Barcelona members aren’t attending games at Montjuic – where have they gone?


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It has become a common sight this season: on Wednesday night, there were plenty of empty seats at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys as Barcelona beat Osasuna 1-0.

The figure of 37,888 — the stadium at Montjuic has a total capacity of 49,472 — was not as bad as it looked, considering it was a midweek game at 7pm local time against a midtable La Liga team. That may have had something to do with it being Barca’s first game since Xavi announced he would be stepping down as head coach at the end of the season.

Even so, it was their third lowest attendance this campaign. Barca are playing their home matches there while work takes place on the iconic Camp Nou, which president Joan Laporta has said will be ready for the club to return before the end of the year.

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In the meantime, just 17,552 season ticket holders of the 80,274 at the Camp Nou last season have decided to take up their seats at the Lluis Companys. Some have opted to attend women’s team matches at the Estadi Johan Cruyff on the outskirts of town instead, while others have become matchgoing fans at local, semi-professional clubs.

“The numbers are not what we expected,” Laporta said of the Montjuic attendance figures in an interview with Catalan radio station RAC1 on Friday. “We were really ambitious with the ticketing revenues we budgeted and we are not getting there, but we are already working on new ways to compensate for it.”

So, where have all the Barca season ticket holders gone?

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Barca have not attracted the fans they expected to Montjuic (Javier Borrego/Europa Press via Getty Images)

“I’ve had a seat at Camp Nou for as long as I can remember. Until the pandemic, I only missed one match,” Barcelona socio — or member — Marc Andres says.

“Now I don’t go to Montjuic because the sense of laziness I get from watching these people play is so significant.”

Andres is one of the club members who decided to forego a season ticket at the Lluis Companys in favour of watching the hugely successful women’s team. He is not alone in becoming disenchanted with the men’s style of play — but there are a number of reasons why socios are staying away.

In the spring of 2022, Barca announced they would be moving to Montjuic temporarily. Work on the crumbling Camp Nou could not be delayed any longer and the club said the Lluis Companys would host the men’s side for at least this season and part of the next.

The new stadium has under half the capacity of the 99,354-seater Camp Nou and is located on the large hill of Montjuic to the south-west of the city centre, an hour-long walk from the Camp Nou.

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That is why Barca offered to give season ticket holders who did not want to move to Montjuic a special dispensation that meant they would not pay the fee for that season and would not be penalised. A typical season ticket for Barca costs between €723 and €1,738 ($781-$1,877; £617-£1,484).

Then, in April, the club announced a 30-40 per cent increase in ticket prices to account for the costs associated with making the temporary move. Fans complained and Barca backtracked, making the tickets cheaper than those at the Camp Nou — but that was not enough to convince supporters who had already decided not to go to the Lluis Companys.

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The Camp Nou under reconstruction (Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But the figure of 17,552 season ticket holders who took up the option to move there was still a surprise. There is a long list of fans waiting for a seat at the Camp Nou and getting one can seem impossible. Season tickets usually belong to elderly fans who pass the seats on to their family members, meaning they are always in demand.

Low uptake from socios has been reflected in attendances this season. The highest home crowd this season was the 50,112 who were there for El Clasico in October while the worst was the 34,471 who saw Barca beat Almeria 3-2 five days before Christmas. Barca’s average for the campaign is 41,165.

Barcelona’s home attendances this season

Opponent

  

Date

  

Attendance

  

Cadiz

August 20

39,603

Real Betis

September 16

45,055

Royal Antwerp

September 19

40,989

Celta Vigo

September 23

43,272

Sevilla

September 29

41,116

Athletic Bilbao

October 22

38,194

Shakhtar Donetsk

October 25

41,409

Real Madrid

October 28

50,112

Alaves

November 12

38,183

Porto

November 28

43,533

Atletico Madrid

December 3

34,568

Girona

December 10

42,848

Almeria

December 20

34,471

Villarreal

January 27

46,229

Osasuna

January 31

37,888

The contrast with the Camp Nou is stark. Xavi’s team attracted an average of 83,498 fans per La Liga match last season as they won the Spanish title for the first time since 2019, making it the best-attended ground in Europe in 2022-23, according to UEFA. The highest attendance was the 95,745 who watched them face Real Madrid in La Liga in March and the lowest was the 59,610 supporters for the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Real Sociedad.

