So here we go, people. The fun begins. At a press conference today, one that for me was akin to a medicine show from days of yore, we were being sold some tonic by a quartet of salesmen.
For anyone interested in a blow-by-blow, I liveTweeted the press conference, via @kevvwill on Twitter. This piece isn’t that, though it will deal with the gist of what is being offered up, along with my views and interpretation of what was offered up. The “medicine show” quip probably gave you a clue of what that view is but truth to tell, I am torn on the matter, as the culer and soci in me are having a fight.
The press conference today was to announce that the board of our beloved club has decided to build what is essentially a covered (except for the pitch) Nou Nou, atop the husk of the current Nou. The renovation is oh, so loosely based on the discarded Foster project, and here are the details:
— Its total cost will be 600m
— Construction will take place in phases, from 2017 to 2021
— On the first matchday in April (5 or 6) the simple “yea” or “nay” vote will be held. If the members vote no, no project happens.
— The club expects to be paying for the stadium for 8 years
— Naming rights will not be sold, but a “surname” will be an option (Camp Nou Coca-Cola, for example)
— Two-thirds of the total cost will come from the club
— There will be a model, but that model won’t look like what will eventually be built
— Construction begins in the first year of the next president’s tenure
— Capacity will be 105,000, and the pitch will be even more vertical (those who have sat in the 300 and up sections, are thinking “WUT??!! How the hell can it get more vertical?”
The soci in me
Barça is a world-class club, among the best in the world, with a stadium that is essentially a giant segunda facility. That is, you come for the match, then you go home. There is no reason to stay. There aren’t corporate boxes, more than half of it is exposed to the elements, so if you buy a ticket on the Lateral side and it rains, you’re screwed.
As every board member who made a presentation pointed out, we lag behind all of our big-time competitors when it comes to matchday revenue. The effect on the sporting project is that, despite bringing in almost a half-billion per year in revenues, so much of that goes to the football team, and those great, big ol’ salaries. Transfer fees become more closely linked to who is sold, all of which affects the club’s place on the global football stage.
Just as Les Corts was necessary to maximize matchday revenue to keep pace with competitors, and the Camp Nou after that, this Nou Nou is a way to keep the club competitive in the fullest sense with its big European rivals. Want to buy a Javi Martinez and not quibble about the price? Build the damn thing.
In this, I am sort of echoing what the board members were saying, mostly because they’re right. We have been very lucky in that Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Busquets, Valdes, Puyol, Messi, have cost the club essentially salary. No transfer fees. Pique was cheap as was Alba, and don’t get me started on Fabregas. The savings from the Masia core has enabled the club to spend where it needs to on other players, because of the luxury of that home-grown, world class core.
The club needs the revenues from a modern football stadium. A renovation is the least expensive option, as a completely new stadium on a different site (at the top of the Diagonal) would cost twice what a rehab does, north of a billion Euros. And that ain’t chickenfeed.
The culer in me
They’ve sold the shirt, and want to build a new stadium for all the moneygrubbing reasons that those penny-pinching moneygrubbers want: sponsorships, suited men in luxury boxes who will watch the match on TV, and the carnival crap attendant to a soulless modern football stadium. Ick. Leave the club’s soul alone.
Further, in making grandiose statements about the future of the club depending on this new facility, and it being the most important decision in 150 years … then adding that construction will begin in 2017, during the tenure of the next president, the board is essentially making the stadium the ultimate transfer promise that a presidential candidate makes.
And even when couched in “most important decision the club has made, blablabla,” it’s still about them. “Thanks to what we have done,” “We did this,” “We did that,” strong words from a group who used fiscal skullduggery to make Joan Laporta look like a cigar-smoking, cava soaked fiend who bathed in Euros. Now the greatest thing that the club has ever done, is possible, thanks to us.
I’m the one sitting in the corner, not applauding.
The cost of the renovation has almost doubled since 2007, when the Foster proposal was tabled. So what happens to the 600m cost in the three years from 2014 to 2017? Good question. Are we to become another Arsenal, with a fancy new stadium, and so much debt that we are hamstrung in the transfer market for years to come? And what kind of deals with the devil will we have to make when the cost goes up again? Not sure how many here know the history, but the Camp Nou was big, expensive and cost the club more than money as it worked to pay down the debt.
Further making the hairs on the back of my culer neck rise is the way the board presented its own re-election pitch in the guise of a new stadium, a monument to their brilliance. “The future of the club depends on it.” “We will be able to do this without affecting the sporting project.” “Only coincidence that the 30m per year is, whaddaya know, the sponsorship amount that we get from Qatar.
But it gets better.
At the press event, they presented a rendering(s), which you see above. There was no model, though one would be thrown together over the weeks before the April vote. But, the finished product won’t look like the model. So, when you go to buy a car, do they show you a picture of a car, and say “Well, let’s do the deal, and when you come back tomorrow, you will have a car that will look a lot like this, or maybe not?” Would you buy a car under those conditions?
Appearance doesn’t matter, right? What’s important is the revenue that a stadium will bring to the club. This is true. But it’s typical of the rather half-assed dog and pony show that this stadium “announcement” was, the culmination of a process that was, and is about as transparent as three feet down in a mud pit. And for that matter, are we or aren’t we an austerity club? Well, we still are, according to Javier Faus, but the brilliant work done by your board in eradicating debt and generating new revenue sources has made this wonderful project possible. We saved the club! And don’t forget that as you head for the ballot box in 2016!
Two thirds of the 600m cost will come from the club, over 8 years. That is 400m, unless my math skills truly are as bad as I think they are. They say that all that money, almost a year’s gross revenues, won’t affect the sporting project in any way, that it will be business as usual. That strains credulity, given that a short time ago, we had to sell a player against his coach’s will to scrape up 15m to add to the bottom line, and stopped making color copies.
So as with most things and most culers who are dealing with this business, I am torn, an easy state to be in. It isn’t just that I view this board and its actions with a healthy dose of suspicion, though that is some of it. It’s the lack of transparency, the presentation of and belief in best-case scenarios that makes me come to this with a heavy, heavy dose of skepticism.
When the floor was opened for questions at today’s press event, darned if those pesky journalists didn’t start asking questions about the El Mundo story that purports to have the real cost of Neymar’s contract. And a number of interesting responses came forth because Toni Freixa, sniffing the air like a coal mine canary, figured that answers were creating more questions and doubt that resolution.
— Rosell said that he is going to request of the judge presiding in the case that he be allowed to formally testify in court about the Neymar contract, so that the court too can see that the deal is as pure as the driven snow.
— Rosell also said (and this is VERY interesting) that he would love to release details of the contract, but players always want those things to remain confidential. So is Neymar the root of the confidentiality agreement? He would certainly have the most to gain from such an arrangement.
— Rosell insisted that the true cost of the Neymar transfer was 57m, and he would love to say more, but he was bound by a confidentiality agreement.
Again to my view, Rosell knows that the court isn’t going to let him come in and explain the contract to them, so he can confidently say “I WANT to go to court and lay it all out.” The judge should grant the request, to see what would happen when.
We will almost certainly never know the details of the Neymar transfer in full, and as with the stadium, I am of two minds: does it really matter, and those evil men ginned up a nefarious deal that they don’t want anyone to know about, because of their fiscal skullduggery.
The only thing I do know is that as with the stadium’s pie in the sky projections, the things that have to go right for them to come to fruition and the potential damage to the club that this project purports to save, I have to say that I don’t like it. Yes, even as I understand the necessity for the risk.