Barcelona arrive in New York looking to expand US market

NEW YORK: Barcelona's official motto is "mes que un Club", or "more than a club" in the Catalan language.

In an effort to take over the US market, the Spanish soccer powerhouse is showing that it's also a global, multimillion dollar business.

Looking to capitalise on its biggest assets — superstars like Lionel Messi and Neymar — and the growing popularity of soccer in the US, Barcelona opened a commercial office in New York that will lead the team's efforts to expand its business, gain more fans across the Atlantic and help the sport grow in America.

"We are coming to open new lines of relationships with a lot of companies," Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu said Tuesday during the opening of the office. "Being in the U.S., probably other brands, other companies will like to partner with us."

Barcelona already has commercial deals with four American companies — Nike, Gillette, Gatorade and Black & Decker. It also claims to be the most popular soccer team in the country with about 19 million fans, followed by Manchester United with 17 million. The Premier League club is owned by the U.S.-based Glazer family, which also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL, and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Barcelona has played in sold-out summer tours in the U.S. in recent years, and operates soccer academies in Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina, with more planned for New York and other cities, Bartomeu said.

Francesco Calvo, the club's chief revenue officer, said Barcelona generated $680 million in revenue last year. Their target is to increase the overall revenue to $1 billion by 2021, with the US market considered an important factor in that growth.

"The (US) domestic (market) is key," said Manel Arroyo, Barcelona's vice president for marketing and communications. "But it's also key that American companies can discover in us a platform to be known around the world."

The Spanish league, La Liga, and other European clubs like Bayern Munich already have offices in New York. Barcelona opened its first overseas post two years ago in Hong Kong to oversee its efforts in Asia.

"US and China are the main markets, the places where football is growing faster," Arroyo said.

But even if other clubs arrived first in the US, Barcelona has something every other team in the world desires: Messi.

The five-time FIFA Player of the Year has led the team to unprecedented success on and off the field, winning the Champions League four times and the Spanish league eight times in the last 10 years. His stellar play and on-field prowess translates to financial bonanza for Barcelona.

"Leo Messi is basic for us," Bartomeu said. "Everybody wants Leo Messi on their team, and there's a reason for that. (Messi is) not only a sports objective, but more than a sports objective."

Besides expanding the brand and reaching out to fans, Arroyo said the club is in New York to learn from US leagues like the NFL and NBA, which he considers the "benchmark" in the global sports industry.

"The sports industry in this country is number one, without a doubt," he said, "and clearly one of the focuses in this office is to learn from this country."