Barcelona Said to Open Hong Kong Office as Soccer Expands

FC Barcelona, the most successful European soccer team in the past decade, plans to open an office in Hong Kong as it challenges Manchester United for fans in Asia.

The Spanish soccer champion agreed to lease more than 3,000 square feet (279 square meters) of space at 8 Queen’s Road Central in the city’s Central business district, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Spanish soccer has lagged behind the popularity of the English Premier League in Hong Kong, where games are screened live and British teams regularly play exhibition matches. EPL champion Manchester United estimated in 2011 that 190 million of its 330 million fans were in Asia.

Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious competition, three times in the past decade, defeating Manchester United in the final twice. The club, featuring four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, was ranked the world’s third-most valuable soccer team by Forbes Magazine this year, one place behind Manchester United. Spanish rival Real Madrid was rated first.

Barcelona Finance Director Javier Faus announced plans to open an office in Hong Kong at a press conference in the Spanish city July 23 without giving more details.

Chinese Followers

Barcelona will play exhibition matches in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur as part of its pre-season Asian tour in August, the team said on its website. The team last played an exhibition match in Hong Kong in 2007.

Manchester United, which will play a pre-season game in Hong Kong on July 29, last year opened an office in the city’s Central district after scrapping plans for a share sale worth as much as $1 billion in Singapore.

The team estimates it has 108 million followers in China, where it’s played 11 times since 1975 and where soccer is the most-played sport.

The 19-time English soccer champion in January signed sponsorship agreements with Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co., the beverage maker owned by China’s richest man, and China Construction Bank Corp., the nation’s second-largest lender.

The team’s rivals in the EPL Manchester City, Sunderland, and Tottenham Hotspur are now competing in the Barclay Asia Trophy tournament in Hong Kong.

Central Rents

8 Queen’s Road Central is owned by closely held Sing Pao Investment Ltd. Susanna Ho, a spokeswoman at Hong Kong-based companay, declined to comment on the report.

Rents in Hong Kong have been soaring as the city established itself as a financial gateway to China, the world’s second-biggest economy.

Central’s rents rose to the world’s highest in 2008 before dropping behind London’s West End last year, according to broker Cushman & Wakefield Inc. Average monthly rents in the district, which houses the regional headquarters of HSBC Holdings Plc and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., fell 1.5 percent in the first half to HK$96.90 ($12.50) a square foot, the New York-based broker said.

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