Spanish football giant FC Barcelona said it has not ruled out following rival Real Madrid and putting its name to a bigger branded project in the UAE, but is first focusing on raising its profile in the region.
The club, which already has a sponsorship deal with UAE telco Etisalat and in March unveiled Qatar Airways as its first ever commercial shirt sponsor in 113 years, this week further strengthened its ties in the Gulf region by signing a three-year partnership with UAE lender United Arab Bank (UAB).
Last year, rival Real Madrid announced it had signed a deal with the government of Ras Al Khaimah and Luxembourg-based RAK Marjan Island Football Investment Fund to develop a $1bn branded 50-hectare resort, which would include a theme park, a stadium and a museum dedicated to the Spanish club, sports facilities and residential units and a luxury hotel.
While construction has stalled on the Ras Al Khaimah project due to funding constraints, FC Barcelona vice-president Javier Faus said the Catalonian club had not ruled out a move to launch an ambitious project once it had established its brand in the region.
“We don’t announce big projects, which we don't know if they will ever materialise or not", he said. “So far we are very, very happy about the way we work out our partnership structure. We go step by step... Once we are bigger and well-known in the (UAE)... we don’t rule out the possibility of then doing something more ambitious.”
Speaking about the latest deal, UAB CEO Paul Trowbridge said the attraction of the sponsorship agreement was the chance to tap into the 500,000-strong fan base FC Barcelona currently has in the UAE.
"We're excited about this alliance," he said. "This is something that our competitors cannot match.”
Faus denied the club was "selling out" after previously refusing corporate sponsorships, saying it was a commercial reality of both a successful team and in depressed European economy.
“We have ten World Cup players and we have [Lionel] Messi, we have Neymar [da Silva Santos Júnior], and all of this is expensive,” he said.
“You cannot expect to have the best team in the world without paying them as what they are – the best players in the world.
“That means you have to get outside of your borders and seek financing for all of these expenses.”
Faus said the board, which is owned by its fans, has no authorisation for further deals beyond the June 2016 expiration of the Qatar sponsorship.