Madrid looking to add fizz to Financial Fair Play

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Even some of the most die-hard Madridistas will have scoffed at the 86 million pounds splashed on Gareth Bale last summer. Yet, Real Madrid could be set to announce a sponsorship deal that would almost wipe that out in just one year.

Los Blancos are looking to redevelop their famous Santiago Bernabeu stadium -- which sits on the pristine Paseo de la Castellana -- with work possibly starting as soon as the end of this season, and they're aiming to secure a huge deal for the naming rights to help with the costs.

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Technology giants Microsoft had been the front-runners to seal the deal before Christmas, but now American soft drink company Coca-Cola are reportedly in the driving seat, with reports suggesting a deal could be worth 70 million pounds a year. That's one "Galactico" per season for president Florentino Perez.

This is the kind of deal that five years or so ago would have sparked outrage: How can such a world-famous club and stadium stoop so low as to change the name of its stadium for a bit of cash? The so-called smaller clubs, maybe, but Real Madrid? Sacrilege!

That was five years ago. Now, clubs big and small are looking to bag any deal they can to beat Financial Fair Play (FFP) and stay ahead of the rest. Barcelona, more than a club, in the last few years announced a deal with Qatar Airways that now sees the company's logo, along with Barca players, stretched across the Camp Nou. The Catalan club has also sealed a deal with Intel that will see their logo adorned on the inside of their shirts. Novel. See English giants Arsenal and Manchester City, and the Emirates Stadium and Etihad Stadium respectively, too. See Bayern Munich and their Allianz Arena. The times, they are a-changing and Madrid don't want to be left behind.

Madrid has always been a club that, alongside Manchester United and Barca, leads the way in off-the-field income. A look to Los Blancos' mid-season friendly against Paris Saint-Germain in Doha was the perfect case in point. Good preparation for the return of La Liga? More like a cool few million in the bank and some extra exposure for Madrid around the globe. These kind of matches, as with pre-season tournaments overseas (and matches against clubs such as lower-division English clubs Leicester City and Bournemouth), have been growing in popularity since the introduction of FFP and won't slow down. They'll become the norm.

That's why a deal to name the Bernabeu looks set to be a shrewd bit of business by Perez. Some will question just why Madrid are redeveloping a stadium that is already one of the most modern in Spain and most recognised in the world. It may not be brand-spanking new, but out-of-date it is not -- far from it. The redevelopment of the east stand has only relatively recently been completed and it is superb. The rest of the stadium has been improved in a fabulous way. The capacity will not be increased; the redevelopment will just make things more attractive on the eye. If Perez can manage this without spending a penny, and in getting a sponsor to pay out, then Madrid are winners. Not just now, but in the future, too.

In the Puerta de Sol, the central "square" in Madrid and "Kilometre Zero" of Spain, the locals have taken exception to mobile phone operator Vodafone sponsoring the Metro and even the Christmas tree over the festive period. Signs and symbols have been crossed out on and around the square and throughout the scores of trains that pass through the underground. But it's a sign of the times. Not just in Spain, struggling economically, but in London, too, where they are also mulling over sponsorship deals for the underground network. Every penny counts.

It could be worse for Madridistas. It could be Coca-Cola's greatest rivals, Pepsi, who also sponsor Barcelona's Lionel Messi. Pepsi this week announced their roster of players to push their brand during this World Cup year and the Argentine was again part of it -- alongside Madrid defender Sergio Ramos and other top names from around the footballing world. The duo are going all-out in their sponsorship war this year, but Coca-Cola are leading the way as one of the main sponsors of the World Cup in Brazil. A deal to name the Bernabeu would be the icing on the cake.

If Madridistas still want to see the big names at the Bernabeu, they have to accept these new ways of attracting income -- and they will. A cool 70 million pounds per season cannot be sniffed at, not when you have high aims and high expectations. Madrid won't just be rolling with the times with this new naming deal; they'll be leading them, as they often do.

For those it does offend, it will always be known as the Santiago Bernabeu, anyway -- at least among the fans.

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