Rakuten to drive Barcelona’s global brand growth as new main sponsor

Spanish LaLiga football club Barcelona has today (Wednesday) announced that Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten will become its new main sponsor, replacing Qatar Airways.

Rakuten has signed a four-year deal, covering the 2017-18 to 2020-21 seasons, to become the main global sponsor of the club and to appear on the front of the first team’s shirt. The deal will be worth a basic €55m ($60.7m) per season, with an option to extend for a fifth year.

Serving as Barcelona’s global innovation and entertainment partner, Rakuten said it would seek to bolster the Catalan giant’s digital presence, adding it intended its partnership to be ‘mes que un sponsorship’ – a play on Barcelona’s famous club motto of more than a club.

“As FC Barcelona’s main global partner, Rakuten is set to power our global brand strategy and, as FCB’s first-ever global innovation and entertainment partner, we are looking to bring the collective power of our brands like Viber, Wuaki, Ebates, Kobo, and PriceMinister to build an innovation framework that will deliver innovative solutions and services to fans, members and players,” Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and chief executive of Rakuten, said.

Rakuten’s Viber, the global mobile messaging and calling app, will also become Barcelona’s official communications channel.

Josep Maria Bartomeu, president of Barcelona, said talks over a possible deal had first commenced in 2015. He added: “We are delighted with our agreement with Rakuten, a global brand in innovation whose experience and know-how in the fields of big data, communications and e-commerce will contribute to the future success of FC Barcelona.

“This agreement puts us at the forefront of sports club sponsorships, which have always been an objective for the current board of directors. We hope this partnership between Rakuten and FC Barcelona brings unparalleled sporting and commercial success, and helps the club achieve its goal of being a reference point worldwide.”

Barcelona members last month approved extensions of deals with Qatar Airways and sportswear company Nike. At the club’s 2016 ordinary general assembly, a one-year extension of the Qatar Airways deal, through to the end of the 2016-17 season, was rubber-stamped.

Of those present, there were 483 votes in favour of the extension and 251 votes against the agreement, which is worth €33.5m ($37m). Sixty votes were blank. The agreement was first revealed in July, while a 10-year extension with kit provider Nike was also ratified, through to the end of the 2027-28 campaign.

Qatar Airways replaced non-profit organisation the Qatar Foundation as the club’s main shirt sponsor. The Qatar Foundation held the position during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons as part of the club’s association with Qatar Sports Investments.

United Nations children’s fund Unicef became Barcelona's first-ever front-of-shirt sponsor in 2006. Unicef, whose branding now features on the back of the club's shirts, occupied the prime spot until the Qatar Foundation took over in 2011.