Hurdles remain for FC Barcelona's NWSL effort
FC Barcelona has been pursuing its own club in the NWSL, an initiative being backed by the highest executives of the Spanish club. However, multiple hurdles remain, including the legality of dropping their brand into a single-entity league.
In May 2017, the club’s board of directors publicly acknowledged that it had approved a plan to launch a club in the NWSL as part of its support of women’s athletics and soccer, as well as to aid the growth of the club’s brand in the U.S. FC Barcelona operates more than 17 clubs in different sports in Spain, including a women’s soccer team. The initiative was being pushed by the club’s New York City-based office, which opened in September 2016 as its first permanent presence in the U.S.
“When we look at the U.S., we see how good it is here for women’s football,” Xavier O’Callaghan Ferrer, managing director of the Americas for FC Barcelona, said in a recent interview. “We see [an NWSL club] as an asset that can promote our brand, promote awareness about women’s sports, and promote women, which fits right in with our way of thinking.”
However, the club has an important condition: The NWSL club must exactly mirror its Spanish sister teams, down to the same jersey made by its manufacturer, Nike.
“If we are to take part in this competition, it can only be if we’re wearing the same crest, same sponsor, same shirt — it is the only way that it will work, and it’s not so easy,” O’Callaghan Ferrer said.
That has raised the eyebrows of clubs that have been approached by FC Barcelona regarding partnering around the team, as well as with U.S. Soccer, which runs the NWSL.
Barcelona’s main target for the location of the club has been California, leading to conversations with both LAFC and the San Jose Earthquakes about partnering with them, as well as potentially playing games at their respective stadiums. However, industry sources said that Barcelona’s firm position to only have the team play under its brand raised concerns at both clubs. San Jose is no longer in discussions with Barcelona, although the team remains interested in the NWSL, according to an industry source. LAFC is still in conversation with Barcelona, but it is also considering launching its own NWSL club, according to industry sources. Both U.S. clubs declined to comment.
That has pushed Barcelona’s focus toward Miami, where an MLS club led by Jorge and Jose Mas and David Beckham is expected to launch in 2020 with a new stadium. “California, and Los Angeles, would be the perfect place, but we’re open to discussions as there are other places that could be fits for us,” said O’Callaghan Ferrer.
There also remains the issue of how the FC Barcelona branding and other elements could be best integrated into the NWSL.
U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn said he has been in consistent conversation with the club, but noted that the issues above need to be worked out. The NWSL declined to comment.
UCLA law professor Steven Bank said the club’s desire to mirror its other jerseys could present issues for the single-entity NWSL. The club and U.S. Soccer each have deals with Nike, but the latter’s contract — which covers the NWSL — expires in 2022, and other companies may be dissuaded from bidding for that deal if the league’s most visible club will always wear Nike.
O’Callaghan Ferrer said the club knows it must continue to work with the federation and with the NWSL to see if these issues can be worked out. Initially the club stated its goal was to launch an NWSL team in 2018, but O’Callaghan Ferrer said he believes 2020 would be the earliest it would now be possible.
“We want to find a way that everyone is winning something,” O’Callaghan Ferrer said. “If we are creating more problems than benefits, then it’s over; we won’t do it.”