Helloooo, Rakuten. Adeu, Qatar Airways, see you on the marquee


That is the sound of cash registers ringing, as Rakuten has signed to be the new principal shirt sponsor for FC Barcelona, for a deal rumored to be worth EUR 220m over four years. For those keeping track, that is a lotta lotta Euros. For those keeping track of the neighbors, that is second only to the deal struck by Manchester United for its shirt front.

This is an impressive bit of business, given that La Liga is run by braying jackasses while the Premiership is run by grownups. It’s even more impressive when you consider that because the principal language of La Liga is Spanish, the traction that the Prem has in the lucrative U.S. market will never — as in EVER — be enjoyed by even the best and brightest Liga sides.


What is Rakuten? Simply put, the Japanese Amazon, a massive retailer with, as with Amazon, tentacles everywhere.

Even romantics such as I have to acknowledge that it’s impossible to play in the modern football sandbox with a pristine shirt front. Players such as Luis Suarez fetch prohibitive sums in the market that Barça has to visit to round off its core of home-grown talent.

Rakuten isn’t Qatar Airways, something that will console people who have complexities with the human rights record of Qatar, etc. For the hardcores like me, a sponsor is a sponsor when you don’t want anyone buying the front of the shirt. Rakuten, Qatar Airways, Eat At Joe’s … whatever.

“This agreement puts us at the forefront of sports club sponsorships, which has always been an objective for the current board of directors,” said Josep Bartomeu in a statement.

Still for sale are the training kit, and naming rights for the nou Nou. Given the significant sums that both of those desirable bits of real estate look to fetch, it’s difficult to imagine that Qatar won’t be back in the frame at some point.

But for now, welcome, Rakuten. Now go buy something.

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