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Rakuten looks for a goal overseas with partners FC Barcelona

Stuck on defense at home, Japanese e-tailer rebrands and expands abroad

Rakuten President Hiroshi Mikitani, far left, shows off the new FC Barcelona jersey with team members including Lionel Messi, second from left.

TOKYO -- Rakuten, once Japan's e-commerce king, is extending its global expansion and rebranding via a sponsorship deal with Spanish soccer titans FC Barcelona, adapting to survive as its domestic presence fades under an onslaught led by Amazon.com.

At an event here Thursday celebrating the start of the partnership, President Hiroshi Mikitani held up a Barcelona jersey emblazoned with Rakuten's logo -- notably in Roman letters, not kanji characters -- as he stood with a lineup of star players including Lionel Messi. At 220 million euros ($250 million), the four-year contract did not come cheap for Rakuten. But the meaning of the company's brand is changing, said Mikitani, who expects the investment to be recouped economically as well.

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