Spanish football giant FC Barcelona has further strengthened its ties in the Gulf region after Sunday announcing a three-year deal with UAE lender United Arab Bank (UAB).
At a joint press conference at Mirdif City Centre, UAB CEO Paul Trowbridge said the deal would give its customers access to a range of initiatives to “join the club in Barcelona”.
He confirmed the historic “brand” partnership also included a financial sponsorship component but declined to reveal the sum, saying only that it was “priceless”.
However, he acknowledged that the deal offered UAB a chance to tap into the football club’s 500,000-strong fan base in the UAE.
“We’re excited about this alliance,” he said.
“This is something that our competitors cannot match.
“We were looking around for names around the world, which hoped to align with us in terms of what we are trying to give our customers and our potential customers.
“This is a three-year relationship where we can leverage off one another for both loyal fans and customers to have the opportunity to share in the success of the club but also United Arab Bank.”
In March FC Barcelona announced Qatar Airways as its first ever commercial shirt sponsor in 113 years, in a lucrative $39m-a-year deal.
Asked about its growing corporate ties in the region, FC Barcelona vice-president Javier Faus said it was an important part of the world for the club and it aimed to continue to boost its presence.
“We share a lot of the same values,” he said of UAB.
“This is a bank that has come from behind in the last 10 years and is right now at the very front of the banking system in this country.”
However, he 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.
But, he said it also was not pursuing similar ventures to that of arch rival Real Madrid, which last year announced plans for a $1bn resort in the UAE.
“We don’t announce big projects, which we don’t know if they will ever materialise or not”, he said.
Faus said it also had a “great partner” in the UAE in telco Etisalat. It had also created partnerships in the US and Malaysia as part of its global branding strategy.
“Once we are bigger and well-known in the (UAE)… we don’t rule out the possibility of then doing something more ambitious,” he said.
“So far we are very, very happy about the way we work out our partnership structure. We go step by step.”
As part of the announcement, Trowbridge announced the first of 14 winners to watch FC Barcelona play on September 24.
Other initiatives as part of the partnership would be unveiled in due course, though there was no contractual requirement for the team to play games in the UAE.
“I’m sure there will be lots of opportunities in the next three years for both sides to come together in some form,” Trowbridge said.
“But, obviously we don’t want to give away some of the surprises that we’ve got planned.”