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The Real Madrid Gameday Experience

January 3, 2011

My last two weeks of 2010 were spent on a family vacation to Spain. The trip was a great way to relax and end the year while enjoying Spanish sights, food, and culture. As well, we fit in some Spanish sport. The opportunity to visit Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and watch Real Madrid play against Sevilla was truly exciting. As a soccer fan, I was obviously looking forward to the game, but I also was interested in comparing the game day experience at a Real Madrid game against sporting events in the United States. I was hoping that something would catch my eye and lead to a good post. Luckily, I was treated to great soccer and had an interesting and completely unexpected game day experience as well.

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is a huge soccer stadium with a capacity of over 80,000 fans. Being at a Real Madrid game can only be compared to being at a football game in the States. From my live football experience, the atmosphere at the University of Wisconsin and the Georgia Dome watching the Atlanta Falcons is most comparable. The stadium is packed, it’s noisy, and it’s truly alive. The fans seem to be one body sharing all emotions. That was my first takeaway and definitely one that I expected before I even got to the game. I would venture to guess that those that are familiar with European soccer could have assumed these points. Nevertheless, it is extremely fun to actually be at the game and experience it. There were other observations that I made including the lack of the “beer guy,” but what is worth writing about is Real Madrid’s use of the VIP ticket.

My father and I had never bought tickets for a European soccer game, but we had friends that recommended a website where we could make the purchase. When we logged on, we saw that only VIP tickets were being sold while all other tickets would be sold at a later date. Not wanting to miss out on the game, we paid a bit more for the tickets thinking that VIP tickets were priced higher solely because they were available before the majority of the tickets were available. When we got to the stadium on game night, we learned that we had purchased more than we initially believed.

We found our section and were ascending the stairs to our seats when an usher stopped us and led us to the VIP room where we were fitted with wristbands and unleashed into a room that held almost all trophies relevant to Real Madrid’s history not to mention snacks and an open bar. The 40 minutes before the game were spent enjoying finger food, Mahou, and each of the trophies ranging from Spanish League championship cups to annual trophies for Real Madrid’s top player. For a soccer-loving American, this was an unbelievable experience. I walked around the VIP room with a wide grin that stayed on my face the whole night. Combined with the initial shock of what we had gotten ourselves into, the ability to see all of these important historical artifacts while enjoying food and drink made me feel like a small kid in a toy store. In one word, the VIP room was a museum. We came to Madrid expecting to visit the Prado among other museums, but the very first one we visited was at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.

Laying in bed that night, I couldn’t help but think how “cool” the evening’s experience was. I was thinking that Real Madrid had done an excellent job creating a great VIP experience and showing off the history of the club, but then as I continued analyzing the experience and removed my emotions, I took an objective look and started wondering if Real Madrid was serving its true fans by making the Trophy Room exclusive to VIP ticket holders on gameday. Here are some thoughts:

1) I have not been to Yankee Stadium, but I am familiar with Monument Park where everyone attending a New York Yankees home game can enjoy the open-air museum and its plaques recognizing Yankee greats. The Yankees make their history accessible to all fans because they grasp that their fans come from a wide range of socio-economic statuses. It’s obvious that some of the most passionate fans may not be able to pay a premium on top of an expensive ticket in order to view the history of the team. The Yankees allow fans to enjoy the history of their favorite team no matter where they sit. On the other hand, Real Madrid limits the game day experience for the majority of their fans. Just like at Yankee Stadium, all seats at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu are pretty expensive. Real Madrid is not giving away free tickets like the Tampa Bay Rays did this past season. Thus, fans that love their team and pay to see a live game are excluded from viewing its history unless they pay a premium. On an emotional level, Real Madrid is failing by cheating its loyal fan base of the opportunity to enjoy the history that they have supported.

2) On a business level, the VIP room is a hit. First, the team still sells out their games, so fans are not boycotting the team because they cannot see the trophies. When a business faces no customer backlash for its activity, it is unlikely to change it if it is working. Second, the VIP experience is truly a special one. Besides pre-game snacks and drinks, the VIP room is open throughout the game and food is served at halftime and at the conclusion of the game. It is a great place to take pictures, enjoy soccer history, and shmooze. The room serves the same business purpose as club level seats at American stadiums while also presenting the history of Real Madrid. You cannot help but be happy with your experience. On a business level, Real Madrid is succeeding by using one of its strongest assets – its rich soccer history and tradition – and promoting a special and exclusive gameday experience.

3) After further research fueled by a disbelief that Real Madrid would hide their history from a majority of fans, I found that my hunch was correct. The team has a tour which allows fans to make numerous stops throughout the stadium including in the Trophy Room. For General Public, children get in for 11 Euros and adults get in for 16 Euros. The Yankees also run a tour which is priced at a similar price point. The tour makes me feel better. While I think that some trophies should be on display for all, the ability to visit the stadium on a tour and see the history of the club is obviously better than being completely shut out.

4) If I were to compare Real Madrid with the New York Yankees in their use of team history, I would argue that the New York Yankees do a better job of serving their fans. The Yankees have premium tickets which make numerous suites available to high paying customers. These suites are similar to the VIP experience at the Trophy Room in that their is food, drink, and team history. Where the Yankees seem to succeed in their gameday experience is in sharing their history with all of their fans. There are premium seats where some memorabilia is limited on gameday, but all fans are able to visit Monument Park. Each fan has the ability to visit the history that they grew up supporting. The Yankees and Real Madrid are similar in their rich history and passionate fanbase, but it seems that the Yankees are a bit more democratic than their soccer counterparts.

– Jason

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    January 5, 2011 8:12 am

    welcome back!

  2. Eddie permalink
    July 17, 2012 6:53 pm

    Jason,

    Since there is a tour of the Trophy Room, would you still recommend the VIP tickets. Was the food and drinks worth paying almost double the price?

    Thanks,
    Eddie.

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