Why was the attendance so low for Barcelona v Atletico Madrid?

Only 34,568 fans attended the blockbuster match at the Olympic Stadium - Andy Mitten breaks down the reasons for the low turnout

Joao Felix scored the only goal for Barcelona against his parent club Atletico Madrid, but less than 35,000 fans were inside the stadium to watch it. AP
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Just 34,568 fans watched Barcelona against Atletico Madrid on Sunday evening, a La Liga match between two giants fighting for the title.

Both teams were packed with stars in a game filled with intrigue. How would Barca's on-loan Joao Felix do against the team who pushed him away last term (he scored the winner), or Memphis Depay do for Atletico on loan from Barcelona (the substitute didn’t do much)?

More people watched two games in England’s second tier at Leeds United and Sunderland last week. The attendance against Atletico was Barcelona’s lowest of the season so far, way down from the equivalent fixtures last term which attracted 80, 965.

There are numerous reasons why. The main one is that Barcelona are playing games at the city’s Olympic Stadium while Camp Nou is being rebuilt and expanded to hold 105,000. But even the Olympic Stadium, located high on Montjuic overlooking Barcelona, was well short of its 51,000 capacity on Sunday.

The stadium may be as beautiful as the views you get over Barcelona, accessible via a series of escalators climbing 150 metres above the city, but it wasn’t built for football and the views from thousands of seats are really poor. The stands are separated from the pitch by the athletics track which staged the 1992 Olympic Games. And there’s plenty of space around the track.

As a result, the seats behind the goals, especially on the upper tier, are so far from the pitch that it’s almost impossible to watch the game. Lower down, it’s difficult to judge the distances. Barcelona keep the first 15 rows empty, creating a poor image on television, though not as poor as for those fans who would have to sit in those low seats far from the pitch.

The tickets in this section were €55 each, plus a €3.50 booking fee. There are no discounts for children. Tickets along the side of the pitch for this weekend’s Catalan derby against Girona cost between €139 and €169, plus a booking fee. Ticket prices are far higher to watch games in Spain than in England or Germany, where average wages are far higher than in Spain.

Barcelona have vast support capable of attracting over 90,000 to see their stellar women’s side when they played at Camp Nou, but not at the prices being asked by the club for the men’s team.

Attendances are likely to go down in the winter especially for games played at unsociable hours (Sunday’s was with a 9pm kick off). Games are switched to suit television, so don’t be surprised when match-going fans stay away.

Those Barca fans who do go to games try their best to create an atmosphere in their cold, exposed, temporary home where the temperature is often a couple of degrees colder than in the city below. But while Camp Nou is surrounded by night life, the Olympic Stadium stands in near isolation.

There are more factors. Barcelona market themselves heavily to the football tourists. They have had considerable success in doing so and charge tourists far more for tickets, but there are far fewer tourists in Barcelona in December than in the summer. The clasico against Real Madrid saw the only sell-out of the season, but that’s a global event.

Barcelona ratings v Atletico Madrid

Barcelona got it wrong with their regulars, too. They increased prices sharply for this season – and most fans decided it was too much to pay. Only 8,000 members paid up. Barca were forced to halve their prices; now, the most expensive regular season ticket is €870 while fans in the most vocal section behind the goal pay only €175.

Yet, even so, Barcelona had sold only 17,500 once the season got under way. Second division Espanyol have 22,000 season ticket holders, third tier Deportivo La Coruna 25,556.

The initial pricing policy annoyed fans, many of whom then took the option of a year’s pause from their season tickets. Barcelona optimistically hope to be back in Camp Nou a year from now.

Barcelona are currently emailing members with offers as they try to shift tickets for a team that’s doing well enough in the league but whose club is well short of their aim to fill their temporary home for every game.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 6:51 AM