NEW YORK -- FC Barcelona will tour the United States later this year, part of a five-year commercial agreement with Major League Soccer signed Thursday.
The two-time European club champion will play six games in America over the next half-decade.
No dates or other details of the tour were disclosed. But officials of MLS' marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), and of the 18-time Spanish league champion said the contract also included the U.S. soccer league negotiating the club's sponsorship rights, and handling the public relations and marketing in the United States.
"If you want to be a global brand, you have to be in the United States," said FC Barcelona vice chairman Ferran Soriano, the club's executive responsible for marketing. "We want to have a permanent presence here, and maybe that permanent presence will mean a team here someday."
The concept is not unprecedented. Jorge Vergara, who owns Mexico's Chivas de Guadalajara, founded MLS club CD Chivas USA in Los Angeles in 2005.
The dates of the tour likely will depend on dates for the third round of European Champions League qualifying, in which Barcelona must compete to reach the group stage.
Soriano said Barcelona's marketing research shows the club has 50 million fans in Europe and another 10 million in the United States. He said the team wants to service and grow that 10 million by bringing the club to them.
The 2008 tour will be Barcelona's third visit to the United States in six years, starting with the Champions World Series in 2003, with games against Juventus, AC Milan and Manchester United.
The club also played against Mexico's two biggest clubs, Chivas de Guadalajara and America, and the New York Red Bulls in 2006, averaging more than 80,000 for the three matches.
The agreement is the latest in a series of commercial pacts SUM has signed to consolidate soccer properties in the United States. It adds to deals with the U.S. Soccer Federation, the Mexican soccer federation, CONCACAF, and several of its own original competitions, such as the North American SuperLiga and the Pan Pacific Championship.
The relationship differs from the one MLS has with the Bundesliga, which commissioner Don Garber described as a sharing of information with the German league. Five-time Bundesliga champion Borussia Moenchengladbach will tour the United States later this year, including matches against FC Dallas and Colorado in July.
Soriano said other ways to cement Barcelona's presence in the United States is through camps and schools, which it already has established in Mexico. It also created an amateur team in Argentina. He said the club will conduct three camps in the United States this year, with the goal to develop a network of soccer schools in the country.
"It's a very significant step for us, but not necessarily the last," Soriano said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press