BARCELONA, Spain, Nov 17- Barcelona have signed a huge new sponsorship deal with Japanese firm Rakuten worth Sh25.4bn (£200million) in a significant show of commercial strength from the Spanish champions.
The four-year agreement, with an option of a one-year extension, which will see the Rakuten logo feature on Barcelona’s shirts from next season, enters the Catalan club into a tier of shirt-sponsor revenue matched only by Manchester United.
However, it could have been United’s neighbours, Manchester City, who had been part of the mega-deal, if they had agreed to play in red.
According to Spanish paper Mundo Deportivo, Rakuten had wanted to do business with City, offering a huge sponsorship deal if they agreed to the colour change, reminiscent of Cardiff City’s under Vincent Tan.
Tan changed the Bluebird’s shirts red for three seasons, in a move that was deeply unpopular with fans, because he thought it would bring the team luck, before returning to blue.
Japanese company Rakuten wanted to do a similar deal when they proposed a partnership with the Premier League side back in 2011.
However, City refused, leaving the Japanese firm to instead sign the bumper deal with Barca five years later.
Barcelona see Rakuten, who call themselves ‘Japan’s largest internet shopping mall’ as an ideal partner in their bid to expand the club’s brand in Asia.
The partnership is understood to be worth up to Sh6.7bn (£53m) per season, with Sh633mn (£5m) of that figure dependent on bonuses linked to success on the pitch.
The new figures represent almost double what Barca are earning on their current Sh3.7bn (£29m)-per-year Qatar Airways sponsorship.
Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu revealed that the early stages of negotiations with Rakuten came about from a meeting organised by defender Gerard Pique.
The former Manchester United star already holds commercial connections in Japan and was pictured visiting Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani last year.
Bartomeu said: ‘The deal began at a dinner hosted by Gerard Pique at Hiroshi Mikitani’s house in San Francisco in 2015.’
In securing a Sh6.3bn (£50m)-per-season contract, Barcelona president Bartomeu has satisfied the target he set when speaking to supporters at the club’s AGM in October of last year.
Rakuten’s deal follows a recent trend of only covering the sponsorship of the first-team shirts. A separate deal for Barca’s training kits is still to be negotiated and could be targeted by Qatar Airways – who are expected to stay on as the club’s official airline partner.
Bartomeu said in a statement: ‘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 has 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’.
Rakuten CEO Mikitani added: ‘This partnership opportunity is set to power our global brand strategy and, more importantly, as the Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner, we are looking to bring the collective power of our brands like Viber, Wuaki, Ebates, Kobo, PriceMinister to build a cool innovation framework that will deliver innovative solutions and services to fans, members and players’.
‘I am very excited about joining the Barca 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’.
Barcelona famously had no sponsor until they partnered with charity UNICEF in 2006 and from the 2011-12 season to the current campaign their shirts have featured the Qatar Foundation and Qatar Airways brands.
They currently trail leaders Real Madrid by two points at the top of La Liga, while leading their Champions League group that includes Manchester City and Celtic.
-By Daily Mail-