Within two days of tickets going on release, European champions FC Barcelona Femení’s Champions League quarter-final second leg tie on March 30 against Real Madrid at Camp Nou, the largest stadium in Europe, is close to being a 70,000 sell-out with the match seemingly set to be watched by a world record attendance for a women’s club match.
As of yesterday, 50,000 tickets had been issued for the game. The majority of those were claimed – not bought – by FC Barcelona’s members (socios). Each of the club’s estimated 147,000 socios has been entitled to claim up to four free tickets each, only paying a small administration fee “to encourage the presence of the public and for members to be able to attend the match accompanied by family or friends”. Yesterday morning, the club stated that 35,600 free tickets had been withdrawn by socios.
Three hours later, as the general sale of tickets commenced, that number had risen to 50,000. As of this morning, tickets were sold out in 35 out of 42 sections of the stadium, with seats only available in seven sections of the highest tiers. With two and a half months of sales until the actual game is played it seems inconceivable that the match will not sell-out and break the world record attendance of 60,739 for a women’s club match set in March 2019 when FC Barcelona won 2-0 at Atlético de Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium. It also seems likely that the match will break the European club competition record for a women’s match when 50,212 spectators saw Olympique Lyonnais defeat 1. FFC Frankfurt 2-0 at the Olympiastadion in Munich in May 2012.
It will not be the first time that FC Barcelona Femení has played at Camp Nou. On January 5 2021, the club made history by playing their first match as a professional side at the legendary 99,354-capacity stadium, a 4-0 win over city rivals RCD Espanyol in a Spanish league match. Unfortunately, as with all sporting events in the country at that time, the match was played behind closed doors without spectators.
Those restrictions have been lifted this season but capacity will still be limited to 70,000 for the game unless the current Covid-restrictions are relaxed by the local Catalan government before March. If that happens, and the entire seating capacity of the stadium is opened up for sale, the match could be watched by an outright world record for an official women’s soccer match, overtaking the 90,185 who were at the Pasadena Rose Bowl to watch the United States
The crowd figure at Camp Nou to watch the women’s team in March is also set to be far in excess of the average gate (46,299) generated by the men’s team so far this season. Indeed, if the entire stadium is opened up to general sale, it is possible that the match could be viewed by a crowd in excess of the 86,422 figure who watched the men’s El Clásico match against Real Madrid in October, which would make the most watched soccer match anywhere in Europe this season, a women’s match.
There are many who would argue that one-off crowds such as these do little to aid the long-term development of women’s soccer. FC Barcelona Femení’s average home attendance this season at their 6,000-capacity Estadi Johan Cruyff is 3,189. Comparisons with gates in men’s football may also seem spurious given the chasm in ticket prices which mean that the FC Barcelona men’s team can generate a match-day revenue of up to €118 million per game. In comparison, all of the tickets for the women’s game currently on sale are being offered with a 50% discount on already low starting prices of between €11-16.
However, playing a showpiece women’s match in the club’s main stadium is no guarantee of pulling in a large crowd. English league leaders Arsenal have so far twice played games at their 60,260-capacity Emirates Stadium and failed on each occasion to fill a quarter of the stadium, even when they hosted FC Barcelona themselves. Despite ambitious targets to create an average attendance of 6,000 by 2024, crowds this season throughout the league have dwindled to under 3,000 due to a combination of Covid-uncertainty and increased live television coverage.
It is hoped that by the early kick-off of 1845 local time, combined with the glamour of the competition and opponents, will encourage people to bring their families and those families will return to future matches at Estadi Johan Cruyff or even push for more women’s games to be staged at Camp Nou. The danger is that the hype around ticket sales for this match will lead to many of those free tickets ending up on the black market and eventually being unused.
In the meantime, the same two teams, FC Barcelona Femení and Real Madrid will first meet in the Spanish Super Cup in Madrid on January 19 at Ciudad del Fútbol, the headquarters of the Spanish Football Association in Las Rozas, on the outskirts of Madrid. It is a match that has gone almost under the radar and will not generate anywhere near a five-figure crowd. It can only be hoped that the legacy of the match at Camp Nou will be to demonstrate what can be achieved when all women’s soccer matches are promoted effectively.