Barca have made efforts to ensure the stadium is not empty. For the last game against Osasuna, they gave away tickets to their 18 to 30-year-old socios and offered discounts of up to 50 per cent for those that used the code ‘Tigrinho’ — ‘Little Tiger’, January signing Vitor Roque’s nickname.

So, what have those fans been doing instead of watching Barca’s men’s team? Some have chosen to watch other Blaugrana teams — the women’s side are Champions League holders while Barca have teams across a host of other sports including basketball, handball, hockey and volleyball.

Pol Forcadell, 34, inherited a season ticket from his father and shares the ticket with his sister. He lives in Reus, a town 69 miles (111 kilometres) to the south-west of Barcelona, and regularly went to the Camp Nou. But he decided not to go to Montjuic for logistical reasons and to show his disapproval at how the board announced the move.

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Some Barca socios have chosen to watch the women’s team instead (DAX Images/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“I didn’t think the way they communicated it to the members was right and the way they continue to treat them has proved me right,” Forcadell says of the decision to raise prices for Montjuic before lowering them again. He watches the games on television now.

Some have become more fervent supporters of the women’s team. Sara Pedemonte is a 21-year-old Barca fan who had a seat at the Camp Nou from a very young age through her grandfather. She decided not to go to Montjuic because of ticket prices and how far away the stadium is from her home.

“Now I go to the Johan Cruyff stadium more to watch the women’s team and I often watch the Barcelona men’s team on television, although less than when I used to go to Camp Nou,” she says.

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The cost of tickets is a recurring explanation given to The Athletic by fans who have chosen not to attend games this season. Thirty-year-old Jordi Izquierdo, for example, has decided not to renew his season ticket until the team return to the Camp Nou so he can save money to buy a flat, although he has still gone to some Champions League matches.

Some have decided to take their support elsewhere. Girona have been the story of the season in La Liga but modest teams in the lower divisions have benefited the most from the Montjuic exodus.

CE Europa and UE Sant Andreu, both based in Barcelona, were promoted to the fourth-tier Segunda B division last season while UE Lleida, from the city of the same name in western Catalonia, play at the same level. All boast cult followings and represent a different kind of football. One group of friends from Lleida, who asked to remain anonymous, say they decided to become members of their hometown team given their lack of enthusiasm for this Barca side.

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That was the case for Joan Badell, a 49-year-old who became a socio at third-division Vilafranca. He does not live in Barcelona and failed to see the appeal of the Lluis Companys. The athletics track surrounding the pitch makes visibility difficult and he preferred to do without the paperwork to secure his seat there.

The team’s form has certainly not helped. Barcelona sit fourth in the table and are 10 points behind leaders Madrid while fans have been critical of their style under Xavi. The move to Montjuic has given some socios an excuse to take a tactical leave of absence.

“I’ve become a father and that complicates everything a bit more, but if the team played better I would find the time and the incentive to go,” Oriol Albalate, 42, says.

Then there are those who prefer not to go as the stadium is less comfortable than the Camp Nou. That is the case of one couple in their seventies who The Athletic spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous and were longstanding season ticket holders. They were put off by the high prices and not having a fixed seat in the ground. The idea of going up and down the hill twice a week for La Liga and Champions League matches did not appeal.

Supporters’ groups have also had to change their habits. The Penya Almogavers is one of the largest in the stadium and occupies what is known as the supporters’ stand at the north end. According to sources from this group, the club asked them to reduce the number of members present in the stadium given it is smaller than the Camp Nou.

Many of them have chosen to attend sporadically rather than take up their season tickets, buying entry to specific matches depending on how many of the group attend. Those who are unable to get in watch games from their official headquarters in the nearby cities of Olot and Figueres.

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Finally, there are those older socios who cannot get used to the idea of Montjuic being home. The Lluis Companys was the home of city rivals Espanyol from 1997 to 2009 and there is none of the emotional connection fans had with the Camp Nou. One 65-year-old man who asked to remain anonymous turned down a season ticket at Montjuic as his seat at the old ground had become such a significant part of his life.

“I wouldn’t feel at home,” he says.

Many would agree with him. While attendance will inevitably return to normal when Barca eventually return to the Camp Nou, the club will have to find a solution before the end of the season that does not involve giving out discounts or free tickets.

That could be provided by a decent run in the Champions League or an improvement in the team’s style — and the weather. For now, the hill known as the ‘Magic Mountain’ has proved anything but for Barcelona fans.

(Top photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)





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