Montevideo — Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez is back at the Nacional soccer club in his homeland and, in addition to goals, his return has also generated revenues and altered the daily management of the Montevideo-based club, which has treated the player’s return as if it were a new business unit.
Nacional has sold more than 6,000 Suárez shirts and has gained 4,000 new members since the announcement of the idol’s return, Nacional’s marketing manager, Felipe García, said during a conference at the Universidad Católica del Uruguay, where team officials and vice-president Gonzalo Lucas spoke about ‘the Suárez Case’.
Suárez returned to Uruguay earlier this year to join the Nacional club, a team he played for in 2005 and 2006, following his stint at Atlético de Madrid, a team he joined in September 2021 and where he played for two seasons, scoring 34 goals.
His Atlético stint followed six seasons at FC Barcelona, where the player nicknamed ‘el pistolero’ put away 198 goals, having previously scored 82 goals during his four seasons at English side Liverpool.
Nacional’s acquisition without taking on debt
Lucas, the soccer club’s vice president, who in addition to being a director of Nacional is a tax partner at Deloitte, said Suárez’s contract was under the premise of not generating new indebtedness for the team.
However, Suárez demanded a salary raise his salary to match that of the highest earning player in the squad, which is around $30,000 per month, in an agreement that also included profits from the sales of merchandise.
“Suárez made a very important sacrifice from a financial point of view. If he had demanded that we charge 50% of what the offer from another team was, Nacional would have had to go into debt ,or would have had to sacrifice investments,” Lucas said.
Ari Buszkaniec, the soccer club’s administration and finance manager, said there will be no new debt or budgetary deviations due to the arrival of the star player. What Nacional did do, in administrative terms, is to understand Suárez as its own business unit, Buszkaniec said.
In addition to paying Suárez’s salary, his move to the team implies greater security expenditure, as well as some logistical aspects that the club did not have to cover before.
Suárez signed a contract with Nacional until the end of this year, but will also be traveling to Qatar for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in November.
“This business unit for five months, which is Luis Suarez, could not divert us from the financial structure we had. If it produced a surplus [of earnings] it would obviously be welcome, but we could not have more indebtedness,” Buszkaniec said.
The club already has debts of around $30 million.
The revenues generated
Based on figures processed by Bloomberg Línea, the sale of around 6,000 jerseys would generate around $720,000, an exceptional for a small domestic market like Uruguay.
Sources at the club told Bloomberg Línea that there is an agreement with the player that he receive part of the proceeds from certain products, but the sources cited confidentiality clauses to avoid disclosing details of the percentages the player would obtain.
Nacional had 70,000 members prior to Suárez’s arrival, while the annual club membership fee is around $200, so if the 4,000 new members opted for upfront payment, the new additions to the fanbase would represent income of $800,000 for the soccer club.
Nacional also managed to get some 1,000 members who had stopped paying their membership fees to renew, given that, due to the high demand for match tickets, membership is now practically an essential requirement to see the team play at the Gran Parque Central stadium.
Nacional has also managed to reach audiences in 22 new markets, said communications manager Martín Sarthou. And at the social media level, the number of followers of Nacional grew by 20% and there were 89 million impressions of the hashtags #SuárezANacional and #SuárezEnNacional, according to the club’s figures.
The two brands
From the beginning, another challenge faced by Nacional was to coexist with the Suárez brand.
For example, the player is sponsored by sportswear brand Puma, while Nacional’s kit is made by rival Umbro. In addition, the striker is the visible face in Uruguay of several brands, but not all of them are sponsors of the club.
But this issue did not have cause major complications in the club’s daily management, Sarthou and García said, due to the player’s willingness to avoid friction due to commercial issues.
“It is agreed, and everyone can work with their brands without the need to have a negotiation or a limit,” said García said.
“We do not ask Luis not to work with brands that compete with our sponsors, as long as they do not touch the image of Nacional. And when he dresses for Nacional he knows that the sponsors that are there are those of the club. It’s a joint effort to work together,” García said.
The club’s objective is to work to “grow the [Suárez] brand as much as possible,” he said.
The club post-Suárez
But beyond the hype of the moment, for Nacional the key challenge is the post-Suárez era.
“We have to know how to take advantage of branding opportunities, with seats sold for 18 months, and how to keep new partners,” Buszkaniec said, while communications manager Sarthou also highlighted the challenge of maintaining the interest of a new audience and the media that today are interested in Nacional due to Suárez’s presence.
“The challenge is that once Suárez is gone, Nacional manages to be in as many places as possible,” Sarthou said.
From the marketing department, García said that the loyalty of the club’s members needs to be served by better experiences at the Gran Parque Central, as well as other services and products that increase the fans’ link with the team.
That challenge will begin soon however, as following the World Cup in Qatar, Suárez will likely be looking for his next challenge, amid media reports this week that the 35-year-old forward is in talks with Major League Soccer team LA Galaxy, where he would likely replace fellow Latin American striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández, the 34-year-old Mexican whose contract with the Californian team expires at the end of this year.