Above: FC Barcelona’s ‘senyera’ kit, depicting the Catalan flag. (Image via www.fcbarcelona.com)
As the campaign for Scottish independence draws to a close, Catalonia is preparing for the next phase of a push to split from Spain. The vote is scheduled to take place on November 9th, however it is debated whether or not the vote’s outcome will be considered legal and subsequently upheld. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is home to one of the biggest football clubs in Europe, and should Catalan independence be reached, FC Barcelona would be expelled from the Spanish football league, Liga BBVA. While this may be considered insignificant for many Catalans who are attempting to preserve their own culture and traditions, it is definitely not to be overlooked in the football world, or in China for that matter.
Catalan independence has been a topic of heavy discussion on Chinese social channels, with over 25,000 mentions about the impending vote in the past 30 days. Much of the discussion has centered on the concept of a domino theory, with Weibo users suggesting that should Scotland vote yes, it’s only a matter of time before Spain follows suit and submits to Catalan wishes (assuming that’s the way the vote goes in November). However for each political post, there is equal talk about what it will mean for FC Barcelona. For example, a Sina Sports post about Catalan independence resulting in Barcelona’s La Liga expulsion received over 900 comments from concerned fans.
So what will this mean for La Liga’s popularity in China? Spain’s top league entered Chinese social media early in October 2012, making them the first European football league to adopt a Chinese social media strategy. However their growth has been extremely slow, and after two years, have only 182,000 followers with minimal activity, engagement and recognition. What little discussion exists is mostly fueled by the extensive presence of Spanish clubs and players alike. Spanish clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the most popular football clubs on Chinese social media, although Barcelona more than doubles their fiercest competitor’s presence with over 2.5 million followers on Weibo.
So the expulsion of Barcelona from La Liga would not only see off the most successful club in Spain with 81 official titles (including 22 La Liga championships), but also the most popular Spanish club in China, further contributing to the demise of La Liga’s popularity in China. What that would do to the club’s own popularity is hard to say, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that La Liga needs FC Barcelona a lot more than Barcelona needs La Liga – at home, and abroad.