FC Barcelona is serious about the American market. In February, we brought you inside its new office in New York City, from where the Catalan juggernaut planned to launch a series of academies – a flurry of them have since been announced – and make inroads with American sponsors and fans.
On Thursday, Barca announced that it will launch a team in the National Women’s Soccer League next year. While this had been rumored for some time, the announcement came quite out of the blue, and without any participation from the NWSL itself. This isn’t really how things are done in North America, but all the same, the claim seems to have credibility, since the league confirmed that something is in the works.
The NWSL's statement on Barcelona: pic.twitter.com/kGUKQG8j6r
— Jeff Kassouf (@JeffKassouf) May 11, 2017
Apparently without the league’s official approval, Barcelona went ahead and called this a done deal. “The Board of Directors today approved a development plan for women’s football in the United States, as part of the National Women’s Soccer League,” a statement on the club website read. “This plan is based on proposals drawn up by the New York office and from the sports area of the institution in order to participate in this league from 2018.
“Thus, FC Barcelona made a very important step in its strategy to consolidate its status as a global brand and simultaneously strengthen and expand its commitment to women’s football,” the statement continued. “FC Barcelona will become the first European club to have a team in the American professional league for women’s football and its presence will help to further the competitive dimension and knowledge of the club and the sport in the United States.”
Above the announcement, which ran alongside a few other tidbits from the Board of Directors meeting, was posted a picture of the Board, consisting of 17 men and just one woman – which is kind of a weird look when you’re talking about a women’s team.
At any rate, Barca joining the league, while a strange sort of arrangement on its surface, could be huge for the upstart circuit. The NWSL is the longest-running women’s professional league in American soccer history, but still only in its fifth season. It’s a bare-bones operation where a lot of franchises struggle for traction in their local markets. If Barca does indeed launch a club – and does it in New York, as rumored – that could bring a wave of fresh attention and interest. To say nothing of investment.
It’s unclear if the Catalan giant would become an expansion team or buy up an existing franchise, like the moribund Sky Blue FC, which has struggled in every possible way in New Jersey. But either way, becoming a kind of branding play for some major European teams might not work out so badly. After all, NYCFC has been a hit for Major League Soccer, in spite of the Manchester City-owned club’s struggles to build a stadium.
The NWSL has survived by the grace of U.S. Soccer underwriting more than ten million dollars in losses. If, instead, the NWSL was propped up with the loose change from some European legacy clubs, in order for them to plant their flags on American soil, that could make for a viable league and an arrangement amenable to all.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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