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Football’s sociocultural appeal moves customers and market shares – case of El Clásico

Top football thrives due to the popularity of the game on a global scale and its roots in a sociocultural context. Rivalries and local derbies are at the center of attention in this sociocultural perspective of football. In an era characterized by the terminology of the ‘global village’, these matches mirror passionate pastime entertainment with the capability to activate purchase decisions and to move market shares for commercial stakeholders. This past weekend’s El Clásico derby in which FC Barcelona hosted Real Madrid at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona shows some indications of the commercial prowess illustrated in how top football equals marketable entertainment.

El Clásico creates significant economic impact

According to a study conducted by the Sports Business Institute in Barcelona (SBI Barcelona), this derby boosted the economic foundation of the two clubs’ business models. Being televised in more than 100 countries, the logos of the clubs and their players were exposed to more than 400 mio. viewers globally. Thereby, the logos in play act as massive dynamic and living billboards, which reinforce the brand equity and economic impact of both clubs, cf. infographic below.


Infographic: El Clásico – An Economic Snapshot (source: SBI Barcelona, 2016).

Both teams hold a significant squad market value of a little less than €800 mio (Transfermarkt, 2016). The famous MSN attacking trio of FC Barcelona speaks for itself and so does Real Madrid’s international quality led by the goal machine Cristiano Ronaldo. Both Spanish teams are international powerhouses and they have both featured in and won two UEFA Champions League Finals in the past six years. Both teams are among the top scorers when it comes to measure professional sports teams on team market value, revenue generation and brand value (Forbes, Deloitte, and Brand Finance). First and foremost, these two teams showcase the notion that ‘there is no substitution for winning in professional sports’. Moreover, the revenue generating potential of the two clubs has been enhanced by the fact that negotiation of media rights for the Spanish La Liga has been polarized for years. This situation has given some vital competitive advantages to FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Additionally, the sociocultural power of football to transcend international borders has added value to these two clubs given their strong positioning in the performance hierarchy of global football. Finally, the illustrations below demonstrate that the investment in the best players and in global super stars play a central role in conquering shares in a highly contested market space. There are ‘hybrid sports branding interactions’ (Cortsen, 2013; 2016) in play that influence the positive reinforcing circle of these clubs’ business models.

Star players as the most important asset of both clubs







Infographics: Market value of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid players (source: Transfermarkt).

Global football fans and other commercial stakeholder groups follow the super stars of the two teams whether this fan behavior is related to the presence and the performances of the players listed above on the pitch or related to the fact that the former Galácticos and top player Zinedine Zidane acts as the head coach of Real Madrid. Fans want to engage with current (or former) players and coaches. The demand for the very best in the game of football is high and there is still unexploited market space to tap into so both clubs are projected to continue their revenue growth. This growth factor will primarily stem from the commercial revenue generation and by renewed shirt and kit sponsorship deals.

From an economic perspective, FC Barcelona’s huge success under the leadership of Guardiola is connected with good organic growth and thus players that are brought into the first team from the La Masia Academy. Therefore, the costs of putting the squad together is less than when a club brings in developed super stars with the qualities of Iniesta, Messi and Xavi from the transfer market. The transfer fees of Neymar and Suarez support this argument.

Examples of boosting fan engagement

On the club football scene, not many matches are bigger than El Clásico (of course there is an event like the UEFA Champions League Final), which reflects the high levels of fan identification around the aesthetic performances of the best players and coaches. El Clásico offers an important scene on which FC Barcelona and Real Madrid can leverage high-demand content originating from the two clubs’ nuanced strategies on and off the pitch. Strategically, this content provides insights into comprehensive sporting data around the on-pitch performances of the involved super stars and also reflects the sophistication of putting the off-pitch strategies (e.g. the Galácticos strategy) in play while allowing room for the 12th man in terms of the engagement of the home crowd or the home-field advantage. One example of how to boost the clubs’ engagement with fans is through Intel’s 360-degree replay technology. Both clubs have installed the replay systems in their venues making La Liga the first football league in Europe to have this technology installed constantly in its venues. The technology offers fans and other stakeholders the opportunity to view any play from any angle in order to enhance the perceptions of the match experience. This marked the first time an El Clásico match faced the integration of this technology. For the media companies, such technological advancements provide value to their massive investments in football and it is an exemplification that football continues to develop in the limelight of commercialization. Hence, it helps to improve the global TV impact of the event. See more about the replay technology in the video below:

