Lockdown created favourable conditions for Barcelona’s OTT launch, says digital chief

Barcelona FC’s head of digital, Didac Lee, believes lockdown restrictions and a ban on spectators when LaLiga matches resume this month have created favourable conditions for the launch of the club’s new OTT service, Barça TV+.

Speaking to SportBusiness on the day (Wednesday) the Spanish La Liga club officially launched the new streaming platform and initiated its new ‘Culers membership’ loyalty programme, Lee said one of the few positives to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis was that it had sped up the “digital transformation of businesses and society”.

He said: “What was expected to happen in three to four years has happened in two to three months.

“We’ve been working on these projects for the last few years and our original plan was always to release these products in these months, so it’s been a positive coincidence for us. We believe society nowadays is more prepared for these kinds of services than it was three months ago.”

The new OTT product is the central part of a two-year project to overhaul the Catalan club’s online services and create a new ‘digital ecosystem’ for fans.

The platform will offer delayed broadcast of Barcelona men’s first-team matches in LaLiga and the Uefa Champions League based on the respective rights restrictions for each competition.

The restrictions on Champions League rights allow Barcelona to offer delayed coverage from midnight on the day of the match. Delayed LaLiga coverage can be shown 24 hours after the match week is completed. However, the club suspects that LaLiga’s restrictions could be updated now that games will take place in a shorter timeframe when the league resumes behind closed doors this month.

Additionally, the service will show live coverage of academy matches and the club’s women’s team plus a selection of on-demand series and documentaries made at the clubs’ new in-house production operation Barça Studios.

Barça TV+ will be available worldwide via the club website and app and on all devices (PC, mobile and on television using cast technology). At launch the club said it will provide subscribers with more than 1,000 hours of content and 3,000 videos in three different languages (Catalan, Spanish and English).

Lee described the 100-person Barça Studios operation as the first of ‘two big bets’ the club has made in its digital capabilities. The second is a large-scale overhaul of its customer relationship management system which he likened to Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona ‘because it is never-ending’.

The club projects that the investment will help it to triple the €100m it generates annually in digital revenues in the space of the next five years.

FC Barcelona digital director Enric Llopart said the club will use the improved CRM and its new ‘Culers membership programme’ to ‘join the dots’ between its content, ticketing and e-commerce operations.

A yearly subscription to the Premium membership programme, which differs in price based on the geographic location of fans (see box, below) will give fans unlimited access to Barça TV+, as well as privileged access and discounts on tickets, special offers on the club’s new e-commerce platform and benefits from sponsors.

The club’s 155,000 existing ‘socios’, or members, will get access to all of the content on Barça TV+ for free, while supporter club members (‘penyas’) will get a 50 per-cent discount.

Llopart told SportBusiness: “The vision is creating an integrated digital ecosystem by Barcelona to attract mostly our core fans so they can have a direct relationship and a connection with us.

“And based on that data connection between the club and our core fans we can constantly refine new products and services for them, adapted to their needs, adapted to the way they want to interact with the club.”

In the same way that the new CRM will allow Barcelona to create content and products tailored to fans’ needs, Lee suggested that it could also help the club’s sponsors to refine their messaging and product offerings – although he was quick to clarify that the club will not share fan data with sponsors.

“I’m sure the sponsorship model in the future will change,” said Lee. “We’ll have fixed price sponsorships, but we’ll also have flexible fees depending on the sales we can help to get for sponsors.”

Read this: Barça expects sponsorship gains from new OTT service 

The club has said it will not focus on its new digital services to the detriment of its output on third-party social media platforms.

Llopart said: “At the end of the day it’s great to have these huge fanbases on social media; it’s great to have this huge engagement and that’s part of our strategy – it helps us to feed the top of the funnel.

“We cannot think that audience that we have for our OTT [service] will be same as the audience we will have for our YouTube channel. We have identified that there are different segments of audiences with different interests and different needs

“Our strategy is having competitive content on every one of the platforms where we have a presence. It’s not our style to be on a platform with content that is not good enough.”