Nou Camp stadium expansion: Barcelona beat Manchester City on and off the field
They are on the verge of expanding Nou Camp beyond 100,000 and leaving their rivals even further behind
The really bad news for Manchester City is that Barcelona – the club they aspire to be – are 23 days away from launching into the project that will make them even bigger. Vastly bigger. Plans to transform the Nou Camp into Europe's first stadium of over 100,000 capacity – and a glittering one at that – will be put to a referendum of the club's 100,000 socios (members) on 5 April and the project reveals in myriad ways that the footballing gulf between the two clubs that was exposed on Wednesday night is a commercial one, too.
While the stamp of their Abu Dhabi backers is understandably written all over City's own stadium development, which will see the Etihad Campus sit alongside the Etihad Stadium from July next year, Barcelona will not sell full naming rights but only a subtler, less lucrative brand association they call the stadium "surname" at their expanded 'Nou Camp Nou.'
Neither would they allow Qatar Airways to buy those rights, at a cost Barça expect to be €200m (£167m) over 20 years, because they believe that to have one entity sponsoring both stadium and shirt – as City do – would create the impression that the club are "owned" by the Middle East. "We don't want it to be perceived that anyone is so powerful within the club, because this comes to the root of what Barça is. Barça is not owned by anybody," the club's vice-president Javier Faus told The Independent.
And while City's imaginative game of catch-up with the commercial powerhouses of world football has included creating mini versions of the club in New York and Melbourne, Faus says his club will not countenance such an idea. "No," he said to the idea of imitating City's global plan. "We think there is only one FC Barcelona and it is here. We are very, very proud to be here and we want to stick to our home base."
City's quest to discover some of what the Catalan club has got saw them hire two of its prime and impressive architects, chief executive Ferran Soriano and sporting director Txiki Begiristain, in 2012 but the greater scale of Barcelona is written all over the expansion plans. While City are expanding the Etihad to 62,000, Barça's 10,000 extra seats will take it to 105,000 – a necessary increase because season-ticket demand leaves even 8,000 of the socios on the waiting list. That those season tickets costs a modest €1,000 – half the €2,000 Real Madrid charge – is in part because of the club's obsession with an image of "social commitment in an obvious and far-reaching way for the 21st century" as Soriano described his philosophy as Barcelona vice-president.
The brand strategy has worked, severely dented though it was last year, by the decision to allow Qatar Airways to replace Unicef on the iconic shirts as Barça progressed towards halving its 2010 debts inside four years. The Nou Camp's Nike store is the biggest in the world, sustaining the club's belief that they can more than double the €30m-a-year (£25m) kit deal which runs to 2018, at a time when City command around £72m over six years from the same company and United are negotiating around £65m a year.
The commercial weak point of Nou Camp is its corporate hospitality – so underdeveloped amid the need to pack in the socios and foster the co-operative spirit that Barcelona take only £10m a year from it, while Real Madrid rake in £37m, Arsenal £33m, Manchester United £31.2 and Bayern Munich £20.8m. City's hugely innovative commercial operation saw them to the fastest-growing revenues in the 2013 Deloitte Money League but they are still a distance behind in this field, too. City do not state hospitality income but their overall matchday revenues are £39m a year.
The "Camp Nou redo," as Faus describes it, will put that hospitality issue right and also reshape the now antiquated, 60-year-old stadium. The work will cost €420m – part of an overall €600m site development which, despite the fragility of the Spanish economy, will be secured in syndicate loans, Faus insisted. Investment bankers from London to New York want a piece of the action, he insisted. "The banks are eager to lend to solvent clients and there are not many Spanish corporations like that. A bank is a bank. If it does not keep lending it will close its doors."
The uncertainties lie in the money Barcelona will continue to command in TV rights. The club are arguing for wider distribution of money, to allow "more Atletico Madrids" to grow up, as Faus put it, though Barcelona insist that their own take must remain the same, so the smaller clubs' rise must come from a bigger TV deal overall. That seems contingent on another broadcaster – perhaps Al Jazeera or BSkyB – coming into the field. There's no certainty that they will.
Even less predictable, of course, is the game of football – and whether Barcelona's La Masia Academy can keep producing the talent we witnessed in Lionel Messi on Wednesday night. Faus said that Gerard Deulofeu, on loan at Everton, and Rafinha, on loan at Celta Vigo, would be first-team superstars in the next two years. "We don't need to spend €150m a year [on players] because of La Masia," he insisted, though the on-field inconsistency which had created a firestorm before Wednesday's match revealed how nothing is immutable in this sport. "We are completely sure we will maintain our success because we have Leo Messi and we have Neymar," Faus said. "We need to win everything. City lost against a 'B' team [Wigan] and there was no crisis. Here it would be an earthquake."
Yaya Touré spoke more presciently than he realised when he said of his team's defeat that Barcelona had "more experience at this level than us". City, a good side with some great players, are still forming their philosophy and global reach. Barcelona, a great side with many great players, have been honing theirs for a decade. "You have to understand we are not a machine," Touré reflected. But that is precisely what Wednesday night's Barcelona team were – a machine which is about to get bigger.
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