Barcelona president in Qatar to agree Camp Nou naming rights - but will fans accept new Qatar Airways sponsorship deal?

Joe Hall
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Barcelona have had ties with Qatar since the 2010 season (Source: Getty)

Executives from Barcelona have travelled to Qatar this week to discuss a controversial sponsorship deal that could see their stadium renamed - but fans may not be entirely happy with seeing their home renamed the Qatar Airways stadium.

Read more: Barcelona could change Camp Nou name in deal with Qatar Airways

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and vice-president Manel Arroyo were in Doha this week to negotiate with Qatar Airways, whose exisiting sponsorship of Barcelona's shirt has upset many fans in Catalonia.

Barcelona have been associated with Qatar since 2010, first by sporting the Gulf state's Qatar Foundation on their kit and then Qatar Airways from 2013/14 onwards in a deal worth £25m a year.

Bartomeu is attempting to negotiate a new, more lucrative shirt sponsorship deal and will also discuss the possibility of selling naming rights for their Camp Nou home to the state-owned business as it looks to the redevelop the stadium.

Barcelona want to increase their match-day capacity to 105,000 by 2021, but at a cost of around £440m, the club are looking at new revenue streams to fund the project.

Bartomeu, who first signed off on a deal with Qatar, has denied previous reports of a deal struck with Qatar Airways for naming rights to the stadium, but has not ruled out the idea altogether.

Top European clubs are increasingly selling the naming rights to their stadiums as part of football's arms race for bigger commercial and match day revenues.

Manchester City play at the Etihad Stadium, Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and even Barcelona's arch rivals and world's richest club Real Madrid are reportedly considering renaming their ground the Abu Dhabi Bernabeu.

Will Barcelona fans continue to oppose partnership with Qatar? (Source: Getty)

Increasingly, Gulf-owned businesses are more than willing to oblige European football's pursuit for funds. Since 2007, over $65bn has been invested by the Qatar Investment Authority into European football.

Yet the 2022 World Cup host's presence at Barcelona has not always been warmly embraced by fans of a club that is so often seen as a beacon for Catalan independence, has staunch pride in its history of producing local players and had no shirt sponsor at all until 2006.

Barcelona's members - or socios - re-elected Bartomeu as president in the year amid an election campaign in which Barcelona's Qatar Airways sponsorship was at the forefront of the debate.

A petition calling on the club to drop the airline reached 66,000 signatures and stated:

Barcelona’s millions of fans see the team as ‘more than a club’, revered not only for the quality of its players but for its allegiance to ethics, fairness and social justice.

We cannot legitimise a company that exploits thousands of vulnerable workers. It is against the values of the sport.

We need to drop Qatar Airways as a sponsor.

Socios have given their backing to the Camp Nou redevelopment and the project's head William T Mannarelli has insisted Barcelona fans understand the financial demands put on the club.

Mannarelli told Sport 360: "Obviously the question of sponsors has become a bit of an issue with the shirt deal with Qatar Airways...We thought fans would go crazy about naming rights but even passionate Catalonians understand. The socios of Barca pay 25 per cent of what they do at Real Madrid or Manchester City. Their season ticket to watch this show is insanely good value.

"If you want to continue, if you want to compete for the Champions League, if you want to keep watching players like Messi, Neymar and Suarez - the money has to come from somewhere."

Bartomeu's moment of truth comes on 24 October at the club's annual meeting where he will present a new sponsorship deal to socios who will have to answer one question - when they say "more than a club" does that really include ties to Qatar?

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