It’s a busy week at Can Barça. The Champions League quarter-final first leg was followed by the bombshell news of FIFA’s transfer ban and now on Saturday Barça’s club members face an enormous decision when they are asked to vote yes or no to the €600 million project for the redevelopment of Camp Nou.
There are plenty of reasons to be in favour of the project. The most obvious is that a club of Barça’s stature needs to play in a top-level modern stadium and we need to act to keep up with other clubs in this respect. The current stadium has some seating areas on the lower tier that provides a poor view while the lack of a roof on three sides of the stadium means fans are exposed to the elements when the weather is bad. The model the new stadium looks very nice and the project would no doubt create jobs which would provide an economic boost to the city.
However, the question needs to be asked: is this the right project at the right time? In the 1950s when Camp Nou was built there was an obvious need for a bigger stadium to accommodate more spectators. The case today is quite different. The stadium is rarely full and the fact that attendance for Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Atlético was under 80,000 suggests that unless the club decides on a considerable reduction in ticket prices we will continue to see the stadium unfilled.
If we agree that a bigger stadium is unnecessary then why else should we support the project? One argument is that the matchday experience will be improved for those attending matches. The may well be true but we should ask ourselves what do we want when we attend a sporting event. For me, the most immediate concern is to have a good view of the pitch, and as I’ve already mentioned there are some seats at the back of the lower tier have a poor view caused by the overhang of the tier above which means you can’t see the ball when it goes in the air. I don’t know how many seats are affected but it can’t be that many, and in a 98,000 stadium that is rarely full there is often the option of moving to a better position. I should also say that when I do go to the stadium I always try to sit on the side on the second tier and I can assure that the view is unrivalled. Looking at the new plans it appears that in order to improve the view from the bottom tier, the second tier will be moved back which will actually make the view from these seats worse. Besides the obvious concern about the view my only other concerns are that the stadium isn’t a death trap, that I can buy a snack and a refreshment and that I don’t need to wade through puddles of urine if I visit the toilets. In this sense I find the current Camp Nou perfectly adequate to enjoy the experience.
Even if it can be demonstrated that the overall experience will be improved for the majority of spectators, we must also ask at what cost. With figures as high as €600 million it’s not easy to calculate the effect on the future. The board say that a proportion will be paid by sponsorship deals which would no doubt involve selling the name of the stadium. This is all very well but if we want to make money by playing at Camp Qatar Airways we could do that already with the current stadium, so it could be argued that any sponsorship for the new Camp Nou is largely irrelevant as if we really wanted this money we could fix a similar deal now. Whatever the case €600 million could provide enormous input into the team, if you consider that we usually budget around €50-60 million a season for transfers we could be talking about doubling that budget for a decade. Another way of looking at it is to consider the cost to the fan. For the sake of simple mathematics, if we say there are approximately 100,000 places in the stadium that works out at a price of €6,000 per seat in the stadium. Is the new-improved experience going to be worth it?
Perhaps in the long run it will be. The club hopes to improve the corporate experience for companies wishing to entertain their guests with visits to matches, and in time the club may recuperate a lot in this way. However, there is the worry that a lot of the budget will go on better VIP lounges and corporate boxes rather than on improved conditions for the average fans. Some things I like, such as the all-round roof, but would it not be possible to make certain necessary changes to the stadium on a lower budget?
While I have my doubts about the project my biggest concern is actually the timing of the decision. I’ve stated previously on this blog that I feel that presidential elections should have been called following Sandro Rosell’s resignation. Now with all the commotion surrounding the FIFA transfer ban it is becoming increasingly difficult to have confidence in the current board. Yes, there are no convictions and there may have been no wilful wrongdoing on the part of anybody. However, the idea of allowing them such a big budget for this project fills me with concern. There are plenty of cases of projects similar to this running way over budget and if the figures aren’t right Barça may suffer serious economic problems. Following the bizarre figures offered on the Neymar transfer, can we really trust this board to have the figures right this time?
Barça is a wealthy club but we do not have limitless funds. The board claim the project will not affect the team but it is difficult to see how it won’t. The example of Arsenal comes to mind who spent €470 million on their new stadium and have not won anything since. Barça would probably not suffer so much, but for now, with this board, I would prefer we invested in players. Perhaps some improvements could be made to the stadium but quite frankly I have always been impressed with Camp Nou as it is and see little need for such an expensive overhaul.