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What: Barcelona open up their 45th academy in Puebla, Mexico.
Why it matters: Barcelona expand their football influence in the Americas and continue their global initiative to grow their brand of football.

Barcelona Goes in For Mexico

It has certainly been a busy few weeks for  Barcelona FC (@FCBarcelona). Earlier this week La Liga announced that the elite club would play Girona in Miami in January, making the first time two European clubs would play a regular season match in the United States , which followed last week’s announcement of  the opening of their new academy in Puebla, Mexico. The newest Barcelona academy is the 45th football school for the La Liga leaders and the 23rd academy on an American continent. Between North and South America, Barcelona has eight academies in the United States, six in Canada, three in Colombia, two in Brazil and one each in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The Puebla Academy’s inauguration was oversaw by the director of Barça’s Academy Project, Carles Martin.

The Barça Academy has been the club’s model for youth soccer development with the main goal not to find the next “Messi” or “Iniesta” but rather, “to grow the Barça brand and transmit the work ethic and values of the Club around the world.”

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More Than A Club

The academies under Barcelona have recently undergone a makeover. Earlier this year, the academies changed their names from “FCBEscola to “Barça Academy” (https://bit.ly/2LQBhdp).

Barcelona FC President, Josep Maria Bartomeu

Escola is Catalan for school, a nod to the Club’s roots and region, but the rebranding was done in an attempt to boost the club’s presence and improve marketability in North America. The newest academy keeps the Club on par with Barcelona FC’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s vision to make Barcelona the most prominent sports entity in the world by 2021.

Speaking to NBC Latino last year on Barcelona’s global strategy to expand its own brand and grow the sport in the Americas, the former Business Development Director for Barcelona’s New York office, Arturo de la Fuente said “We are proud to say that we are a Catalan club, but més que un club is the mentality of the club; we develop human beings, we are socially responsible.”

The famous club motto has always symbolized regional Catalan pride. But Bartomeu’s global strategy has demonstrated that the club’s philosophy is not geographically bound to any country, nation, or city.

Barcelona players and Latino superstars, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez

The Barça Academy has been the club’s model for youth soccer development with the main goal not to find the next “Messi” or “Iniesta” but rather, “to grow the Barça brand and transmit the work ethic and values of the Club around the world.” Such work ethic and values include the idea of playing beautiful football for one’s community and not only for money or glory. It is this trademark of Barcelona that resonates with US parents who want their children to take a holistic approach to the game. Hispanic communities are and have always been an integral part of the club’s overall strategy given the cultural ties and the amount of Latino players that have played and currently play for Barcelona. Players such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, and Brazil’s Coutinho. This new academy in Puebla, Mexico reaffirms how important these communities are as Barcelona FC continue to push its global initiative. Perhaps even more importantly, both moves show Barça’s two pronged approach to North American growth, expose the club directly into the marketplace with a historic match, while building a future generation with elite grassroots efforts.

Now that’s smart soccer business.

What: Forbes has issued its annual Top 100 Highest Paid Athletes list, with a record of 17 Latinos earning mention.
Why it matters: The earning power of Latinos worldwide is stronger than ever, with opportunities for these athletes, whether primarily English or Spanish speaking, continues to increase.

This past week Forbes (@Forbescame out with its annual list of the Top 100 Highest Paid athletes in the past year, and for brands looking to engage Latino athletes, the news is stronger than ever.

Of the 100, 17 are Latino, the highest amount ever on the list, with sports ranging from soccer and basketball to boxing and auto racing. Their appeal is global, and their brand resonance and the loyalty of their followers is higher than most athletes on the list.

Forbes’ earnings figures for the list included all prize money, salaries, and bonuses earned between June 1, 2017 and June 1, 2018. In the case of baseball players, the listed salary will include salary from the 2017 and 2018 seasons, as well as any signing, award or playoff bonuses.

Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees and licensing income for the 12 months through June 1 based on conversations with dozens of industry insiders. The golfers’ income includes course design work. Forbes does not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees, and does not include investment income. The list includes athletes active at any point during the last 12 months.

