Xavier O'Callaghan, a longtime former handball player for Barcelona and the Spanish national team, has spent more than half his life working or playing for the club in one role or another. This summer, he was named managing director of Barça's N.Y. office. The new role meant moving to N.Y., a city he had only visited before taking over the role in July. But it did not take long for O'Callaghan to believe things were going to work out.
"I was leaving the airport to catch a cab [after landing in N.Y.]," he said. "And the first thing that I saw was a boy with his father, and the boy was dressed in an FC Barcelona shirt. I was thinking, 'This was on purpose, they want to motivate me ... Wait a second, is there a camera?' It was amazing."
He added that he was pleasantly surprised by how many kids he saw decked out in Barcelona gear at parks throughout the city the rest of the summer.
O'Callaghan spoke to SBD Global at the club's Park Avenue office in late November about a range of topics, including the recently-opened Barça Experience Haikou Exhibition Centre on Hainan Island, China, the types of U.S. companies the club views as potential sponsors and more.
Q: How would you describe the Barça Experience attraction in China?
O'Callaghan: It's amazing. I was there at the opening ceremony and I was impressed. The technology is really high-level, the space is really big, the experience is nice. You have a shop there. It's a very good way to understand the club. It's like a museum without the stadium. You have virtual reality so that you have the feeling that you're inside the stadium and can see everything. You have videos and screens with information and historical moments. And it's very interactive; you can play, you can shoot. Experience is the perfect name. It's something that maybe in the future, we could try to replicate here in the States because it makes sense. It's a very good way to introduce the club and be able to explain what we are doing all over the world. ... We will see, if it's working and it's a success, the next step could be to do it here.
Q: What are some of the sponsorship categories the club is looking to fill with U.S. companies?
O'Callaghan: We look for global brands, this is what we are looking for. You have big banks, but except HSBC or Citi, all the other ones are very local. So it's a big opportunity because you can invest and we are looking for banks in the U.S.A. that want to be partners with us. This is one of the things that we are doing right now here in the office. The second part is telecommunications companies. ... It's a market that is already divided, and it makes sense to do it. So we are investing in insurance, banks and telecommunications, those are the three main markets that we are looking for here in the United States.
Q: What is Barcelona doing to increase its presence in Latin America?
O'Callaghan: The business development team is divided in North America and Latin America. We are doing things there and we are talking to partners that specifically want to be promoted in Latin America. Scotiabank is a perfect example. It's a Canadian bank, but they have offices in several Latin American countries. They are promoting and activating the sponsorship they have with us there. We are supporting them with that. We send ambassadors and they use our academies as well because we have academies in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico. They also use the [FCB] Foundation, which is doing things here in New York specifically. And in Latin America, they are doing different programs and developing support in the local communities there. [Scotiabank has] a broad approach to be able to maximize the relationship that they have with FC Barcelona in Latin America.
Q: How is the search for a sponsor for Espai Barça coming along?
O'Callaghan: Espai Barça is a unique thing, a big thing. It's going to be a landmark. A lot of people from all over the world go just to see the stadium. If you go there, you will see how powerful the stadium is. How many people who are attracted to go there is amazing. The project is really nice. It's not just the stadium, it's the whole neighborhood, with open space, and it will be integrated into the community. ... It's a big opportunity and of course, the investment is huge. We are asking for a deal worth around €300 million ($340M), and you are talking about a 20- or 30-year relationship. So it's not so easy to find such companies who are really committed for such a long time.
CENTER OF INNOVATION: Barcelona Sports Analytics head Javier Fernández helped lead the club's fourth technology symposium in Barcelona in November, which drew organizations including Rakuten, YouTube, MIT, MLB, the NFL San Francisco 49ers, Formula 1 and the NBA. It was part of the club's Barça Innovation Hub project. Fernández spoke to SBD Global about the symposium and Barcelona's efforts to promote the exchange of knowledge throughout the football industry.
"It was an interesting event because it was the first kind of event in the world in which we could mix the coaches and the guys in analytics to talk about how to make decisions during a game and after the match ends," he said. "That's exactly what we're trying to do within the club: to merge the knowledge on football and the other sports that we have with information that analysts and other sports experts might have."
He said of the BIH in general, "Beyond what you can hear on leagues and what can be achieved with agreements with universities and organizations, the Hub this year really had an impact also inside the club. It will be fun to see how we can evolve the knowledge and share that knowledge. For example, beyond just the idea of gathering and sharing knowledge, there's the idea of building a methodology and process to really get good questions from coaches to understand the technical demands that we have."