You have reached ESPN’s UK edition. Stay on current site or go to US version.
It’s been a busy summer for the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. Coldplay sold out four dates at the 96-year-old stadium, with more than 200,000 tickets getting snapped up the first morning they went on sale. It was a similar story for two Bruce Springsteen shows and one Beyoncé concert, with over 100,000 people watching The Boss and 53,000 cramming in for the “Crazy in Love” singer.
On Sunday, it’s Barça’s turn to take centre stage, though the enthusiasm to watch LaLiga’s defending champions at their temporary home is not quite on the same level.
– Stream LIVE: Barcelona vs. Cadiz, 8/20, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN+ (U.S.)
Coach Xavi Hernandez expressed concerns about having to relocate, saying they will need supporters more than ever to help them avoid losing that feeling of home advantage — “it won’t be easy,” he said at the end of last season — but so far, there has been little response. As of Thursday, three days before they host Cadiz in their first home game of the new LaLiga campaign, there were still tickets available on all four sides of the stadium. They ranged in price from €79 to €169 for basic entry — not including any of the various VIP packages still on sale — although it should be said that August often sees people flee the city to holiday and escape the heat.
However, those statistics are mirrored in season ticket sales as supporters seem reluctant to follow the team from Spotify Camp Nou to Montjuic, the area of the city where the stadium is based.
Last season, Barça had 80,274 season ticket holders. They were given the chance to defer for a year while their iconic home undergoes a revamp … and most took it, as just 17,552 of the 27,000 season tickets made available for the Olympic Stadium have been bought. Many have gone to club members, or socios, who were previously on the waiting list and hope this will be a chance to jump up the queue when the team move back to Camp Nou in late-2024.
Given the capacity in Montjuic is half of Camp Nou (roughly 50,000 vs. 100,000), there was always going to be a decrease, but the scale of the drop has been surprising. Barça had an average attendance of over 80,000 for home games last season. In addition to potential sporting repercussions, the decline also carries financial consequences as ticketing and match-day revenue plummets. Across town, Espanyol, recently relegated to the second division of Spanish football, have seen their season ticket count rise to more than 21,000.
Here’s the backstory on how they ended up playing on the hill for a season, and what it might mean for their on-field performance and off-field financials.
Work began knocking down parts of Camp Nou last year and, at the end of the season, Barca said goodbye to the ground they have called home since 1957 in order to accelerate the redevelopment process. When finished, the capacity will extend to over 100,000, and what the club boast will be a “state-of-the-art” stadium will have a roof covering all four stands (at the moment it is just one) and all the mod-cons associated with 21st-century stadia.
In the meantime, though, Barça are left “homeless” until around November 2024, when it’s estimated they can return in time for their 125th anniversary, although work will still be ongoing and the capacity will be capped at around 70,000.
Alex Kirkland, Gab Marcotti and Don Hutchison preview the LaLiga season ahead of its start this weekend.
Montjuic was always the obvious temporary home. It is part of the city’s rich history, having been originally built in 1927 for the 1929 International Exposition. It was also used for an unsuccessful bid for the Olympic Games in 1936, and before the Olympics eventually arrived in 1992, the stadium received upgrades in 1989.
It has also played host to several Copa del Rey finals — the most recent in 2004 — and some historic Barcelona moments. Lionel Messi made the first of his 778 competitive appearances for the club there in 2004 as a visiting player against Espanyol, who played their home matches at the stadium between 1997 and 2009 before moving to their site in the Cornellà de Llobregat municipality.
It was also where Ronaldo made his debut for the club after joining from PSV Eindhoven in 1996. The Brazilian forward scored twice in a 5-2 Spanish Super Cup win over Atletico Madrid while the pitch at Camp Nou was being re-laid. A week later, Ronaldo netted another brace there in a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup game against AEK Larnaca. Barça, under Bobby Robson, would go on to win the trophy.
The beautiful game lives here. Stream top leagues, tournaments and teams.
Sign up for ESPN+
FRIDAY, SEPT. 1 (all times ET)
• Cádiz vs. Villarreal (1:30 p.m.)
