Bernabéu to get company

Real Madrid to fund remodeling of stadium by putting sponsor’s name on wall

An aerial view of the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to Real Madrid.
An aerial view of the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to Real Madrid.Alberto Ferreras

The proposed 400-million-euro remodeling of Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium includes a clause that will not please traditionalists but will offset a large chunk of the outlay: the arena will bear the name of an as-yet unknown company that agrees to part-finance the overhaul of the venerable ground.

The practice of including sponsors’ names on stadiums is widespread in American sport: the Houston Astros play at the Minute Maid Park and the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. David Beckham, after signing for LA Galaxy in 2007 from Real Madrid, turned out at the StubHub Center. In Europe, the trend has seen Bayern Munich move to the Allianz Arena and Arsenal from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium. In Real’s case, the sponsor will only be allowed to add a second name to the existing Santiago Bernabéu title. The idea came to light two years ago when the club told the bidding architects to include space for a sponsor’s name.

The remodeling of the Bernabéu is one of Real’s major priorities. Until now, its coffers have been swelled by around 550 million a year through merchandising, television rights and gate receipts. The former two are generating less and less, according to Real’s director of Systems and Technology Enrique Uriel, who in May said the challenge was to increase revenue from the stadium. “In the US, the average consumption of a spectator is more than 10 euros; in our stadium it is 80 cents.”

The Bernabéu is already a Uefa five-star stadium and the third-largest in Europe, behind Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Wembley in London. It has hosted the 1982 World Cup final, four European Cup finals and the 1964 European Championship final. Inaugurated in 1947, it has a capacity of 85,454.

The Bernabéu has to become a unique stadium, the best in the world"

Real opened the design of the stadium to several architecture firms last year as it seeks to build a globally recognizable stadium that will also serve as a big tourism draw. A joint project by Rafael Moneo and Herzog & De Meuron would completely enclose the stadium. Rafael de la Hoz and Norman Foster envisage a glass façade. GMT Architekten, L-35 and Ribas y Ribas’s proposal is in the form of a flying saucer and a fourth design by Populous and Carlos Lamela, who worked on the redesign of the stadium in the 1990s, also plans to enclose the ground completely.

The designs were presented to club members last October but all have had to be modified because the club wants to extend outward toward the Paseo de la Castellana boulevard, building a mall, a hotel with pitch views and underground parking. But by Real’s own reckoning, the shopping center might not have been economically viable, so the club asked the designers to come up with new proposals to make the stadium more profitable.

In a sense, the problem is the same as it always has been: how to harmonize the form of the stadium with its content. Real Madrid’s first request was based on enclosing the stadium while the second was to focus on getting the best return out of the prime real estate occupying the space between the West Stand and the capital’s main traffic artery.

“We are going to equip our stadium with an enveloping skin that will be a milestone in global architecture. The Bernabéu has to become a unique stadium, the best in the world and the pinnacle of the 21st century,” said Real president Florentino Pérez. However, local residents are not so keen on the construction magnate’s grand designs and have formed a social platform of 800 people who live near the stadium to oppose the expansion plans. The club obtained the 200-square-meter plot between the stadium and the Castellana in a land swap with City Hall, which modified its urban development plan in July 2012 to redesignate the area around the Bernabéu.

Having lost out on the Olympic Games, the remodeling of the Bernabéu has also become an important priority for City Hall and the regional government in order to boost the capital’s international image in the face of falling tourist numbers. If the club’s timetable goes according to plan, the winning design will be revealed in October and a vision of the future panorama of the area around the Bernabéu shown to the world — if only digitally for the time being.

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