Now you see more young kids with Barcelona jerseys than Knicks jerseys sometimes.

While Americans naturally dominated the list with 65 athletes thanks to the sky-high salaries in the major U.S. sports leagues, The Dominican Republic and Spain had three athletes each, while Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela all have two.

The world’s elite soccer players, Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar are all top five earners, and with World Cup in the horizon, their brand value will continue to rise. Other soccer stars on the list include Oscar (at 56), Luis Suarez (60), and Sergio Aguero (86). Three MLB stars with deep Latino roots, Miguel Cabrera (54), Yoenis Cespedes (71), Felix Hernandez (63) and Albert Pujols (49) are there, along with NBA players Al Horford (51), Brook Lopez (95), Carmelo Anthony (38) and Marc Gasol (84).

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Boxer Canelo Alvarez (US $44.5 million) was a big mover up the list. Alvarez jumped 28 spots to 15, while tennis star Rafa Nadal was again among that sport’s elite.

Messi (credit: Wikimedia/Oemar)

“We are in a time now where I think the global success of athletes is becoming clearer, especially due to social media and philanthropy,” said Harrie Bakst, co-founder of Weinstein Carnegie (@wcpgco), a firm which specializes in cause marketing around athletes and celebrities, including Pele’s foundation. “There was a time when you would walk the streets of New York or Chicago and mention a global soccer star like Messi and people would not know who he was. Now you see more young kids with Barcelona jerseys than Knicks jerseys sometimes. The language, especially Spanish, is less of a barrier and that’s great news for the athletes, brands, and sports in general. The opportunity is only going to get bigger.”

The list is a great reflection of what the marketplace is seeing, that ROI for brands no longer has to be hyper-local, if athletes are engaged they can create demand around the globe, and with the rise of Latino buying power in North America, their athletes, whether they are English or Spanish language first, are becoming more and more of a force in the business world.

Cover image: Keith Allison

What: Tech newcomer Tronsmart has signed Uruguay National Team star Luis Suárez as brand ambassador in advance of the FIFA World Cup next month.
Why it matters: Brands that don’t have the wherewithal for official FIFA World Cup partnerships can still find under-the-radar ways of promoting their products during the time when soccer fever is highest across the world.

The FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCupis nearly upon us, with Group Play in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities just six weeks away. Global brands are finding their way into the games, whether through official sponsorships or back-door via deals with individual athletes as spokesmen.

Upstart Chinese tech firm Tronsmart (@Tronsmart ), founded less than five years ago to take advantage of the burgeoning global live streaming TV box market, has kicked off marketing to soccer fans by signing Uruguay National Team star Luis Suárez as brand ambassador in a deal announced this week. While not thought of by some fans in the same breath as other South American countries like Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has a deep, strong World Cup history and is considered a solid contender to advance out of Group play by many prognosticators.

With World Cup sponsorships coming fast and furious leading up to and through the summer, a brand like Tronsmart may have found an under-the-radar way to reach sports fans.

The prolific goal scorer (@LuisSuarez9), who also stars for FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona), is an inspired if perhaps risky choice for the Shenzhen-based firm’s first real foray into sports marketing. The Salto native made headlines in the last World Cup in Brazil, having been found to have bitten Italian player Giorgio Chiellini during a match. That cost him a sponsorship with fledgling online poker company 888poker thereafter and was suspended for a time because of the action.

But Suárez has bounced back, leaving Liverpool and the Premier League after the incident and moving to La Liga, where he’s been a consistent scorer for Barça. He was able to keep his Adidas sponsorship and is still active with numerous partners in his native Uruguay, including telecommunications giant Antel.

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“Mr. Suárez is an international icon that has won fans all around the world,” said Mr. Eric, Chairman of Tronsmart, in a statement. “He is an extraordinary football player and a wonderful family man. I am looking forward to watching Mr. Suárez compete this year and will be rooting for him!”

With World Cup sponsorships coming fast and furious leading up to and through the summer, a brand like Tronsmart may have found an under-the-radar way to reach sports fans in its target markets in the Americas as well as Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

Cover image courtesy of Tronsmart.