• Dortmund vs. Heindenheim (2:30 p.m.)
• Almería vs. Celta Vigo (4 p.m.)
SATURDAY, SEPT. 2 (all times ET)
• Stuttgart vs. Freiburg (9:30 a.m.)
• Real Madrid vs. Getafe (10:15 a.m.)
• Gladbach vs. Bayern (12:30 p.m.)
• Alavés vs. Valencia (12:30 p.m.)
While it’s clearly a dated venue, there is still something quaint about the stadium at least from the outside, where a white tower creeps up behind the main stand. It is in one of the greenest areas of the city, too, surrounded by parks and with stunning panoramic views of the Catalan capital. There is Olympic history everywhere you look, not least the impressive outdoor swimming pool used in the Games that has been maintained for public use and overlooks the sprawling metropolis below.
Just down from Montjuic is the hilly Poble Sec neighbourhood, complete with Calle Blai, a perfect street for pinxos (snacks) and drinks pre- or postgame. The city centre is close, too.
First, a silly one: it’s not Camp Nou in size, stature or location. The things that make Montjuic picturesque also make it inaccessible compared to Barcelona’s regular home. A lot of older socios consulted by ESPN suggested that was the main reason they had decided to defer their season tickets until Camp Nou reopens.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
There are obvious logistical challenges. Barça have had to pay €3.3 million to provide additional and sustainable transport to the ground on matchdays. The council have also invested an additional €2.5m with the aim of “minimising the impact that the transfer of matches to the Olympic Stadium might have on the neighbourhood and other users of park(s).”
The stadium is effectively at the top of a hill and Barça “encourage people to cover the distance on foot” from Plaza Espanya, the closest transport hub to the venue, yet that walk can take up to 20 minutes.
Alternatively, Barça are putting on shuttle buses that have a capacity to transport up to 4,400 people per hour, which works well before the game as people trickle in, but less so after when thousands stream out at the same time. The usual transport up to Montjuic is also available, including a funicular (a hillside cable car), and while there will also be parking for bikes and motorbikes, access roads for cars will be shut off to non-residents hours before matches.
Barça had a dry run of their new matchday last week when they hosted Tottenham Hotspur in the annual Joan Gamper Trophy. The attendance was 35,224 and a lot of fans took advantage of the warm summer weather to walk to the ground, but the ramble may not be as attractive on a rainy or cold night in winter. Even still, the attendance represented a big drop from previous Gamper games. Over 80,000 watched the fixture against Pumas at Camp Nou last summer, and excluding the two years when crowds were forbidden during the coronavirus pandemic, the lowest Gamper crowd since 2010 was 55,498 against Sampdoria in 2012.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest highlights and debate the biggest storylines. Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).
This gap will mean huge losses for Barça in ticketing revenue before even taking into account other matchday receipts. They have already modified the price of season tickets once following a pattern of slow sales, but it did not seem to help too much. In addition, sources says the club are paying between €15m and €20m to rent the stadium.
Despite that, Barça vice president Elena Fort said earlier this year that their initial estimates that the temporary stay in Montjuic would cost them around €93m compared to playing in Camp Nou have been adjusted down to €55m. At a time when the club are having to sell assets to register players with LaLiga, it is not ideal, although long-term predictions promise massive revenue increases when the new Camp Nou opens. “Income generated by [the new] Camp Nou is forecast to be around €247 million per year,” Barça said in May.
None of the projections really take into account the potential sporting effect that being lodgers could have on the team or the opposition. Xavi’s side lost just one league match at home last season — a 2-1 defeat to Real Sociedad on May 20, the week after they had been confirmed as champions of LaLiga for the first time since 2019.
After a frustrating and feisty goalless draw at Getafe in the opening week of the season, Barca begin life in their temporary accommodation on Sunday in need of a win against Cadiz, who have actually had good results at Camp Nou since their return to LaLiga in 2020, winning one and drawing one of their three matches there.
However Barcelona fare this season, winning games will be the quickest way to make the Olympic Stadium feel like home.
You have reached ESPN’s UK edition. Stay on current site or go to US version.