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Spanish soccer giant Barcelona expands into U.S. market

Spanish soccer giant Barcelona expands into U.S. market
FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu, left, and Ronaldinho pose at a party in New York City on Sept. 6. (Ed Mulholland / Getty Images for FC Barcelona)

FC Barcelona has opened a corporate office in New York, joining Germany's Bayern Munich as the only European soccer clubs with a permanent, stand-alone presence in the United States.

Barcelona officials said the team will use the office, at 250 Park Ave., to build marketing partnerships and strategic collaborations in the United States while expanding the club's global footprint as part of a five-year strategic growth plan. Barcelona opened an office in Hong Kong three years ago.

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"We are here with one focus. That is to be present in the market looking for opportunities for sponsors for our club," said Manel Arroyo, the club's vice president of marketing and communications. "Just looking for companies that can use our club, our brand to expand and to promote the brands globally."

Arroyo said the club is planning additional marketing offices in Beijing and Latin America. But the team has ambitious plans that go beyond growing revenue. Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu said the team would also like to form an expansion franchise in the National Women's Soccer League, talks the league said have not advanced beyond the preliminary stages. Barcelona is also planning a broad network of youth soccer academies.

The team already has one school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is opening another in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday. Another three dozen soccer schools and camps will be opened over the next year, the team said.

"What we want is to share with you our knowledge, our expertise in managing the sport. To create new players with our schools," Arroyo said. "One of the targets is to learn from you, to learn from this territory, from this country that [is] clearly leading the business in the sport industry.

"And for sure our marketing tools, our marketing teams, are going to learn a lot."

Arroyo said the explosive growth of soccer in the United States — both in terms of spending and the level of the play — in recent years influenced the timing of Barcelona's move into the North American market.

"One of the matters that pushed us to open this office is clearly the fact that our understanding with our data, it's obviously that we can see that soccer is a sport with a huge future," he said. "The role of soccer is absolutely relevant in the country and we need to be around.

"And, clearly, also we are open to discussing with the different leagues how we can cooperate all together to help in the development of the sport in the U.S."

That could also mean more summer tours of the United States by Barcelona's first team, which last visited two years ago, drawing more than 93,000 to the Rose Bowl for a friendly with the Galaxy. Arroyo promised the club would return to the United States within the next two years.

Forbes estimates Barcelona's worth at $3.55 billion, making it the world's third-most-valuable sports franchise. The team, led by five-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, has won 24 La Liga titles and five Championship League crowns.

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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