Starting next season, Rakuten (Japan's version of Alibaba or Amazon) will become Spanish football club FC Barcelona's main sponsor. The move is quite remarkable, because the Japanese giant shuttered a portion of its European activities earlier this year.
At least 55 million annually
The Catalan football club will be paid 55 million euro annually to feature Rakuten on its shirts, a record sum because no other shirt sponsor ever paid as much as that in the entire footballing world. If FC Barcelona manages to become champion of Spain, the sponsor will add another 1.5 million euro and if the Champions League comes to Catalonia, another 5 million euro gets added.
Rakuten, founded in 1997, had a 2015 turnover of 6.2 billion euro, employs 13,000 people and is worth approximately 14 billion euro. “Rakuten is Japan's largest internet company and one of the largest in the world. FC Barcelona is the largest club in the world and that is why we are such a good pairing", Rakuten CEO and co-founder Miroshi Mikitani (on the right in the picture) said at the official revelation.
“Globalize our brand name"
The CEO confirmed to the Financial Times that the Rakuten brand name should become a global household name thanks to this sponsorship. "Not that many people know Rakuten if we are honest. Therefore, this is our first step towards the globalization of our brand name and an important step towards our future strategy."
In Japan, its home territory, Rakutan seems to have hit its ceiling (with some 44,300 traders on its online platform) and that is why its growth is currently down to acquisitions, like the Snapchat competitor Viber, discount and cashback site Ebates, ebook specialist Kobo and several other technological companies. It is no secret that Hiroshi Mikitani wants to bring all of these companies together under 1 umbrella and the Barcelona sponsorship is the first step towards more brand awareness.
Nevertheless, people were puzzled at the announcement, because the Japanese company shut down its Spanish marketplace earlier this year, pulled out of Austria and Great Britain (where it had acquired Play.com only 5 years ago): "Too many costs compared to the size of the market", they said back then. The board announced its intentions to focus on its French (PriceMinister) and German (Tradorio, which has now changed into Rakuten) activities.