REDMOND, Wash. – Aug. 6, 2009 – Players, coaches, and management of the world-renowned Football Club Barcelona visited Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters Tuesday as part of the club’s U.S. tour. Wednesday night, FC Barcelona, also called FCB, FC Barça, or Barça, played a friendly game against the Xbox-sponsored Seattle Sounders Football Club and won 4-0 before a record-breaking crowd of 67,000 at Qwest Field.
Microsoft employees Rod Lopez (center, holding scarf) and Mohamed Arabo (next to Lopez, holding ball and jersey) heard about FC Barcelona’s visit by reading the team’s blog. They waited outside the Microsoft Executive Briefing Center Tuesday hoping for a glimpse, or perhaps even a photo or autograph. Redmond, Wash., Aug. 4, 2009.
Cameras flashed, and a small crowd cheered as Football Club Barcelona players filed off of buses and into Microsoft’s Executive Briefing Center (EBC), where they spent more than two hours touring the Home of the Future and interacting with Surface machines and Xbox Project Natal.
Once off their buses, there was no flying below the radar for the internationally famous soccer players, who walked around the EBC clad in matching neon yellow shirts and navy-colored jackets and shorts. A small crowd who had caught wind of the team’s visit waited outside, memorabilia and Sharpie markers in hand, hoping for a glimpse of their favorite players, or better yet, an autograph or photograph.
“I’ve been a Barça fan since ’92,” said Microsoft employee Rod Lopez.
“I was born with a Barcelona shirt on,” said employee Mohamad Arabo, one-upping his friend. Arabo had a jersey and ball he hoped to get signed.
The men found out about the team’s visit to Redmond because they closely follow the FC Barcelona Web site, which mentioned the team would be visiting Microsoft’s Redmond campus on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s the best players in the world coming here,” Lopez said. “Barça is the best because they play the way the game is supposed to be played. They are the masters of their craft.”
Their favorite player: Lionel Messi. “He’s the best player in the world by far,” Lopez said.
“I think I have a man crush on him,” Arabo said. Both men said they had tickets to see the Barça-Sounders game.
Inside the EBC, the Barça players and staff, followed closely by dozens of local and international journalists, were welcomed by Microsoft executives. Tour guide Oscar Murillo led the players through the Home of the Future, explaining in Spanish details of the technology and innovations that enhance the concept house. The model home is complete with a front door, entry/foyer, kitchen, family room, dining room, entertainment room, and bedroom. Murillo showed the players a talking front door, an interactive kitchen experience where the computer provides recipe help projected onto the kitchen counter, a Surface dining room table where the whole family can play a game together, a children’s bedroom with digital wallpaper, and a den with lighting and wall illustrations that respond special-effects style when Murillo reads a children’s book aloud.
Next, SpawnPoint Studios studio manager Shannon Loftis, who works for Microsoft game studios, showed the players a new Xbox game due this fall, Forza Motorsports, and Project Natal, which allows users to bypass the game controller and interact with an Xbox 360 using gestures and voice activation.
The players were a bit shy about volunteering to play games in front of the group, but with some coaxing, defender Gerard Piqué Bernabeu accepted the challenge. First Piqué, as he is known, raced a Lamborghini on a mountainous track, making his teammates groan every time he hit orange cones or other cars on the raceway. Then Piqué played Ricochet, a Project Natal demonstration game where players try to use their arms, legs, and body to hit balls and break walls. His teammates chuckled and jeered as the balls on-screen hit him in the arms and legs, and even head. Other members of the FC Barça management followed, much to the entertainment of the soccer players, who applauded.
Thierry Henry, largely considered one of the top forwards in the world, stood in the back of the room smiling at the scene. Henry said he used to play video games, “a long, long time ago,” and added that he had already seen a demonstration for Project Natal. “It’s great,” he said.
FC Barcelona staff and players, including Victor Sánchez Mata, Touré Yaya, and Pedro Rodríguez Ledesma (second, third, and fifth from left in yellow shirts) interact with a Surface machine on the team’s tour of Microsoft. Redmond, Wash. Aug. 4, 2009.
Dennis Durkin, a Microsoft general manager in gaming finance, said it was fun to see all types of people enjoying Project Natal, be it professional soccer players or team managers and their wives. “Fun is what it’s all about,” Durkin said. “It was pretty amazing. These are world-class athletes, and we are pretty excited to show them some world-class technology.”
Orlando Ayala, Microsoft senior vice president, and Carlos Grau, general manager in Catalonia, Spain, helped host the campus tour. Grau said FC Barcelona is a growing Microsoft customer, using products including Office, Exchange Server, and soon SharePoint. The club is currently pursuing other Microsoft technology as well. “They are already known as a very innovative club, but I think they are looking for even more opportunities in the future,” Grau said.
FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta said one of his main goals since arriving in 2003 was to modernize the club. “We need it not just for being efficient and faster and to execute the direction we are taking, but I think it’s important to match the way the world is progressing,” Laporta said, adding that access to technology is just as important for the fortunate as for the less fortunate.
Laporta said FC Barcelona is deeply rooted in the community. The club’s slogan of “Mes que un club,” which means “More than a club,” refers in part to the way it has passed on corporate sponsors. Instead, its red-and-blue jerseys are emblazoned with UNICEF, a worldwide charity. “I believe the evolution of technology makes it possible for society to be better,” he said.
FC Barcelona’s Microsoft visit and U.S. tour come after the most successful season in 110 years. The club won the Copa del Rey in Spain, the Spanish League, and the Union of European Football Associations Champions League.
Marc Drieu, a board member for Microsoft Soccer League, said FC Barcelona’s popularity comes from its long-standing success, its major victories, its support of UNICEF, and “contrary to other big club teams in Europe, [Barça] prides themselves on developing great players, instead of just buying them.”
“Finally, they simply play the most beautiful, flowing soccer we’ve seen in 20 years,” said Drieu, who was born in the suburbs of France and has been playing soccer for 40 years. “So, if you combine all those elements, you’ll realize that for the soccer community in the Pacific Northwest and at Microsoft, having Barça visiting is a rare opportunity.”
There is a vibrant soccer culture at Microsoft, both in its avid soccer fans worldwide and its soccer league, where dozens of nationalities are represented. Though soccer is slow to catch on in the United States, Drieu is glad to see Seattle embracing the world’s game and FC Barcelona. “As kids in Europe and Central and South America, we mostly live for soccer. We play it in the streets, in the parks, on the pavement, down between the tower blocks, and in the parking lots,” Drieu said. “We live for it.”