The articulation of names, logos and important narratives

The exposure and width of this rivalry stress that El Clásico has its own life for followers of the two teams and of La Liga. Consider the meaning of a name! My meta-theoretical approach to research is characterized by symbolic interactionism (Mead, 1934; Blumer, 1986) and according to this approach ‘our understanding is to found within language’. In El Clásico terms, we are talking about a game that has its own label, i.e. El Clásico. That portrays the ongoing negotiations of meaning and social drama that take place around the event itself and its actors, i.e. players, coaches, fans, sponsors and so on. A football event like El Clásico demonstrates the ability of a strong sports brand when it comes to being meaningful for a global audience. The consideration of time and context are helpful tools to emphasize the brand strength of El Clásico and the dynamics surrounding the event. This is evidenced, as the live coverage of the match was very meaningful for many people because El Clásico obtains brand meaning and strength because of time and context, e.g. ‘the match is right here, right now’ (Cortsen, 2016).


Infographic: Sports branding as a reflection of constant negotiation of meaning (Cortsen, 2016).

Politics as a sociocultural element of El Clásico

El Clásico has turned into a postmodern commercial sporting mega-event and thus into a ‘money game’ depicting the professionalization and commercialization of top football. However, this development finds its roots in the political clash between the two football powerhouses off the pitch. This scenario presents a compelling narrative between the emotional equity found in the wish for Catalan independence on one side and the nationalistic waves of the Castilian culture on the other, which dates back to historic footprints like the civil war and the control of General Franco. Given these historic roots, it is interesting to witness how this duopoly of the Spanish football market has evolved over the past two decades since Cruyff really started to challenge Real Madrid’s dominance with his Dream Team of the 1990s supplemented by Guardiola’s role in FC Barcelona’s postmodern success (keep in mind that the Bosman ruling re-shaped the reality of professional football). Despite of their political associations and differences in growth development and strategies (and contrasts in playing style), these top clubs act as a powerful duopoly because both clubs are still positioned the very top of the Spanish and global football universe. The clubs have succeeded in accomplishing this position in a relative sustainable way because both clubs have continued to invest in venues, commercial development and sporting infrastructure and actors.

‘Blau Grana’ symbolizes something else than being Spanish and merely represents the Catalan identity. FC Barcelona is a true reflection of that as opposed to the royal club of Real Madrid with its central backing from the government in Madrid. So, El Clásico also becomes a matter of more than just the difference between winning and losing being at stake. With this viewpoint in mind, the game shows a representation of Spain versus Catalonia. This representation places nationalistic and independence-related arguments that go beyond the meaning of winning on the football pitch centrally in discussions of whether to perceive Spain as a united country. Therefore, it is highly controversial for players to transfer from FC Barcelona to Real Madrid and vice versa. Football stars like Michael Laudrup, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Bernd Schuster, Gheorghe Hagi, Samuel Eto’o, Robert Prosinecki and the current FC Barcelona coach Luis Enrique have all represented both clubs and have personally felt that the transfer broke the sacred bond between player, fans and club in this context of the sociocultural institution of fandom. From a Danish perspective, Michael Laudrup showed that he was capable of breaking out of this shared identity. He was able to define his playing identity as transforming in terms of moving the Spanish title from FC Barcelona to Real Madrid in the 1990s as a sign of the individual player’s significant x-factor in the business of top football.





Blumer, H. (1986). Symbolic interactionism: perspective and method. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Cortsen, K. (2013). Annika Sörenstam-a hybrid personal sports brand. Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal, 3(1), 37-62.

Cortsen, K. (2016). Strategic Sport Branding at the Personal, Product and Organizational Level.

Mead, G. (1934). Mind, Self, and Society: from the standpoint of a social behaviorist. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


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