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.

…[T]he NWSL … can certainly use a much needed global buzz by bringing a Barcelona brand into the mix.
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

What: FC Bayern is looking to the U.S. and potentially Latin America for growing its brand.
Why it matters: The interest FCB has cultivated in the U.S. is one that has Latino legs, and is certainly something to watch as the Americas head towards World Cup and a renewed and expanded interest in all things soccer.

When European soccer clubs look across the Atlantic they see one of the two most engaged and fastest growing business markets for soccer expanding every day. The United States, as well as China, continues to be an expansion areas not for professional play (it is hard to see the Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN) or Serie A (@SerieA_TIM) putting up franchises in Chicago or New York or Beijing right now) but for media, marketing, and perhaps most importantly, for cultivation of fans and a vibrant future talent pool.

While Major League Soccer (@MLS) continues to expand its professional footprint and USA Soccer resets its course with a new head and new board members, the elite clubs of the world continue to press ahead, with the help of engaged media companies like Fox and NBC, and soon Turner and the always-trying-to-expand BeIN SPORTS and others.

One of the clubs that certainly has set the bar is FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayern). A few years ago the club was one of the first to set up shop in the U.S., opening an office in New York not just for sales, but for expansion and engagement at all levels, especially in the digital space. The club did have an upcoming U.S. tour to market and eager brands that were familiar to the U.S. consumer like Audi, T Mobile, Allianz and Adidas, but that was not enough. Under the leadership of Rudolf Vidal, FCB built an amazing grassroots following, engaging fans in all 50 States, and they formed over 100 supporter clubs and have grown their U.S. specific following on a social platform like Twitter to over 130,000 engaged followers. They constantly stay in contact with their clubs through social, and have set a very high bar for engagement as other elite clubs look to expand their casual fan base in the United States.

According to Benno Ruwe, Head of Partnerships for FC Bayern Munich US, the next expansion of the brand and its partners could be south.

That social following has been a boom not just for the Bayern brand, but for its partners as well, who have been able to take the elite club and create a whole host of experiences for consumers who are now able to follow the club and its Bundesliga opponents throughout the season on FOX Sports as well as with the engaged social communities that Bayern has created in the United States. Also don’t forget all of this has happened without Bayern having a marketable rising American star regularly in its lineup, something that some of its rivals have had.

So as FCB continues its solid American work, what’s next? According to Benno Ruwe, Head of Partnerships for FC Bayern Munich US, the next expansion of the brand and its partners could be south. “We have enjoyed great success building here in the States in a marketplace that is still growing, and we are going to look to other areas in the near future to replicate that success, and Central and South America seem to be a place we will look,” he said recently during a leadership program at Columbia University. The engagement into Central and South America makes great sense for Bayern, as they have key members of their first team in Rafinha (Brazil), James Rodriguez (Colombia) and Arturo Vidal (Chile), giving them star power into markets that did not exist in the United States.

Arturo Vidal (Wikimedia Commons/Rufus46)

All those markets are obviously soccer strongholds so the “education process” will not be as vast, but cutting through the loyalties of local clubs could present a bigger challenge. The biggest opportunity according to Ruwe, will be with the seamless integration of Bayern’s elite brand partners into the mix.

“Our partners are very interested in activating in markets throughout Latin America, including Mexico, and we are very interested in that area as a key part of growth for our sport and for the FC Bayern Munich brand,” he added. “We also see a great opportunity to engage with new partners who have an affinity for both elite soccer and the Latino audience, and we believe we have a great chance to again expand our footprint beyond the traditional.”

While Ruwe was careful to point out that no formal plan for expansion deep into the Latino market has been announced, it is clear that the opportunity, and the basic model, FCB has cultivated in the U.S. is one that has Latino legs, and is certainly something to watch as the Americas head towards World Cup and a renewed and expanded interest in all things about “The Beautiful Game.”