The four-year agreement, which includes the option of an additional one year extension, will see Rakuten’s branding appear on Barcelona’s jerseys from next season and places the Catalan club among the leading clubs in shirt sponsorship revenue, rivalled only by Manchester United.
Similar to United’s current shirt sponsorship strategy, Barcelona’s deal with Rakuten covers the first-team shirts. Sponsorship for the training kits has yet to be announced, however Qatar Airways, who are expected to stay on as the club's official airline partner, look likely to take up the space.
Arroyo: "The most visible part will be the first-team shirt; the training, women's and youth shirts will be open." pic.twitter.com/hterQQ4E4W
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 16, 2016
Barcelona initially unveiled this season's kit without a shirt sponsor amid reports that talks with other potential brands had been unsuccessful. However, shortly afterwards the club announced a one-year extension with Qatar Airways in a move intended to buy time until an agreement with another sponsor could be finalised.
“This agreement puts us at the forefront of sports club sponsorships, which have always been an objective for the current board of directors,” said Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu.
He added: “We are delighted with our agreement with Rakuten, a global brand in innovation whose experience and know-how in the fields of big data, communications and e-commerce will contribute to the future success of FC Barcelona.
“We hope this partnership between Rakuten and FC Barcelona brings unparalleled sporting and commercial success, and helps the club achieve its goal of being a reference point worldwide.”
The £47.2m (€55m) per-season contract meets the target which Bartomeu set when speaking to supporters at the club's AGM in October of last year. The deal also includes incentives of £1.29m (€1.5m) for La Liga performance and £4.2 (€5m) for Champions League titles.
Rakuten’s chairman and chief executive, Hiroshi Mikitani, said the partnership would “power our global brand strategy” and added that the collective power of Rakuten’s other brands, including Viber, Wuaki, Ebates, Kobo and PriceMinister, would “build an innovation framework that will deliver innovative solutions and services to fans, members and players”.
In addition to the shirt sponsorship agreement, Rakuten’s Viber, the global mobile messaging and calling app, will also become FC Barcelona’s official communications channel.
The partnership with the La Liga champions is not the first on Rakuten’s sports sponsorship portfolio. The company, which describes itself as 'Japan's largest internet shopping mall', owns the J-League football club Vissel Kobe, and in 2004, established Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a professional baseball team that went on to win the Japan Series in 2013.
Similarlly, the deal is not the first Asian sponsor which Barcelona have tied up. In July the club announced a three-year deal with video game giant Konami.