Camp Nou: a lost temple in touristy Barcelona

The scandal against Eintracht is the result of an extractive policy that places visiting Barça fans above locals

4 min
Eintracht fans in the stands at Camp Nou

BarcelonaCamp Nou, Barcelona. Thursday, April 14 at 11 pm. While Eintracht Frankfurt players celebrate euphorically after they qualificatied for the Europa League semi-finals with almost 40,000 away fans, Barça's top brass watch the scene from the stadium box. The arrival of the club's head of security, Lluís Venteo, breaks the silence among the directors, who are seeking explanations from the former police officer who replaced Ferran López a few months ago. Everyone says theirs in a hot conversation, rich in gesticulations and very affected by an invasion that left getting knocked out of the UEFA league in the background, instead opening a cascade of questions about the management of ticket sales and the consequent annoyance of some club members, who are making their discomfort heard at having strangers take over their stadium. Some of them even expressed their perplexity to Enric Masip, adviser to the presidency, next to the box. Minutes later, president Joan Laporta told official media that what happened was "a disgrace", denouncing "strange things" in the distribution of tickets. The next day, he specifies one of the measures which would be taken to avoid a repetition of this situation: nominal tickets for international matches.

Days after the nightmare, and in the wake of another defeat, this time against Cádiz, the club again gave explanations. "We believe that the club is not guilty, although it is the most responsible," insisted Laporta, who also pointed to club members making money by selling tickets onto Eintracht fans. He accused, on the one hand, 7,400 members who do not have season tickets of obtaining tickets to resell them later to the Germans; on the other, he accused some 7,000 season ticket holders of selling their tickets before the match. He also denounced the existence of "organised groups of resellers" and the malpractice of a tour operator who worked with the club and who will no longer be allowed to do so. Barça publicly claimed to be the victim of a security system that was "overwhelmed" by the large number of visiting fans willing to dig deep into their pockets and circumvent the computer controls in collusion with thousands of club members. This is how he explained that 30,000 Germans entered the Camp Nou instead of the 5,000 expected by UEFA and Eintracht. The high prices and the last-minute call for season ticket holders to relinquish their tickets hoped to fill the stadium with Barça –not Eintracht– supporters.

Club sources consulted by ARA contrast with the official discourse and express relative surprise with what happened last Thursday night. "There was ignorance, a point of incompetence and a great economic urgency," club sources say, who put the focus on the enormous need to make money. The money is essential in the short term to meet the budgeted revenue, estimated at €765m and affected by being prematurely knocked out of the Champions League, among other things. "The difference is not in the number of tickets available for foreigners, but in the fact that this time they were wearing Eintracht's jersey," added sources at FC Barcelona in relation to the ticketing strategy that has been in place at Barça for the last decade. The business plan makes the stadium and the museum two vital revenue streams to generate money on a day-to-day basis. In fact, the club suffered from this dependence when it had to close its doors to visitors because of the pandemic, as the €130m revenue from the museum, season tickets and day tickets evaporated. No other major sporting club suffered as much as Barça, which had grown used to spending freely thanks to the ease with which it could get money. Club members could join the party by selling their seat. "It's in Barça's interest for the season ticket holder to release their seat because that way they make more money," an expert in ticketing with experience in several La Liga clubs explains.

Tourists instead of roots

With the reopening of the Camp Nou after the pandemic, and despite the change in the board, Barça has continued acting this way. Around 27,000 club members asked for their season tickets to be suspended for a year, allowing the club ample manoeuvring room to sell tickets. It usually does it online, with "dynamic" prices based on algorithms similar to those that set prices for flights. This measure compensates for suspending direct sales by club members, and ensures a fixed quota of tickets to do business in each match. "Laporta is doing the same as always but more expensively, without contributing anything and with a short-sighted logic," criticises Marc Duch, one of the promoters of the vote of no confidence against Bartomeu, a member of the Manifest Blaugrana Group and active in the candidacy of Víctor Font in the last elections. Duch says there is a lack of strategies to "fill the stadium with members again" and proposes the introduction of loyalty programmes, such as a points-based season ticket that evaluates the use made through variables such as the opponent, the schedule and the weather. "Barça has spent too many years thinking too little in order to fill the stadium. We need professional management in this regard," he adds. The club is currently looking for a new venue and ticketing manager, after Victor Oliver resigned before the game against Eintracht.

Barça has been able to squeeze its supporters (or even all football fans) passing through Barcelona to increase its income. In return, however, it has allowed the stands to lose their identity. In this sense, the expert in urban behaviours Vicent Molins makes the following reflection: "Beyond the short-term economic reading, it is necessary to look up and see that Barça is at the centre of the extractive economy that takes over the city's local communities, just like Airbnb or vulture funds. And the worst thing is that now it is not ready to make this reflection, because it depends too much on financial players." According to Molins, the strategy would involve "being sexy internally" and "seeking external impact thanks to a healthy roots in the immediate environment." "If you look at Frankfurt, it's one of the most depersonalised cities in Germany and one of the most financially driven, but Eintracht wouldn't get 30,000 fans to travel if it didn't generate roots. It's a lesson, really," he says. Will Barça learn on the way to regaining their lost essence at Camp Nou? At the moment it doesn't look like it: more energy is being put into looking for culprits than finding solutions.