Barcelona still cannot register their summer signings after La Liga rejected an attempt to use the club’s own funds to inflate the value of two of the asset sales they had resorted to in order to balance the books and strengthen their team.
The intention now is to turn to a fourth source of extraordinary income with the sale of a further 25% of their content production company, Barça Studios, for an estimated €100m in the hope that it will allow them to include new arrivals such as Robert Lewandowski, Andreas Christensen and Jules Koundé in the squad for their opening game against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night.
Barcelona had accounted for benefits of €667m (£562m) from the sale of two packets of future television rights and had hoped that would help enable them to comply with La Liga’s financial fair play rules. They also announced the sale of just under 25% of Barça Studios, the third of the so-called “palancas” or economic “levers” they had pulled this summer. In total, including a new sponsorship deal with Spotify, the departure of players and increased revenue, Barcelona said that they had brought in more than €850m as they seek to improve their squad and fix a financial crisis.
But the league’s audit found that the amount Barcelona had received directly from investors Sixth Street for two TV rights packages of 10% and 15% respectively was only €517m. The remaining €150m had been paid by the club itself, according to the Spanish radio station Cadena Cope. The operation is legal, cleared by the club’s auditors Grant Thornton, but the league has recalculated the benefit on the basis that €150m of the amount is not new income.
Having spent more on transfers than any club in Spain and not yet managed to reduced their salary outgoings sufficiently, that leaves Barcelona still short of the threshold where they can register all their players with La Liga.
Rather than sell those packages directly to Sixth Street, Barcelona set up a venture called Locksley Investments, Cope said. That company bought the club’s TV rights on a permanent deal, with Sixth Street buying the two packages over the next 25 years. Barcelona then spent €150m of its own money to purchase the rights from the 26th year. That enabled the overall accounting value of the deal to be larger now, announcing two deals, the first for 10% of the club’s La Liga TV rights over 25 years, the second for a further 15%.
When the second deal was finalised, they announced that the club would receive €315m immediately and that the operation would result in a benefit of €400m. Barça president Joan Laporta had also expressed his hope that the league would share their interpretation of the criteria. It has not.
Barcelona are unhappy with the interpretation applied. The league has strict financial fair play rules – the “salary limit”, based essentially on a calculation of income against the cost of the squad – which rather than being punitive is preventative: if a club’s outgoings on its squad exceeds the limit set by the league, an automated system simply does not allow them to register players.
Laporta had said he hoped not to have to turn to a fourth lever, although the board had already approved that move should it be necessary, which it now appears to be. At members’ assemblies this spring and in the autumn his administration, which inherited a grave financial crisis, had previously been given permission to sell a percentage of future TV rights (up to 25% for up to 25 years), Barca Studios and 49% of the club’s licensing arm BLM. The latter has not happened as yet.
Barcelona continue to try to move players on, with the potential departure of Frenkie de Jong particularly significant because of the size of his salary and amortisation. They are negotiating salary reductions with senior players and club captains Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba and intend to make more signings.