Elisha Chauhan asked FC Barcelona board member Jordi Moix to explain the rationale behind the Spanish football giant’s €600-million renovation project for its Nou Camp home.
One of the last announcements Barcelona president Sandro Rossell made before he resigned this January – over questionable payments in the transfer of Neymar – was that of the Spanish La Liga club’s venue overhaul.
Overhaul is no exaggeration. The Nou Camp will be redeveloped on its existing 20-acre site, with a retractable roof and an increased capacity of around 6,000 seats. The renovation will also increase car parking to about 5,000 places. Ground will be broken on the construction in 2017 and will be completed in 2021.
Although 20 acres of land in the heart of Barcelona may seem plenty of space for a 105,000-seater stadium, the football club also has professional teams in basketball, handball, futsal, roller hockey, field hockey, ice hockey, rugby and athletics – all of which need to be housed in and around the Nou Camp.
However, with an average attendance for the football club standing at 73,700 last season in Spain’s top-tier La Liga, down on 78,300 for 2011/12, many quarters see an expansion from 98,800 seats as unnecessary.
“We don’t want to just improve on quantity, but more importantly, on quality,” Jordi Moix, Barcelona board member and director of economy and strategy, told SportBusiness International. “We are going to have more space to better distribute the seats and substantially improve the premium seating. We are only increasing seating by five per cent, which was mostly a consequence of levelling out our tiers in order to build a new roof, as we have three on one side and only two tiers on the other.”
The proposed roof will cover all the seats in the stadium, which will be a relief to two-thirds of the Nou Camp spectators who are currently exposed to the elements. But Moix points out that the weather doesn’t fair too badly in Barcelona, so the team opted not to extend a roof over the pitch.
“The climate of Barcelona is quite mild, so it doesn’t make much economic sense to invest in a complete roof,” he adds.
Barcelona’s non-footballing teams will be relocated on the site, as the club’s existing Mini Stadium – currently home to the Barcelona B team – will turn into the site of a new sports hall to primarily accommodate its basketball team, which is required to have a 10,000-seater stadium to compete in European basketball’s top-tier Euroleague competition.
“Euroleague standards request all new team arenas to have at least 10,000 seats, which the new hall will have with the option of an additional 2,000 seats. The reason behind its build is because our Palau Blaugrana [basketball venue] – that was built in 1971 – only has around 7,500 seats with no possibility to increase the capacity,” says Moix.
“We also have an ice skating rink that is built next to our existing arena, but right now we are proposing to build a smaller annex next to the new sports hall with 2,000 seats, because the average attendance for those sports is only 1,000-2,000. We didn’t want those matches to be played in the new 10,000-seater sports hall, so it made sense to inject a little more investment.”
With a new 6,000-7,000 seat Mini Stadium moving to Barcelona’s Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training and academy site, the club will utilise the remaining 10 acres of land – dubbed Espai Barca – as a recreational area open to the public and an urban space for such facilities as a new hotel, a possible health club, and office space for Barcelona staff and its commercial partners.
This will complement Barcelona’s existing FCB Museum and the Barcelona Nike store, along with new retail stores and restaurants. With 1.6 million visitors per year, Barcelona also wants to capitalise on the average time spent on the site by tourists and match-goers, which currently stands at 1.5 to three hours. Barcelona is also expecting the Espai Barca facilities to make a €50-million return on investment.
“The first reason for creating the Espai Barca is because downtown Barcelona is really crowded,” says Moix. “However, for all these years the club has lived quite isolated from the rest of the neighbourhood, so it makes a lot of sense to integrate our facilities and land with the rest of the area.
“The second reason was to offer complete services for the visitors we have on match and non-match days. Right now we are offering very limited services to gain any sort of customer experience. Obviously, we will also see a return on investment through these new revenue avenues, which helps with the income stream of the club.”
An estimated €150 million from selling the naming rights for the Nou Camp will help fund to the project (see box). However, Moix warns a deal will only be secured when the Spanish economy sees an upturn, forecasting a sale in around two years’ time. The rights will only be sold alongside the revered Nou Camp name, which holds significance in a club that is fully owned by its fans.
“We want to commercialise our stadium but not give away naming rights, so there will only be a brand attached to the Nou Camp name. We know that it will add more value to give away the full name of the stadium, but there is an emotional attachment to Nou Camp with our fans and members,” Moix says.
“We have to invest in the team, meaning that we will have to acquire one or two players every year to compete with our rivals. We need to maintain that. At the same time, we didn’t want to ask for free money from the pockets of our owners and members of the club.
“I am very aware that it is a sensitive issue, but considering all of the stadium and facility improvements, we didn’t want to put the sports model at a financial risk. Selling naming rights is a middle of the road solution.”
Despite Qatar Airways’ kit sponsorship deal – worth over €30 million per season to Barcelona – ending in 2016, just ahead of the start of its stadia overhaul, Moix admits that the Emirati powerhouse is unlikely to be in the running for the Nou Camp naming rights.
“We will analyse all of our options closer to the time, but we feel that it would make more sense and better value for the club and sponsor if we diversify from the companies already involved in the club, such as our current kit sponsor Qatar Airways,” he says.