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Season tickets & Fan Engagement Strategy during a stadium relocation - Barça case

Building a new modern stadium is one of the levers that many professional football clubs are using to boost their revenues, thanks to the maximization of the matchday offering, as well as the increase in VIP areas and private boxes / lounges. However, the transition process is not easy, specially if it means a transitional relocation period, like it has been the case of FC Barcelona.

In this case study we dug into FC Barcelona's 2023-2024 season ticket strategy, focusing on the key factors that led to a significant reduction in the number of season ticket holders, impacting on the general match attendance figures both in the league and the Champions League, and consequently on the matchday generated revenues.

FC Barcelona have maintained a substantial base of 85,000 season ticket holders for several years, with memberships automatically renewing every season. Additionally, the club has a waiting list of around 15,000 members, seeking access to the season tickets with an average waiting period of 15 years, which emphasizes the interest in acquiring the right to annually having a seat in the stadium to watch all games of the first team.

During season 22/23, the club had an average attendance in La Liga with 83,497 spectators per game (from a capacity of almost 100,000), being the stadium with the highest occupation in Spain and in Europe.

Official club data indicated that the season ticket prices ranged from 170 Euros to 1,247 Euros, depending on the location of the seat. Additionally, all FC Barcelona members, whether season ticket holders or not, were also required to keep in order their annual club membership with a cost of 185 Euros for adults.

However, this landscape shifted when the club decided to relocate to the Olympic Stadium Lluis Companys in Montjuic (within the same city of Barcelona), while starting the construction work of the new Spotify Camp Nou. In that sense, the club embarked on the challenge of formulating a new structure and strategy for offering season tickets to its members at the Olympic stadium, which has a lower capacity and worse conditions that the old Camp Nou.

Official sources from the club estimated a reduction in match-day revenue of up to 55 million Euros, due to the Olympic stadium's limited seating capacity of 49,472 seats (50% of Camp Nou), and constraints on the number of VIP areas and skyboxes. To address this challenge, an integrated approach was needed, considering a new ticketing strategy with prices aligned with the new stadium conditions, as well as with the members and general visitors’ expectations.

In May 2023, the club announced the availability of only 27,000 season tickets out of a total capacity of Olympic stadium. Alongside with this announcement, the club introduced a revised pricing structure, with prices ranging from 325 to 1,738 Euros, marking a significant price increase of up to 40% compared to the 2022-2023 season. The club's rationale was to counter the expected reduction in match-day revenue, stating that FC Barcelona's level of football justified these prices, aligning them with market standards in comparison to direct competitors in La Liga and the Champions League.

Regrettably, member demand for these season tickets fell significantly short of expectations, with fewer than 7,000 requests from club members out of the available 27,000 season tickets at that time.

In response to public and member concerns over the new pricing structure and ticket range, FC Barcelona chose to adjust its approach in June 2023, implementing a substantial 50% price reduction across all categories. The new price range started from 175 to 870 Euros.

Even with this price reduction, FC Barcelona commenced the 2023-2024 season with only 17,046 season ticket holders, while the remaining seats were sold as individual tickets.

The current number of season ticket holders positioned FC Barcelona in 13th place among La Liga teams, a sharp contrast to its previous top rank, both locally and in European competitions. Additionally, the club faced the challenge of not achieving a single sold-out match this season, with an average attendance of 41,900 spectators per game, being ranked 8th in La Liga, despite extensive marketing campaigns with generous discounts aimed at attracting both members and general fans.

As previously mentioned, the strategy hinged on the team's popularity and potential among its numerous official members, local and international fans, and the general appeal of the Barcelona tourism scene. However, the club underestimated the significant impact of its move to the Olympic Stadium on season ticket holders and overall fan engagement, inadvertently creating an unforeseen negative scenario, despite later price reductions in season tickets and general ticket offerings, mainly due to the following internal and external factors:

External Factors - The Stadium:

  • Visibility: The Olympic stadium's layout negatively affects the fan experience by distancing them from the playing field due to the existence of an Olympic running track within the stadium. Additionally, around 2,716 seats in the first rows of the first tier on the main and goal sides are categorized to have limited visibility.

  • Comfort: Another significant issue was that 75% of the total seats are uncovered, exposing attendees to adverse weather conditions, such as winter and rain events, a major problem in the case of the new location, as the stadium is located uphill in the mountain of Montjuic.

  • Accessibility: The stadium has limited connections to public transportation and offers scarce parking options, creating challenges for fans. Furthermore, La Liga match schedule is known to put prime matches in late night times, which can be added as a negative point for the match attendees.

Internal Factors – The fan journey:

In contrast to external factors beyond the control of decision-makers, internal factors played a pivotal role in diminishing members' interest in the new season ticket offerings:

  • Pre-match and Fan Zone Experience: The stadium and its surroundings lack substantial food and beverage options and so far, the club has not been able to designate fan zones.

  • Attendance Confirmation: Members are required to confirm their attendance for each match by sending a confirmation online form within a one-week deadline. Failure to do so results in denied entry. Additionally, members are not allowed to confirm access for multiple matches in advance, having to repeat of the confirmation process before each game.

  • Seat Allocation: The temporary “season tickets” allow holders to access to an allocated zone, not specific seats which was the case in the old Camp Nou. Consequently, the club automatedly assigns different seats within the selected zone for each match with each request, with no guarantee of accommodating group requests for members seeking to attend matches together.

  • General Atmosphere: Due to the stadium's limited capacity, the club reduced the total capacity of the supporters' stand in the northern section of the Olympic stadium from 1,200 seats in the old Camp Nou to 520 seats in the Olympic stadium, negatively affecting the overall atmosphere and fan experience.

In conclusion, the current decrease in home match attendance is directly related to the circumstances resulting from the temporary relocation. However, this analysis tires to provide a better understanding of the critical role of a well-constructed season ticket strategy and its significant impact on the consistency of match attendance and how important is to customize, simplify the process and detail each step of any initiative related to match-day experience independently of the club’s size and position.

Creating and implementing a robust season ticket and fan engagement strategy for a football club should not rely solely on the team's performance and brand value. Decision-makers must conduct in-depth analyses of both internal and external factors, considering local fan culture, economic conditions, stadium infrastructure, and fan incentives. Furthermore, it is vital to avoid excessive comparisons with direct competitors, recognizing the unique cultural, economic, and infrastructural aspects that shape each football club's identity. Sustained efforts to strengthen the bond between the club and its fans are crucial for achieving higher match attendance and enhancing matchday experiences.

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