Spanish football giants FC Barcelona are considering a United States expansion with a team in North America’s National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) – the country’s top tier of professional women’s soccer.
The La Liga champions hope to enter the new franchise as early as next year, making them the only club from outside the US to have a team in NWSL.
“We are planning to open a franchise in the US, a Barcelona franchise in the American league,” said Javier Sobrino, Barcelona’s strategy and knowledge director, speaking at a conference in Qatar. “We are right now in discussion to see whether it is possible or not.
“It will be immediate, next season is our goal, if not the following one. A women’s team playing in the US.”
The team is likely to keep Barcelona’s name and is likely to play its home games in Los Angeles. The addition of the Spanish outfit would bring the number of teams in the NWSL up to ten, with the league hoping to have 14 franchises by 2020.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu first publicised the club’s intent to have a NWSL team in 2016 as a way of boosting the team’s profile in North America. The plans were approved by Barcelona’s board with the goal of introducing the team as early as 2018 but the launch date was later pushed back.
The news comes at a time when Barcelona look likely to participate in the first ever La Liga game to be played in the US as part of a 15-year deal between the league and Relevent Sports, a sports and entertainment company backed by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. The first game will see Barcelona take on Girona FC January 26, 2019, at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home to Dolphins.
Meanwhile, Barcelona has also announced plans to visit China and Japan in 2019 to further engage with its Asian fanbase after spending two consecutive summers in the US
According to ESPN, the LaLiga champions plan to participate in the International Champions Cup in the region, while a game against Japanese club Vissel Kobe – which is owned by Barcelona’s shirt sponsor Rakuten – has also been mooted.
The club’s statement read: “The tour will reaffirm the club’s commitment to the Asian market where we have a higher concentration of fans than anywhere else in the world. Football is also a fast-growing sport in countries like China and Japan, where the club is not only looking to do business, but also to seek new fans and build their loyalty.”