FC Barcelona eyes China expansion with a joint venture in Hainan Island


FC Barcelona eyes China

FC Barcelona has set its eye on China’s growing market.

The Spanish giant is set to open a football academy, museum and megastore on Hainan, the island off the country’s south coast optimistically branded as ‘China’s Hawaii’.

Banking on the increasing Chinese interest in football, FC Barcelona announced last December its agreement with Mission Hills Group (MHG), the largest private landowner in Haikou, the capital city of Hainan Island province.

Club legend Ronaldinho will visit the Chinese island province next week to announce the joint venture. Barca will open what it claims will be the world’s largest football academy, an FCB museum and a megastore selling merchandise in the massive resort that occupies about the same amount of land as Haikou city itself.

While announcing the plan in December, Barca CEO Òscar Grau gave out the details of the project. “. One of the aims is to inaugurate an FCBEscola with seven football fields which will host over a thousand children, and will also have a large space which will house a Megastore as well as a restaurant area.”

He said that the partnership with MHG will help to serve FC Barcelona’s target of becoming the “most admired, loved and global institution in the world”.

“Our intention in Hainan is to create a FCB Escola, which will be the first directly managed by the FC Barcelona. It is an ambitious project and we have 100 per cent control of this school,” said Grau.

The alliance will last ten years, extendable to ten more. For the club, this project will see a direct investment of about €4 million, estimated to be recovered in a period of four years.

Xavier Asensi, a former player with Barca’s handball team and presently the managing director of the club’s Asia-Pacific arm, revealed that he had been working on the MHG deal for over a year in an interview with the South China Morning Post. Asensi said Barca had rejected several potential partnerships since it set up its Asia branch in 2013.

What clinched the deal for MHG was “the tropical island’s clean air compared to much of mainland China, the government’s determination to boost Haikou’s presence compared to the more popular beach city of Sanya in Hainan’s south, and Mission Hills’ own burgeoning expansion plans”, writes South China Morning Post’s sports journalist James Porteous in his blog.

The company, run by Hongkongers Ken and Tenniel Chu, still has some 77 square kilometres of undeveloped land, with plans to add multiple theme parks, thousands of apartments, and more.

“There’s three main revenue streams for a football club – media, game day and marketing and marketing is where we can grow,” adds Asensi. “Next season our main sponsor is going to be [Japanese e-commerce company] Rakuten, so Asia-Pacific is getting more and more important.”

According to China’s National Tourism Administration, Hainan welcomed 53 million tourists in 2015, up from 15 million in 2005. As well as Barca’s initial plans to grab some of that tourist spend, long-term they envisage a club-themed hotel, theme park, sports science centre and a ‘Barca University’.

The football academy will be targeted at the children of holidaymakers, allowing mum and dad to drop junior off for training while they play golf or visit the spa. Interestingly, it will be next to the Chinese Football Association’s new dedicated winter training centre, though Asensi says no link-up is planned.

“The main thing is to bring the FCB mythology to China,” Asensi tells South China Morning Post. “We’re not here to teach [China as a whole about football] that would be very pretentious.”

Barca’s expansion plans in China will be deliberated at length at the next Coliseum Summit EUROPE, March 29-30, 2017 at Budapest, Hungary as well as at Coliseum Summit ASIA in the Chinese capital Beijing in September 2017.

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