Barcelona Stadium Project Hopes to Follow Cowboys, SoFi Example


Spanish soccer giant Barcelona F.C. kicks off LaLiga's 2022-23 season Saturday against Rayo Vallecano, and while the excitement surrounding the team is high thanks to some big-name offseason signings, some fans will soon have to give up their seats at the newly renamed Spotify Camp Nou stadium.

The club is beginning to remodel its iconic 99,000-seat venue, part of a spending-heavy plan to pull Barca out of its recent financial crisis. And like many things with the club, the stadium venture-which is getting an assist from Goldman Sachs-will feed into the rivalry with fellow Spanish titan Real Madrid, in the midst of its own stadium renovation plan.

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The landmark Camp Nou is the focal point of the $1.5 billion Espai Barca project, which the club's board of directors greenlit last December. Barca president Joan Laporta has been working with Goldman Sachs to structure the loan that will finance the stadium project. While the US-based investment bank is not funding the Espai Barca project, it helped blaugrana overcome its pandemic related debt by providing a $600 million (€595 million) loan in the form of private placement notes, which provided nearly $300 million of liquidity and refinanced $200 million of existing notes. These senior security notes were backed by Barca's media revenues, including those from LaLiga and Champions League. Goldman Sachs did not respond Sportico's request for comment.

During Barcelona's U.S. tour in July, Laporta visited the investment firm's headquarters in New York. "We are surprised by the number of investors interested in our project," he told Sportico in an interview inside Rockefeller Center. "Barca is attractive for investors because we have very strong assets."

The loan, Laporta said, won't be paid back until the stadium renovation is complete. "We will pay [it] back with the additional revenues we will generate from the new stadium."

Camp Nou has been the soccer team's home since its completion in 1957, seating 99,354 fans. According to the club's website, Espai Barca will generate $207 million (€200 million) annually through sponsorship, title rights, VIP boxes, premium hospitality services, event space and the club's updated museum.

"The best analog for Espai Barca here in the U.S. is mashing up AT&T Stadium and The Star, or L.A. Live and SoFi Stadium in the same location," Steve Gera, CEO of Gains Group, said in an interview. Gains Group, an innovation consultancy, has worked with Barcelona and other Spanish clubs over the past decade.

The project has been delayed by the complexities of the club's ownership and increasing project costs, but Barca is taking advantage of the league's scheduled break for the World Cup in Qatar in November and December. This first leg of the renovation project will impact seats on the southern part of the stadium, mainly in the third tier. Approximately 3,000 seats will disappear, including six VIP boxes usually given to the visiting club. The club said some ticket holders will have to watch next year's games on uncovered seats. This first part of the project will cost a mere $4.7 million.

The club, which made a splash on the transfer market this summer by signing Robert Lewandowski, after losing Lionel Messi last year, has not decided who will commercialize the new stadium. "We are in a tender with some companies that are experts in managing VIP zones, like Legends, and other companies like Elevate and IMG," Laporta said.

In May, Real Madrid signed a $380 million deal with Legends and investment firm Sixth Street to revamp its stadium, Santiago Barnabéu. Before the Real Madrid deal, Sixth Street invested in Legends. In May, Sixth Street announced it invested $670 million in Barcelona in exchange for 25% of the club's broadcast revenues for the next 25 years.

"Barcelona will unlock one of the best fan experiences on the planet," Gera said. "Not only will FCB stand to generate €200m more per year by having a modern stadium and entertainment district, but it will also set a new standard that other clubs across Europe will aim to replicate over the next decade-just as the Dallas Cowboys and AEG have here in the states."

The real potential, Gera said, is the project showing the world how older stadiums can be preserved and enhanced for a modern world. "Dodger Stadium has been a shining example of this, and Camp Nou can be in Europe."

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