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Volume 22 No. 7
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Barça opens N.Y. office to grow U.S. fan base

Sitting inside FC Barcelona’s new Park Avenue office, President Josep Maria Bartomeu called the club’s decision to open its first U.S.-based office a simple one.

“We want to be closer to the people who like and follow our club, to learn and also to show this country what we know and help educate people about what we know about soccer,” he said.

Ronaldinho tutors kids from MS 129 in the Bronx at an FC Barcelona soccer camp.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Outreach to key markets such as the U.S. is just one part of the Spanish club’s plans to increase its annual revenue from $753 million to $1.1 billion by 2021, but Barcelona is also the latest European club that is putting heavy emphasis on courting American fans through local relationships.

“At the end, of course it is to get more revenue, but we come to the U.S. to be closer to children through our soccer schools and our foundation, because those children should be the new fans for the future, ones that will be very knowledgeable about football,” he said. “We are not coming here to do three or four deals and then go back to Spain; we come here to be with the people who like soccer and who like Barça.”

The New York office, which opened Sept. 7, is Barcelona’s second international outpost. It opened a Hong Kong office in 2013.

Setting up shop in the U.S. also allows Barcelona to be closer to two important business partners, CAA Sports and Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment, who are assisting the club in securing a new kit partner and the worldwide naming rights and sponsorship for its stadium and sports facility development, respectively. Barcelona’s U.S.-based sponsors include Nike, Gatorade, Stanley Black & Decker and Gillette, and Bartomeu said the club expects to secure additional U.S.-specific deals in the coming year on the back of the new office expansion.

The club plans to expand its FCBEscola soccer school program, which it first expanded to Miami in 2014, throughout the country. The club opened its second location in Charlotte this summer and aims to open a New York branch by the end of the year, with more than 37 total camps and schools planned before the summer of 2017. It will also extend its efforts with both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF on programs related to childhood health, education and other matters to the U.S.

Other European clubs with soccer developmental academies and schools in the U.S. include Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Everton, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. Those relationships are focused on sharing training and coaching methods, as opposed to strictly mining the area for talent.

Bayern Munich, which opened its U.S.-based office in 2014 and recently expanded to a larger space in New York earlier this summer, has followed a similar plan over the past two years of investing toward supporting soccer.

“To influence your revenue streams, it’s all about your brand and your fan base — the stronger either are, the more that stream is influenced,” said Jörg Wacker, executive board member for internationalization and strategy at Bayern Munich. “When we analyzed the market, we saw there are more than 75 million Americans interested in soccer, about 25 million active players, and if you look deeper, 18 million under 18 years old, so the potential there is amazing.”

Bayern signed a partnership with Global Premier Soccer in 2014 to launch training programs and camps throughout the U.S., but it also focused on signing a number of U.S.-based content partnerships, as well as launching a host of digital platforms and products specifically focused on the U.S. fan. That has also helped it grow its number of U.S.-based fan clubs from eight in 2014 to more than 100.

“Our goal has always been to be visible in the States 365 days a year, 24/7, and while we may not have a marketing budget to accomplish that, we have amazing content from our club that we are using to drive that strategy,” Wacker said. “It’s about creating ground noise around the year, and then we have the matches, Champions League and tours on top of that.”

For AS Roma, digital is the forefront of its push into the American market, an investment that Jim Pallotta, chairman and president of AS Roma, thinks speaks to the fan as well.

“We are trying to really be at the forefront when it comes to the way that technology is changing interactions with fans,” Pallotta said, touting that it was one of the first European clubs to stream a match live on Facebook and via Periscope, publish on a Medium account and use Google Glass. “Playing games in the U.S. gives us a lot of exposure, especially when considering the status of the Italian league on television in the country, but when we look at the investments we’ve made in the tech distribution and content side, it’s a long game for us,” he said.

Roma had its U.S. commercial staff based at Pallotta’s Boston-based Raptor Group Holdings but have since relocated them to London to be more central to global deals. Pallotta said that while more American companies understand the value of European club soccer, investing more in reaching fans is ultimately the goal.

“Having this number of followers is a nice thing to talk about with potential partners, but what we want to be able to show is a real solid footprint on a ground in the U.S.,” he said.