FC Barcelona’s subscription-based digital streaming service launches Wednesday with a name, Barça TV+, that says everything about who one of the world’s most valuable sports franchises now considers its competition.

“In the entertainment business, we are competing against not only our sports rivals,” FC Barcelona board member Didac Lee told Sportico, Penske Media’s new sports business platform. “We are competing against other streaming services, video games, and so on. We are competing for the attention of our audience.”

Barça TV+, which costs 4.99€ (or $5.58) per month, will launch with more than 1,000 hours of content, including a series featuring French forward Antoine Griezmann challenging other athletes, as well as shows on Barca players, past and present, male and female. Barca is also launching a 39.99€ annual membership that includes access to the service as well as other benefits. Women’s games will be available live on the service, while men’s first team games will appear on-demand after airing elsewhere. Barca will also program a linear channel available in Catalan, Spanish, and English for subscribers.

While other leagues and teams have launched their own over-the-top offerings, few have the archival content that FC Barca owns, thanks to the FC Barca TV channel it launched over 20 years ago. That means many classic games, along with long-form interviews, will be newly available to consumers.

Barça TV+ is the product of over 18 months of planning by club management, involving more than 100 people, and its success could ultimately impact the club’s on-pitch competitiveness as COVID-19 has put a renewed spotlight on the status of the club’s finances. Players have already agreed to pay cuts with the total revenue hit caused by the coronavirus pandemic  likely to come in at well over 100 million euros. Even before this season was cut short, Forbes found in 2019 that Barca was the only club among the top 50 most valuable worldwide to post a loss on an operating basis.

Lee said he’s heard from club president Josep Maria Bartomeu on a near daily basis on the lead up to launch, with conversation frequently turning to just how many subscribers Barca should expect. Predictions are difficult given the service’s unique offering between live-sports heavy services like ESPN+ and smaller team-specific products that don’t have the same ambitions as FC Barcelona’s.

For now, management is targeting 30 million dedicated fans around the world, and they’re hoping people’s hunger for new soccer content, as well as the lack of live alternatives could drive a surge of interest.

Their early results will also serve as guidance for an entire sports industry looking towards direct-to-fan efforts and potential streaming services. For La Liga, OTT services reportedly contribute 8% of the Spanish league’s media revenue, with that percentage potentially hitting 20 by 2022. OTT revenue is often seen as a way to offset losses to cord-cutting, but the motivations behind the ongoing burst of new services go beyond direct dollars as well. 

“When you are sitting on someone else’s platform, the data is not yours,” CMO Guillem Graell said. “Having 350 million fans around the world is great, but reaching them is decided by someone else with a different objective.”

FC Barcelona’s top team, which includes superstar Lionel Messi, plays for a few hours a week (when they’re allowed to play at all), so creating a space for fans to connect with the team 24/7 is pivotal to retaining attention. In addition, subscriber data the club will soon be able to analyze will help it create better content and better monetize that fandom while serving supporters.

Still, Graell said the team will continue producing content for social media and other networks. Barca Studios is currently developing both a fiction project and an animated show that will debut in future years, possibly on a platform like Netflix or kept in-house on the OTT service.

“There will be a before and an after the OTT in the way we reach and engage our fan base,” Lee said. “There’s a new world that is opening today for us. I’m sure that in 50 years, when we look back, we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren, ‘We built the first OTT for FC Barcelona.’”

https://variety.com/2020/sports/soccer-players/fc-barcelona-launches-digital-service-1234623338/