Earlier today FC Barcelona unveiled their plans for the new Palau Blaugrana. It’s a massive expansion from the existing structure and Emmet Ryan is trying to understand why.
That horribly small image at the top is the first look at Barcelona’s proposed new Palau Blaugrana. The redevelopment is part of the Espai Barca programme, one which as a whole project makes a lot of sense. The Camp Nou is big but far too dated to optimise matchday income in the current environment. The Miniestadi works fine but again needs an overhaul. The outlier but only slightly was the existing Palau Blaugrana. While a spruced up new arena was certainly in order, the current Palau is fine but could be a lot better, it’s the scale of the upgrade that has caught observers outside of Barcelona by surprise.
The existing Palau Blaugrana, which is home to Barcelona’s basketball, handball, roller hockey, and futsal teams, has a capacity of 7,585 and it’s rarely full. Indeed there is normally plenty of room to spare. With the new arena proposed to have a 12,000 capacity, the idea of a half-full Palau being the norm seems a tad odd.
The story however is a touch more complex than eyes outside of Barcelona can easily see. If anything, the experts on the ground consider the expansion to be too conservative.
“Here in Barcelona most of the people think that new Palau will be too small. FC Barcelona is one of the best brands in the world and there is a lot of tourists that come to our city mainly to visit Camp Nou and to have a ‘Barça experience’,” Jose I. Huguet, basketball editor at Mundo Deportivo told BallinEurope.
“Barcelona is also a big entertainment market, so why must be think 12.000 seats is more than the proper capacity? FC Barcelona is being conservative opting for 12.000, they want to avoid criticism if they can’t fill it in the near future. But it all depends on their season pass policy.”
And therein lies the crux of the existing problem. For Barcelona the capacity issue to date hasn’t been one of selling tickets, it’s about getting people with season passes to use theirs. As it stands just 2,000 of the 7,585 seats in the Palau Blaugrana are on general sale. The rest depend on how many season pass holders show up on a given day. This is an issue Huguet says Barca need to address in order to avoid attendance issues. There’s a substantial waiting list for season passes and as it stands a lot of fans who want to watch Barcelona play, in any sport not just basketball, have limited access to tickets.
“FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are not a private companies as all the other great football clubs in the world, beacuse an spanish law allows them to keep their old legal status. The clubs is owned by the associate fans, they are their ‘stockholders’ and they choose those responsible by democratic elections. That explains why FCB board looks so carefully what the fans think about them,” said Huguet.
“That being said, FCB has had for years a very conservative approach to season tickets. Talking about basketball, season passes are extremely cheap if you compare with other great European basketball clubs. The problem now for FCB is that Palau is rarely packed. There are a lot of season ticket holders that don’t go to regular matches, they use the pass only in matches against Real Madrid or in playoffs,” he said.
“FC Barcelona has called one by one all his season tickets holders trying to solve this problem but has failed. The only solution is to increase the season passes prices to all the holders that doesn’t come to a minimum amount of games. But the clubs knows this won’t be a very popular measure and is doing nothing, letting the basketball team play in a disadvantageous situation. When Pascual’s team plays abroad they are against opponents with the help of crowded arenas yet they play at home in front of only 4,000-5,000 fans in a 7,500 arena.”