Written by Julian Stubbs | Stockholm
on May 29, 2011
Today Barcelona is one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most successful destinations for both tourism and as a business location. People even talk of adopting the Barcelona model when it comes to redefining a post-industrial location. However, it was all very different forty years ago.
In the 1975 series “Fawlty Towers,” Manuel, the hapless Spanish waiter who lived in fear of Basil Fawlty, was cast as coming from Barcelona. His home town was chosen with great care – as at that stage Barcelona was considered by many to be a run-down, dirty, industrial black hole. It wasn’t until the death of Franco in 1975, that a new regional focus could be put in place to get the city back on a path to regeneration.

Arguably Barcelona has more brand assets than most places. The stunning architecture, famous artists, a successful Olympics in 1992, a wonderful song about the city and one of the world’s greatest football clubs Barca. Which brings me rather nicely to the beautiful game: football – or soccer to our colonial cousins.

May 28th 2011 saw the final of the Champions League between Barcelona and Manchester United, respectively the champions in their own country’s domestic competitions. Pep Guardiola’s team not only beat Manchester United 3-1, they made them look like they didn’t even play the same game. It might only be football, but it’s actually a lesson in sound management and brand management.


First and foremost Barcelona play as a team. Look at the majority of the UK’s Premier Leagues Clubs and they are filled with exotic foreign and domestic players, who are all too often prima donnas- and more interested in their own particular brand than their clubs. Barca play the most compelling passing game, involving the whole team and when they celebrate they celebrate together. A lesson for business if ever there was one.

The Barca team also has more home grown talent than most others. Arsenal or Manchester United’s first eleven rarely has more than a few local players, preferring to recruit expensive overseas stars. Or look at Manchester City’s billion pound team – a wholly artificial construction brought about only with money. By contrast eight of the Barcelona first eleven were groomed through the clubs own football school, La Mesia, and that includes Lionel Messi, probably the world’s finest player at the moment.


This creates fierce loyalty, a genuine team spirit and a real passion in representing the city and region the club comes from. The team’s manager, Guardiola, himself came through the same school before going on to play for the Barca first team for seventeen years. If ever there was a lesson for brands it is contained in this real enthusiasm and shared values that creates team spirit and belief.

Many brands today live in fear of the new rules of engagement they have with their customers in the internet age. Today’s two way dialogue has forced many to involve the consumer more in their own brand and how they should develop it. But none has gone as far as Barcelona in letting their core fans have a direct say in major decisions. The club is even owned by its members, again unlike the majority of UK clubs who are owned by wealthy, often foreign, tycoons who have little true feeling for local pride or passion and the role football plays in people’s lives.

As with many great success stories the key ingredient is also having a long-term vision. The success of both Barcelona, as a destination, and their team has not happened overnight.

Having a long-term plan and sticking with it pays off. Reaching the position Barcelona is in today has taken thirty years or more.

I once jokingly remarked in a magazine article that a destination brand had to have three things to be considered genuinely great. Proximity to water, an outstanding sports team, preferably with the destination’s name in it, and a famous song. Think New York, San Francisco, Liverpool and Barcelona – which all have all three. I guess The Manchester Ship Canal and their club’s song Glory Glory Man United is just not up to the task.


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