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FC Barcelona and Rakuten held an event in Japan on Thursday to celebrate the sponsorship agreement between the two entities that took effect on July 1st. The event, which was the first official act of the Rakuten era, took place at the Rakuten Crimson House, the company’s headquarters in Tokyo, and featured a press conference during which the Barça players made their first official appearance with the new shirt bearing Rakuten’s logo.

Taking part in the event were the FC Barcelona players Leo Messi, Neymar Jr, Gerard Piqué, and Arda Turan, as well as the Club’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Manel Arroyo. Rakuten was represented by its Founder and CEO, Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani. Barça’s presence at Rakuten’s headquarters was highly anticipated, with more than 260 credentialed journalists filling the conference room.

Following the press conference, the players met with some 2,000 Rakuten employees, who greeted the Barça delegation with a room full of smiles and a round of applause. Around 8,000 other Rakuten employees joined the meet and greet via videoconference from the company’s other offices located around Japan. The Barça players thanked everyone in attendance.

Throughout the morning, the Barça players took part in a series of interviews with Japanese and international media outlets such as Nippon TV, TV Asahi, and the BBC, as well as some Japanese media outlets dedicated exclusively to sports. The players also had a lengthy conversation with Rakuten fans via Viber, the mobile messaging app that is now an Official Communications Channel of FC Barcelona. Mr. Arroyo, the Barça Vice President, spoke to the Japan Times and The Nikkei, one of the world’s largest financial publications.

Following the events held at Rakuten’s headquarters, the Barça delegation headed to Tokyo’s storied ward of Shibuya, home of the Rakuten Café, which is owned by the company. Standing before throngs of fans outside the Rakuten Café, Messi, Neymar Jr, Piqué, and Turan signed the establishment’s large, vinyl window coverings decorated with the players’ own likenesses and other FC Barcelona imagery.

The day concluded with a private gathering at the Hotel New Otani, including some 500 Rakuten VIP guests from the sports, business, and entertainment worlds. Among the guests was Yoichi Takahashi, the creator of the Captain Tsubasa cartoon series. After greeting the guests, the Barça players exchanged jerseys with Lukas Podolski and Mike Havenaar, footballers who currently play for Vissel Kobe — which is owned by Rakuten — in the J1 League, Japan’s top flight. Mr. Arroyo addressed those on hand and praised the importance of the new sponsorship agreement, before thanking everyone for warmly welcoming the Club to Japan. The visit was enveloped in a palpable air of optimism, which, curiously, is one of the meanings of the word Rakuten.

Sponsorship assets

The new agreement will allow FC Barcelona and Rakuten to co-organize actions like the strengthening of the Barça Fans online community via the Rakuten ID global platform; the opening of a section on Rakuten Ichiba — Japan’s largest online shopping site — dedicated exclusively to Barça; the Rakuten Card launch of two exclusive FC Barcelona credit cards featuring the Club’s crest and players; and events celebrating the start of the agreement in 12 cities around the world. Moreover, Rakuten will be coordinating promotional events within the framework of Barça’s summer tour in the United States, which begins next week.

Additionally, the global messaging app Viber, which is owned by Rakuten and is an Official Communications Channel of FC Barcelona, will launch exclusive, behind-the-scenes coverage of the Club’s activities on and off the field on their official Public Account, as well as a series of three sticker packs featuring all the favorite players, throughout the partnership. Viber will also launch a competition to offer a VIP travel package to Barcelona to see the FC Barcelona Legends in action at Camp Nou.

Statement by Manel Arroyo, FC Barcelona’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications:

“Having Rakuten as FC Barcelona’s Main Global Partner and Innovation & Entertainment Partner is an absolute pleasure and we are sure that it will be a successful collaboration for both entities. The experience, innovative vision, and commitment to social development Rakuten has will help the Club continue to grow and maintain its position as a global reference in a sporting and institutional sense. The shared philosophy, values and objectives are, without a doubt, another guarantee of the success which will come out of this agreement.”

Statement by Hiroshi Mikitani, Founder and CEO of Rakuten Inc.:

“FC Barcelona’s motto of being ‘more than a club’ resonates with Rakuten’s commitment to being ‘more than a company’ – by empowering entrepreneurs and innovation, by supporting youth to become leaders of the future, and by contributing to local communities around the world.”

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