Last year, FC Barcelona reported the highest annual revenue in the history of sports, a 12% jump over the previous year. The club is an icon of global football through a combination of its superstar players and rich history, and most recently ranked third on Forbes' annual list of the world's most valuable sports franchises, as well as the top sports team on social media.
But while the club's players like Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez play their trade at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, a significant portion of its revenue comes from U.S.-based brand partnerships with companies like Nike, Gatorade, Black & Decker, and Gillette. This year alone, the club signed a new kit deal with Nike worth a reported $170 million a year.
Now to strengthen and grow its business and fan relationships in the U.S., the club has opened a new flagship headquarters on Park Avenue in New York City. The move follows the club's announcement in May that it will be opening its second American soccer academy in Charlotte, North Carolina—the first in Miami launched in 2014. The club is planning to expand its FCBEscola soccer schools throughout the country, with a New York-based school planned for later this year, and a total of 37 more camps and schools planned between now and next summer.
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu says that now was the right time, given the club's academy commitments, brand business relationships, and its work with UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"It was time to not be constantly going back and forth from Barcelona, but to come here and establish a permanent contact point for the club for new business, for us to come and learn more about the sport in North America, and also for our supporters to see we're coming to be closer to them," says Bartomeu. "One of our main sponsors is Nike, and we have other relationships with other American companies, so it's important for us to be interested in their country, and we expect new brands will be in touch with us to get more involved in global soccer."
Two years ago, FC Barcelona opened its first foreign office in Hong Kong as a gateway to the lucrative Asian market, and Bartomeu says it has provided a blueprint for its goals out of the new U.S. office.
"The experience there was very useful," he says. "We were one of the first clubs to set up in Asia, and being there and doing business in a number of languages attracted many new (corporate partners). And our fans have responded well to us being there over social media, and it's been incredible. There are projects launching there in the coming months that we just couldn't have done from Barcelona."
While not the first giant European football brand to hang its shingle in Manhattan—German champs Bayern Munich opened its American doors in 2014—the sheer size and commercial reach of the Barcelona sports brand (along with its star players like Messi and Neymar) already gives it a significant advantage over other rivals looking to woo American fans and corporate partners.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the club is the exposure of its actual soccer games. Fox's beIN Sports holds La Liga broadcasting rights in the U.S. and is available in about 18 million American households, while the English Premier League deal with NBC Sports Network gives global football brands like Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, and more exposure to more than 85 million households.