You don’t need to be a sports fan to know about FC Barcelona. But if you are, (and if you’re a footy fan), then you know all about the surplus of world-class talent they’ve hosted over the years. You might also know that Barcelona went years without having a sponsor on their kit.
When they finally did partner up and put some text on their shirt in 2006, it was with UNICEF. That’s about as classy as it can get for your first sponsor. In fact, Barcelona donated €1.5m per year to supporting programs while UINCEF was their sponsor, and UNICEF didn’t pay a cent to have their branding on the Catalan club’s shirt. In 2011, Barcelona traded UNICEF for the Qatar Foundation and then Qatar Airways in 2013. From a business standpoint it makes perfect sense, so now they’ve gone ahead and signed the most lucrative kit sponsorship deal of all time.
The kicker here is that it’s all thanks to Gerard Pique, who will likely be the club’s president in the future.
Today, November 16, 2016, (for all you time travelers) FC Barcelona announced their new partnership with Rakuten Inc., the largest e-commerce site in Japan. Founder Hiroshi Mikitani was present at the announcement, but prior to that (about a year earlier) he was having dinner at Gerard Pique’s house.
“This is an agreement with a global brand with a lot of experience who can contribute to the success of Barcelona. We hope the partnership brings unparalleled sporting and commercial success. This all started at a dinner in 2015 which was organised by Pique in San Francisco during the club’s US tour.” said current Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
I'm with my friend Mickey visiting the Rakuten's office. Great time in Tokyo with him and his family! pic.twitter.com/cF8pFiBl1l
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) June 27, 2015
“Gerard and his wife Shakira are very close friends with Mr. M Mikitani. He helped us a lot to meet Mr. Mikitani, so we are very grateful to him.” he continued.
Barca vice president Manel Arroyo has said that the partnership with Rakuten does not cover the club’s training shirts, academy uniforms or the women’s team shirts. This gives Qatar Airways some leeway when it comes to still sponsoring the La Liga giants. The new deal with the Tokyo-based company will provide Barcelona with “55 million euros plus title incentives for the duration of the four-year contract.”
“I am very excited about joining the Barça community as I have personally followed the team for decades and have long admired their unique playing style and professionalism, their commitment to success and their culture of nurturing young talent – all values we share at Rakuten.” said Rakuten Chairman and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani.
Since 2012, Rakuten has been ranked among the world’s ‘Top 20 Most Innovative Companies’ in Forbes magazine’s annual list, and the company will serve as Barcelona’s first Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner. Does this mean we’ll see top-notch Japanese players breaking through to the Barcelona first team? That remains to be seen, but the Catalan club clearly have a keen eye for business. The new deal takes effect starting next season, so hold onto those Qatar kits… they might be worth something some day.