From its fans’ opposition to Francisco Franco’s arcane dictatorship to Johan Cruyff’s total football and Pep Guardiola’s pass-and-run, Barcelona F.C., one of the world’s greatest soccer clubs, has always prided itself about being ahead of the game.

Now, in the latest pioneering move, announced Wednesday, Barcelona F.C. has launched Barça TV Plus, with 3,000 videos and 1,000 hours of content including live and delayed broadcast matches and on-demand content.

Together with a Culers Premium Membership loyalty program, Barça TV Plus forms part of a new digital strategy at the club, reflecting Barça’s drive into a direct-to-consumer business model.

Two further moves may prove crucial to that. Once held in exclusivity by Nike, Barcelona F.C. now has enlarged e-commerce rights to its merchandising. It is also ramping up its original productions.

Barça Studios, the club’s original production arm, also unveiled on Wednesday a clutch of new original productions, led by the Antoine Griezmann-hosted “Ready!” and “Dare or Tell,” about Barça Women.

“Ready!” will see Griezmann, a star of France’s World Cup winning national team, organize first team stars who put fellow sports people to the test with a series of challenges. A welcome move into women’s soccer, “Dare to Play” introduces from a more personal angle members of Barça Women, now one of the top teams in Europe. A scripted series turning on the team is also in the pipeline, said Paco Latorre, director of Barça Studios.

Leveraging the club’s huge archives, “The Album” will look back  at the passage of historic players – Johann Cruyff and Diego Maradona come immediately to mind. “The  9” will profile the team’s greatest striker.

“Origins” offer an unprecedentedly intimate view of players’ careers using interviews and comments from family and friends. “Discover Barcelona” has players taking the audience to some of their favorite haunts in the city; “What’s Next?” features different Barça legends talking about their lives after hanging up their boots.

These shows join an animated fiction series, “Talent Explorers,” produced by Barça Studios and Sony Music Latin Iberia, and “La Masia,” Barça Studios’ first scripted series, set at the club’s youth academy. It is written by Albert Espinosa, creator of the Filmax-produced “The Red Band Society,” one of the most re-versioned Spanish series in its TV history including a U.S. makeover adapted for Fox by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV and ABC Studios.

Barça TV Plus will be made available via Barcelona F.C.’s website and app for all devices (PC, tablet, mobile and TV using cast technology).

With 350 million online followers, Barça is one of sport’s leaders in digital, said board member Didac Lee, who oversees the club’s digital strategy. But now it is putting through what he called a “paradigm shift.”

Barcelona F.C. already has its own basic cable channel in Spain, the 24/7 Barça TV, carried by major pay TV operators Movistar Plus, Orange TV and Vodafone.

But it is “not perceived as a revenue earner so much as a branding communication channel,” said Latorre.

The world has also changed since Barça TV launched.

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Didac Lee and Albert Espinosa Barca Studios

Consumer habits have evolved. “Younger consumers watch soccer on tablets, laptops. Our competitors aren’t now another club, but Netflix, YouTube,” said Lee.

Barça really broke through to world preeminence from 2006 when it won the UEFA Champions League with Ronaldinho, and then under manager Pep Guardiola from 2008. That success has coincided with the globalization of soccer over the last 15-20 years, Latorre argues.

“If you already have a channel, you have to create digital distribution and become available OTT at some point. You can’t think about the old pay-TV formula, the move is called for by the evolution of the market,” said analyst François Godard, at Enders Analysis.

The question, he added, is how much incremental revenue a direct-to-consumer service can really make.  

Barça TV is only carried in Spain. Elsewhere, Barcelona F.C. sells program packages or has volume deals, licensing six hours of programs a week to ESPN for the U.S. Barça TV Plus will broadcast worldwide and in three languages: Catalan, Spanish and English.

Going direct-to-consumer, Barcelona F.C. can build big data on audience segments and preference, Lee argued. That’s seems essential given a new contract, signed in May, with Nike which breaks with Nike’s former exclusive ownership of Barcelona F.C. merchandising e-commerce, allowing Barça to sell its merchandising online from its Camp Nou Barça Store to followers around the world. Camp Nou itself has only four million visitors a year.

“The best way to get to our global fans is through contents. This is the first time that a sporting entity has made such a big bet on contents. Entertainment-skewed content are the present and future,” said Lee.

The Culers loyalty program will enhance a sense of an emotional bond with the club, he added.

The Culers Membership loyalty program, giving access to all Barcelona digital ecosystem including Barça TV Plus, costs €39.99 ($43.6) a year, Barça TV Plus €4.99 ($5.4) a month for full access to all content.

One important advantage for Barça TV Plus is the “emotional affinity” which Barça fans have with their club. It’s not the same to be a client of Netflix as a Barça fan,” he said.

Barça TV Plus will also allow Barça Studios, via its Originals, to tell stories extraordinary human stories unknown to most Barça fans, Didac argued, pointing to the life of Barça Women Nigerian forward Asisat Oshoala, signed in 2019, born  into a family of 18 siblings and ho fced her parents’ opposition when she announced she wanted to leave school and play soccer.

“Her story is incredible,” said Didac. By telling it, Barça is “more than a club,” he added, echoing the famous catchphrase coined under Franco.

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Dare to Play Barca Studios

https://variety.com/2020/tv/global/barca-tv-plus-streaming-service-launched-soccer-club-barcelona-f-c-1234624172/