Global Politics

Spain’s effort to brand itself is burning its soccer clubs

Real Madrid.jpg

Credit: REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso

The Real Madrid team pose for a team photo in August 1, 2013.

I recently did a video documentary on how the city of Madrid is selling the names of its plazas to corporate brands. But the country as a whole is moving in the opposite direction. Spain itself is now the brand. 

Like Corn Flakes. Or Play Dough. Spain may be what’s known as a country, but authorities here would like you to consider it a product, first and foremost. When you think “paella” it should be like thinking “Nike.” “Flamenco?” Same as “Gucci.” Think Spain and you’re to envision paradise and experience positive feelings and satisfaction.

Your gut should say, "Spain, yes, it is the right place to be. It’s the right product."

In Spanish, the brand is referred to as the “marca España.” You hear people in power talking about it constantly. Maybe too much.  

Over-marketing the brand contributed to Madrid losing its recent bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The Olympics pitch, delivered by the city’s Mayor, Ana Botella, went viral on social media afterwards. People made fun of her English, which wasn’t fair. But they also made fun of what she said, which was only fair. It’s worth watching, especially the part about the relaxing cup of coffee.

It was unabashed branding, and it rang artificial. Nobody bought it. 

But the latest move by the “marca española” is even more painful to watch. Yesterday, the European Commission announced it was investigating seven incidents of alleged illegal funding of Spanish soccer clubs, including powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Under scrutiny are tax breaks, guaranteed loans, and funds to build stadiums and training facilities. 

Those activities are illegal because soccer clubs are not public entities. Plus, subsidizing them gives them an unfair advantage over other clubs, in Spain and beyond. 

Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, was quick to respond to the European Commission's accusations.

"The government will fight to defend Spanish clubs because they're also part of the Spanish brand," he said. Unfortunately, Garcia Margallo did not go on to explain what he meant. Or how the "Spanish Brand" defense might stand up in court.  

Between this and the failed Olympics bid, a cautionary tale may be emerging: It makes no sense to create a brand, if you’re just going to tarnish it.

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