Barcelona: La Liga giant signs new mega kit deal

    Story highlights

    • Barca signs partnership with Rakuten
    • One of world football's most lucrative deals

    (CNN)Gerard Pique and his Barcelona teammates have regularly formed formidable partnerships on the pitch, but now the Spanish defender and popstar wife Shakira are forging an equally profitable relationship off it.

    The power couple played a key role in the club's new mega-money sponsorship deal with Rakuten, after going for dinner with the Japanese company's chief executive, Hiroshi Mikitani, last year.
      That meeting laid the foundations for what is now one of the most lucrative partnerships in the world of sport.
      "Gerard Pique and Shakira are very close friends with Mr Mikitani," Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barcelona club president, told reporters.
      "It was in the summer of 2015, Gerard organized a dinner in San Francisco during our summer tour. At that dinner we met Mr Mikitani, who was, for us, an incredible person."
      The new four-year deal will see Rakuten, an online shopping company, replace Qatar Airways as the club's main shirt sponsor in a deal worth €55 million ($59 million) a year.
      Beginning at the start of the 2017/18 season, it will see Barcelona earn a basic €220 million ($236 million) and an additional €1.5 million each time it wins La Liga and €5 million each time it wins the Champions League.
      Up until 2006, when it agreed a deal with UNICEF, Barcelona shirts were iconic for not featuring any sponsors.
      The deal with Rakuten includes an option to extend the partnership into a fifth year, while the club also agreed deals for Turkish electronics brand Beko to appear on the shirt sleeves and US manufacturer Intel on the inside of its shirts.
      Pique and Shakira set up a meeting with Rakuten chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani.
      "This agreement puts us at the forefront of sports club sponsorships, which has always been an objective for the current board of directors," Bartomeu added.
      Barcelona shirts before and after the 2006 UNICEF sponsorship.
      "We hope this partnership between Rakuten and FC Barcelona brings unparalleled sporting and commercial success, and helps the club achieve its goal of being a reference point worldwide."
      For comparison, Manchester United earns £47 million ($58.5 million) annually from its seven-year deal with Chevrolet.
      Barcelona hopes the deal with Rakuten -- which owns J-League football team Vissel Kobe and baseball club Tohoku Rakuten -- will help it topple Real Madrid at the top of the money leagues.
      This year, Forbes ranked Real Madrid as the world's most valuable football team and Barcelona as the second, while Deloitte also had the Spanish rivals in the same order.
      The money will also go towards funding Barcelona's new 105,000-seater stadium.