The current chairman of British swimming and a non-executive director of the Rugby Football League, Watkins was a director at Old Trafford for 28 years, and is excited to be getting involved on football again.
"It's great to be back in football at club level and my message is loud and clear - Barnsley means business," said Watkins.
"The Championship is a hard league with many great clubs and, when you think a club was relegated last season with 54 points, that sums up the quality.
"Our task now is to make progress in the league, strengthen our position and get even more fans behind the club.
"I can bring a wealth of football knowledge and experience, having been involved with the game at the highest level with Manchester United for over 28 years."