Barca Takes a New U.S. Entry Path: the NWSL

What: FC Barcelona announced this week that it intends to open an NWSL franchise in the U.S.
Why it matters: A European club seeing the value of a U.S. women’s team may open the floodgates for investment by others and new partnership opportunities worldwide.

Nadia Nadim (BDZ Sports)

While LaLiga (@LaLigacontinues on with its battle to stage a regular season match in Miami in January amidst still surprising pushback, a club made an interesting next step announcement with a new, lower cost and strategic play for a point of entry into the American marketplace.

On Tuesday, news broke that FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) are in discussions to place a women’s team in the National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) as early as next year, making them the only club from outside the US to have a team in the top-tier women’s soccer league.

[comillas]…[T]he NWSL … can certainly use a much needed global buzz by bringing a Barcelona brand into the mix.[/comillas]
Alex Morgan (Flickr/Jamie Smed)

“We are planning to open a franchise in the US, a Barcelona franchise in the American league,” said Javier Sobrino, Barcelona’s strategy and knowledge director, speaking at a conference in Qatar. “We are right now in discussion to see whether it is possible or not. It will be immediate, next season is our goal, if not the following one. A women’s team playing in the US.”

The proposed team would keep Barcelona’s name and is likely to play its home games in Los Angeles. The addition of the Spanish outfit would bring the number of teams in the NWSL up to ten, with the league hoping to have 14 franchises by 2020.

The move makes sense for a number of long-term business reasons. While men’s sides from elite clubs face many obstacles in growing the game with literal boots on the ground in the US, the emergence of women’s clubs in LaLiga, the Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN ‏) and even Serie A (@SerieA) have fewer hurdles for movement or growth. The Women’s World Cup (@FIFAWWCnext year will provide a really strong platform to boost women’s soccer even higher, and the NWSL, which thrives in markets like Portland (@ThornsFC ‏) and Orlando but struggles mightily in markets like the New York area, can certainly use a much needed global buzz by bringing a Barcelona brand into the mix.

The Portada Brands-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

From a grassroots side, having Barcelona’s system now available in the U.S. to cultivate and teach the explosive demo of young girls can help feed the growth of professional women’s soccer globally, and can, frankly, mine and develop future young players not just for professional play but for the college side as well. The fertile and still being defined Latina market is also prime if the club does end up in soccer-rich Southern California.

Then you also have brand exposure. With Barca having a commercial presence already in the U.S., having a fulltime club able to engage gives a new entry point for anyone looking to engage with the Barca brand from afar, while the elite men’s club plays elsewhere and can be viewed on beIN Sports (@beINSPORTS). No, it’s not exactly the same, but the brand ties between the men’s and women’s club are certainly a unique way of engagement and will draw positive attention, goodwill and even sponsorship towards a club with a deeper presence in the U.S. than perhaps any other global soccer club if the move happens.

Is there a risk? Minimal. Building a women’s club in the U.S. does not have the massive dollar investment that having an elite men’s club coming to play in say, MLS, would have. The reward, for the brand, for the grassroots, and for women’s sport far outweighs the issues, and the lessons learned and path carved is great news for women’s sport, let alone women’s soccer.

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Cover Image: credit Flickr/Jamie Smed