- Atlético has sold record number of season tickets for new stadium after reducing prices.
- A waiting list of 12,000 fans exists and club membership tops 115,000.
- The new stadium has 8,000 VIP seats in its hospitality section.
When Atlético Madrid came face-to-face with city rivals Real Madrid in mid-November, it was only their seventh game in their new stadium, yet there was already plenty of evidence that the club´s fans were feeling at home in the brand-new arena.
The 68,000 capacity ‘Wanda Metropolitano’ was full for the first 'derbi madrileño', a game that is always a reminder just how tough it is to share a city with the self-styled ‘biggest club in the world’.
In the build-up to the 8.45pm kick-off, Atlético fans were invited to spend the afternoon with DJs and live bands while enjoying food trucks, photo opportunities in sponsors tents or a drink in two separate fan zones in the environs of their new home.
An earlier midday kick-off against Sevilla saw fans enjoy a typical Spanish breakfast of chocolate and ‘churros’ along with family fun including magic shows and bouncy castles.
For fans used to very different rituals, carried out in the local bars that surrounded their former home sixteen kilometres across town at the centrally located Vicente Calderon, it has been a big shift both mentally and physically to the city’s outer ring-road.
For the club the challenge was to get everything ready on time for the mid-September opener, and at the time of writing the Wanda Metropolitano has proven lucky so far for an Atlético side unbeaten in five league games, the only drawback being a Champions League defeat to Chelsea.
‘‘We started communicating with our fans three years ago,’’ explains Fernando Fariza, Atlético Madrid´s director of operations and infrastructures who headed up the project team within the club that conducted the move. ‘‘It was important early on that our season ticket holders could see the advantages in moving to a new stadium and that the move was as simple as possible.’’
‘‘We invited everybody to come to our offices. There we organised virtual visits to show them what the view would be like from every seat and let them choose where and who they sat with. In the end we spoke to over 20,000 different groups of fans.
Fariza saw those early stages as key to achieving what is currently a record 56,000 season ticket holders. There is a waiting list with 12,000 more on it and there has been a surge in club membership from 60,000 to 115,000.
He is also certain those fans now installed in the Wanda Metropolitano have noticed huge differences between their old home and their new one.
‘‘We didn´t want to change things too much, our first aim was to replicate the atmosphere that the Calderón was well-known for and we think we have done this. The stadium design has helped us with that, the stands are much closer to the pitch and the roof has been designed to elevate the noise.
‘‘It is a very modern, comfortable stadium, fans have lots of space in wide aisles, they can get out very quickly and 96% are covered from the rain.
‘‘We try to inform those in the stadium with personalised information about competitions and all the entertainment on offer with the club app. The mobile has now become an important point of contact with them thanks to GPS technology.’’
The remarkable change in surroundings must be quite daunting for older fans. The soon to be demolished Vicente Calderon, that only opened itself in 1966, felt almost decrepit in recent years. Previously Atlético had played for forty-three years in the original Metropolitano.
With the financial gap widening in recent years between Atlético and Spain´s big-two, Real Madrid and Barcelona, the move to the new Wanda Metropolitan very much feels like a push to still compete at the very top of Spanish and European football.
Although Atlético Madrid will spend a record budget of €343 million this season, that is still less than half of Real´s projected spend of €690.3.
The move to what was initially earmarked to be Madrid´s Olympic stadium site in failed bids for the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games, is a huge part of a strategy by the club to close that gap.
As well as a potential windfall from land deals on the Calderón, the new stadium brings the opportunity to ramp up the club´s commercial operations and allows them to compete more intelligently with their near neighbours.
After the decision to move was made, a strategic partner was sought that led the Chinese leisure group Dalian Wanda to come on board with a 20% investment in the club in 2015.
Owned by Wang Jianlin, previously China´s richest man, Wanda´s participation is so deep it has taken on the first half of the stadium´s name, but Fariza stresses the partnership with Wanda is much more than another sponsorship deal.
‘‘We started working with them on an education programme with young Chinese people that was very successful and the relationship moved from there. They became shareholders and now have naming rights to the stadium. We complement each other and we could not have a better partner to go on this journey with.
‘‘The visibility a company gets from naming a stadium like this is amazing and Wanda help us in our goal to become a global club. We think our relationship will last for years to come,’’ Fariza says.
On their way to the new Metropolitano, fans are encouraged to use the metro station of the same name that stops under the stadium and comes out onto Luis Aragones Avenue, in honour of the club legend who played and coached the club before leading Spain to World Cup glory in 2010.
And more attempts have been made to make everybody feel at home. A walk of fame with stars on the pavement has been laid to commemorate every player who has made more than one hundred appearances for the club.
Meanwhile a club flag, so large it is the biggest in Spain, flutters above, while the familiar bear and tree monument – ‘el oso y madroño’ – standing at over four metres is the symbol of Madrid.
For Fariza the naming of the stadium itself was a big step to reuniting the fans with their past.
‘‘Bringing back the Metropolitano name is a clear reference to our past and the ground where our grandfathers used to go. We have tried to look to the future but always with a nod to what has happened in our history.’’
While it is true that Atlético have gone to great effort to remember the past, the Wanda Metropolitano is full of all the innovations you would expect from a new world-class stadium.
‘‘We look to constantly entertain with three video scoreboards, the latest lighting and almost one thousand screens scattered around the stadium.
‘‘It is a connected stadium thanks to a partnership with Cellnex that allows fans to use their devices quickly. We have a strong Wi-Fi system, but fans should also be able to use their own 4G services without any problems.
‘‘We want our fans to be our ambassadors on social media and share their experiences from the ground, which is ultimately the best way we have to sell ourselves.
‘‘Digital devices such as the smart phone are at the centre of everything. Everything is centralised with all the output on the LED video screens and the first 360 degree ribbon board in Spain, so that we can mix together brand messages with match content in one seamless offering,’’ Fariza explains.
A good example of that is something as simple as the team line-up announced before each game, which has been transformed into a pre-match light and video show thanks to deals with Philips Lighting and LG.
The facilities to entertain all kinds of fans goes much further than that, and while the ordinary fan will have noticed huge changes, the new stadium has more than doubled the club´s hospitality offering to 8000 VIP seats.
‘‘The business world wants to be linked to all that is modern and innovative, so our VIP areas are working well as a place to do business. We wanted to impress people with our catering and hospitality and offer the best in the market, so we travelled the world to see what was on offer,’’ Fariza says.
‘‘We reached an agreement with US Company Centerplate, who among many other things are associated with the Superbowl, and with them we have raised the bar on what hospitality can provide in Spain.’’
For Fariza, in the long run what his team at Atlético Madrid has built will become much more than just a football ground.
‘‘A stadium like this in Madrid makes a lot of sense, this is the capital of football, and with this we can improve the sporting, cultural and business opportunities for Madrid. We will host concerts and we plan to provide an experience of the club´s history that is much more than your usual club museum.’’
He goes on, ‘‘Of course we can improve and we are constantly listening to our fans. We will soon have improved road access to the stadium and we only wish all of that could have been ready from the start, but this has only just begun.’’
‘‘We are ambitious and the potential is amazing now we have almost tripled the space we used to have. We have over 11,000m2 internally to host all kinds of events and conferences so it can become a business hub, while outside we´ll have shops and a fantastic food offering throughout the week and space for our sponsors to easily interact with fans before and after the games.’’
The sky is the limit for the venue already chosen to host the 2018-19 Champions League final. For Atlético the challenge is to keep pleasing the record number of fans that have nailed their ambitions to the mast of the Wanda Metropolitano.