Real Madrid C.F.’s home ground, the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, is a legend in the world of football. Associated with a rich history, the home to the Blancos had equally interesting inception that dragged the club out of a seemingly unavoidable vortex of incompetence, financial ruins, and a series of unsuccessful years.
The Santiago Bernabéu stadium is undergoing a massive revamp in terms of structure, design, capacity, and additional features. The project will cost the Blancos a whopping investment of around 600-million Euros, a figure that has been further amplified after the losses incurred by the club during the COVID-19 crisis.
Fortunately for Real Madrid, their financial situation wasn’t as bad as their Spanish arch-rivals in F.C. Barcelona, thanks to the visionary management led by their president, Florentino Pérez. The deteriorating finances of member-owned clubs are one of the reasons why Real Madrid’s board of executives opted for a stadium renovation of ginormous proportions. Because they don’t have a billionaire-owner backing them, Real Madrid relies on the club’s stature to accumulate funds from various operations and sources like sponsors, ticket sales, revenue from merchandise and player jerseys, bonuses from different competitions, and so on. As COVID-19 struck the “footballing continent”, the sources of revenue dwindled for all the clubs that were backed by members (socios), as they had nothing to offer in finances.
To compete shoulder-to-shoulder with the state-owned clubs that have seemingly infinite funds at their disposal, Real Madrid sought a way to increase their revenue by bolstering their already-legendary stadium – the Santiago Bernabéu. The plans for a new structure were laid out, and it looked like the stadium would be completely unrecognizable by the time the project was completed.
It was poetic justice to let the old Santiago Bernabéu host an “El Clásico” as its final game, a match that ended in a 2-0 win for the Blancos captained by Sergio Ramos. Following that, all football activities were ceased in Spain due to the festering spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. When football returned in front of the eyes of an eager audience, Real Madrid C.F. decided that the time couldn’t be better to commence the renovation project. The Santiago Bernabéu was closed indefinitely as the construction process started, while the Blancos took to the 6000-seater Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano, their second team’s home ground, to play their matches. Because no spectators were allowed inside any of the stadiums, Real Madrid didn’t incur any losses as they played the entire 2020-21 season behind the closed doors of the Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium.
The new Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is expected to be unveiled by the end of December 2022. More specifically, the club president wants the construction project sped up so that the new Bernabéu could be unveiled on 14 December 2022 – the stadium’s 75th anniversary.
Following the revamp, it is estimated that Real Madrid will earn a whopping 1-billion euros every year from just the stadium itself. The new design is revolutionary – making use of advanced technologies to develop fabricated sections of a retractable pitch underneath the stadium. The sophisticated system will allow the operators to change the structure of the stadium on a whim. The technology is an integral piece of weaponry in the club’s plans for the stadium, as the new Santiago Bernabéu will not only be a home for football, but also a servant to some of the most prestigious sports tournaments across the country including NBA, NFL, Pro Tennis, and so on. Moreover, the stadium will also hold some of the biggest concerts in the world. All this, coupled with a myriad of commercial centres and buildings, will inject an obscene amount of revenue into Real Madrid’s financial accounts every year, giving them enough firepower to deal with state-owned giants like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
Following a couple of years of turmoil, Real Madrid’s plan to use their legendary stadium to get back on their feet is a shadow of what their first-ever president achieved when the club was at its lowest point. Following the Spanish Civil War, Real Madrid was struggling – they weren’t even the biggest club of their city at that time, with Atlético Aviacion (now Atlético Madrid) being the face of Spanish royalty and backed by Franco’s dictatorial regime. Most of the club’s players had either fled, been jailed, or had died during the war. Other Spanish giants, meanwhile, enjoyed several years of success before Madrid could win their first title after the civil war.
Real Madrid desperately needed to bring in new players that could help turn things around in their favour. Unfortunately, they had no finances, their stadium was in ruins, and they had no political or economic backing either. It looked like the end of a short road for the club, with no glimmer of hope in the foreseeable future.
Santiago Bernabéu, the then-president of Real Madrid, however, didn’t want to give up. He made a questionable investment decision – to ramp up the capacity of the club’s stadium so that they could generate more income from ticket sales. At that time, Real Madrid’s stadium – the Campo de Chamartín – could only seat about 16,000 spectators, a pathetically low amount.
Santiago Bernabéu decided to build the biggest stadium in Europe that could house close to 100,000 spectators per match. He understood that a bolstered stadium would mean larger income that could then be used in the transfer market to attract the best players. During that time, he was often criticized and ridiculed for his decisions, giving rise to the historic quote – “too big a stadium for too little a club”. Santiago, however, didn’t budge – his determination to build the biggest stadium in the world set in stone.
Unfortunately, Real Madrid lacked the funds required to undertake this ambitious project. However, Santiago Bernabéu took yet another bold step by selling the club bonds to the fans and members to finance the stadium. The construction of the new stadium – called the Nuevo Estadio Chamartín – commenced on the site of the old stadium itself. Eight years later, Real Madrid changed its name to Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to honour their best-ever sporting figure and president. The new stadium served its purpose well as Santiago Bernabéu managed to win his first titles following the construction.
Whether or not history will repeat itself is a matter for the future. The fact, however, remains – Santiago Bernabéu, both the stadium and the president – have become an irrevocable piece in Real Madrid’s historical fabric.
Anzal Khan is a student pursuing B.Com Honors from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Diptarka Chatterjee