the membership model at FC Barcelona was threatened during the presidency of Josep Núñez between 1978 and 2000. This led to the formation of L’Elefant Blau, an organisation that campaigned for member democracy. The spokesman and key figure of L’Elefant Blau, Joan Laporta, was elected President of FC Barcelona in 2003 on a radical platform for change. At that point in time FC Barcelona was in a precarious position, trailing Spanish rivals Real Madrid and other clubs in Europe in both sporting (having won no trophies for four years) and commercial performance (slipping to 13th largest club in Europe in terms of financial turnover). This presentation considers the model of governance that Joan Laporta and his Board of directors implemented at FC Barcelona over the 2003-2008 period, concentrating on four key strategic areas:

  1. The prioritisation of sporting success, with the playing and football management team rebuilt and re-financed with positive results. FC Barcelona won successive Spanish La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006, in addition to Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League, in 2006.
  2. The re-assertion of member democracy and improvements in transparency of club governance, and the establishment of a campaign – “The Big Challenge” (El Grand Repte) – to increase club membership as a vehicle to build the financial strength of the club.
  3. The implementation of a commercial strategy designed to generate increased revenues from off-field activities and improve financial performance. Between 2003 and 2008, financial turnover increased from €123.4m to €308.8m, indicating that the strategy has enjoyed some success and has not been impeded by FC Barcelona’s mutual ownership structure.
  4. In tandem with an aggressive commercial strategy, the implementation of an innovative series of corporate social responsibility initiatives as part of a carefully crafted strategy designed to demonstrate that it is indeed an institution that explicitly recognises a set of wider social and cultural obligations.

This presentation concludes with a critical consideration of the reasons why the untypical mutual ownership and governance structure of FC Barcelona did not appear to have hampered its ability to compete in financial and sporting terms over the 2003-2008 period. It also reflects on what, if any, have been the consequences of an attempt to remove Joan Laporta as President of Barcelona in July 2008, two years before the end of his scheduled tenure. Does this demonstrate that the mutually owned model of ownership is inherently political unstable? Or is this just a manifestation of the normal “rough and tumble” of football politics played out in a more accountable arena than might be found in a privately owned football club?

The presentation concludes by posing the question; could the mutually owned model utilised by FC Barcelona work effectively at a major English Premiership club?


Sean Hamil is a lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a member of Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the London School of Economics, he has published in the areas of corporate social responsibility and the governance and regulation of sport. He is an elected Director of Supporters Direct, and was responsible for establishing Supporter Direct’s activities in Scotland. Supporters Direct is funded by the UK government with the aim of promoting and supporting the concept of democratic supporter ownership and representation at football clubs through mutual, not-for-profit structures

Geoff Walters is a lecturer in management at Birkbeck, University of London and a member of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. He received a BSc in Management from Lancaster University and an MA in Labour Studies at the University of Manchester before receiving a three-year PhD scholarship from the Economic and Social Research Council in 2004 to undertake a stakeholder analysis of the football industry. His research interests include corporate governance in sport and sport and corporate social responsibility.

Lee Watson is currently working as a writer and journalist    in the Spanish and English media with a special expertise in the subject area of Spanish football and FC Barcelona in particular  (and can be contacted at After receiving a BA in Spanish and Latin American studies he went on to complete a PhD at Birkbeck College in 2008  – he is a fluent Catalan and Spanish speaker. His doctoral thesis represented a cultural studies approach to an analysis of FC Barcelona’s elevated symbolic status in a Catalan context and provides a critical assessment of the social and political history of that club.


  • Hamil, S &  Walters, G (2009—forthcoming) “The Model of Governance at FC Barcelona: Balancing Member Democracy, Commercial Strategy, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sporting Performance”, in D. Hassan and S. Hamil (Eds.) Who Owns Football? The Governance and Management of the Club Game Worldwide. Taylor & Francis.

For further details on this seminar series contact:

Sean Hamil
Department of Management
Birkbeck College
Malet Street

Tel: 020-7631 6763 or Email:

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