Local futbol fans get a treat tonight at the Coliseum. FC Barcelona, one of the storied European soccer clubs, is in town to play Chivas de Guadalajara in a non-league match. Chivas USA and New England square off first in a Major League Soccer contest, but it's the appeal of the visitors that sold out more than 92,000 seats. Barcelona is on a pre-season U.S. tour that begins amid chatter about the play of its Brazilian star Ronaldinho, whose performance in the World Cup disappointed. He figures to play no more than a half, if that, at the Coliseum, says the Daily News' Scott French, who also sets up the reason Barcelona is here.
But Barcelona is, as says its catchphrase, "mes que en club" ("more than a club"). Its image, what it stands for - its position through history, especially during Franco's regime, and on to today - has romanticized Barca in ways most foreign to sport....
Barca [is] the world's sixth-richest club (with revenues of $247.48 million, according to the Deloitte accounting firm), which has come to North America to cement marketing agreements (with merchandising rights going to Warner Bros.), connect with American and Mexican soccer officials (with an eye on investing in clubs on both sides of the border) and proclaim its brand in a growing market that is growing savvier with each season.
The club (a wide-ranging social club with nearly 150,000 members that sponsors professional teams in four sports) expects to reap $4.8 million from its four-game tour, which wraps up with games later this week in Houston and New Jersey. The real profit comes later, if Barca makes the most of its opportunity.
It hopes to benefit from the club's history, its image as a bastion of liberalism, as chief vessel of Catalan nationalism, of its fierce - and at times costly - opposition to the 40-year Franco regime, a position that pit it head to head against Real Madrid, Franco's favored club and, with nine European titles, the continent's most successful club.
FC Barcelona's latest decision, to surrender lucrative jersey sponsorship rights to fund a UNICEF program to aid orphaned children, makes it as the club with a heart.