Tactical Insights

Barcelona’s Nike decision: Why the club is thinking about breaking ties

The partnership between Barcelona and Nike goes back a long way, with the American brand’s iconic logo featured on the club’s shirts since 1998.

For many football fans, it would be hard to picture something different on the Barca kit. But right now, the Catalan club are considering alternatives — including the option of producing their own shirts — with a final decision to come by the end of this month.

Nike’s deal with Barca is not due to expire for another four years, but the club’s financial problems have led them to explore what else is available.

Barcelona and Nike began their ongoing 10-year contract back in 2018. It is reportedly worth a fixed fee of €105million a year (£89.7m; $114.7m at current rates), with potential further bonus payments of up to €50m. In recent weeks, however, reports in local media have put that yearly figure at €85m.

Barca sources — who, like all those cited in this article, wished to speak anonymously to protect relationships — say they have been talking to other brands in the industry, with the intention of finding a better package.

They said Barca’s relationship with Nike has hit something of a rough patch over the past year. They also said there was a feeling within the club that Nike had not met all the standards they agreed to in their last deal.

Senior figures claimed there had been some supply problems over the past two seasons. In 2020, there were also reported complaints from the club about the quality of some products Nike supplied. The Athletic approached Nike, and they declined to comment.

Barcelona sources said several scenarios are now being considered. These include trying to negotiate their deal with Nike, or exiting the deal early and taking up a new arrangement with a different supplier. They did not specify how they might be able to leave their deal with Nike early or what kind of penalties they might have to pay to do so.

But Barca are also considering the option of going it alone and not having an official kit supplier at all.

Barca president Joan Laporta told the Catalan radio station RAC1 last month: “Staying with Nike is one option. The second is to accept an offer we have from another brand that doubles our current figures.

“And then there’s a third which is, through our business branch BLM (Barca Licensing & Merchandising), creating the kit ourselves. We don’t dismiss this third option, but the other two are definitely safer.”

One of the firms Barcelona have been in touch with to test the waters, in terms of alternatives to Nike, is the German company Puma.

However, well-placed industry sources cast doubt on the suggestion that any potential offer would double what Nike currently pays Barca. These same sources also believe Barca do not hold any power to force a renegotiation or improvement of their current terms, especially as, in sporting terms, their status is below that of 2016, when their last deal was struck.

Opinions on Barcelona’s executive board are, at the moment, divided. But sources said Laporta is among the figures most keen to break the deal with Nike and have the club produce its own kit, at least for next season when the club will celebrate its 125th anniversary (it was founded on November 29, 1899).

Other senior figures would prefer to stay with Nike, avoiding the obvious dangers associated with going it alone — and also avoiding any potential legal disputes, exit fees or fines for leaving the deal early.

“There’s nothing decided,” a club source said. “What we won’t do is to take any major risks. We won’t agree to take on a challenge which is not studied or analysed enough.”

Patrick Kluivert (left) and Rivaldo at Barca in 1998 (Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

As per the terms of their current agreement, Nike pays a yearly fee for the right to produce various items of Barcelona sporting equipment and apparel, and the American company keeps all profits made from sales.

However, through the BLM arm — mentioned by Laporta in his radio interview — Barcelona also exclusively market and sell some clothing and apparel themselves. BLM was the fourth-biggest source of revenues in Barcelona’s most recent budget, accounting for over €100million across 2022-2023.

If Barca were to cut short their deal with Nike, BLM, which was created back in 2018, would step in.

Some club sources believe BLM has enough experience to deal with the design of the new kits. The bigger issue would be in production and distribution. It would be hard to expect BLM to achieve what Nike’s infrastructure and experience brings in this regard.

In a 2023 UEFA report, Barcelona were the European club with the biggest annual revenues from kit manufacturer sponsorship and merchandising (at €179million). Operating on their own, Barca might struggle to meet demand.

“If we get to that point, we know that the process of fabrication and distribution will have to go through some experienced brand, because the club does not have those facilities,” a Barca source said.

“It would be a bit more like outsourcing these parts of the business, rather than a sponsorship deal.”

Recent examples of this happening have been studied by the club — and two come from Italy.

In November 2012, Roma announced they were ending their deal with Kappa. For the 2013-2014 season, the Italian club designed their own kit, before signing a new deal with Nike from 2014-2015.

In 2021, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis said his club would do the same, after failing to strike a new deal to extend their link with Kappa.

“My advisors all said: ‘You’re crazy,” he commented on that decision. “Adidas, Puma and Nike take 18 months to get a shirt done, and you want to find someone who in so little time will design and manufacture them?

“And yet, I replied: “F*** them!” I spent all day yesterday in a factory working on this. I was on the phone with China today to talk about it. This idea might cost me money, but I am starting a new reality for football.”

Months later, Napoli reached a partnership with Emporio Armani, whose EA7 label became their “technical sponsor”. EA7 helped with production and distribution, while “clothing and accessories will be produced and marketed by SSC Napoli”, the club said. The EA7 logo still appears on the Napoli kit.

Laporta is said to favour the option of Barca creating their own kit for 2024-25 (Adria Puig/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Some Barca sources suggested the possibility of Barca breaking their deal with Nike (and producing their own kit for the 2024-25 season) would allow the club a little more time to arrange a new supplier in time for the 2025-26 campaign.

Others are also enthusiastic about this option because they believe a shirt with no kit-supplier branding for the 125th anniversary will increase demand among collectors.

Barca’s decision-makers have set themselves the internal deadline of acting on this option by the end of the month, because arrangements would have to be made quickly to design, produce and distribute the new kit in time for this summer.

(Top photo: Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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