The most valuable football club in the world wasn’t always such a big business.
Less than twenty years ago, Real Madrid’s stadium, Santiago Bernabeu, had no seats, and certainly not numbered seats. Lines swerved around the stadium with people camping out for days to get tickets, and the crowd stood for hours to watch the match. Now the stadium hosts 80,000 numbered seats, attracts tourists from around the world, and you can buy tickets online.
How did Real Madrid turn into a giant?
Billionaire businessman Florentino Perez became the president of Real Madrid Club in 2000 and launched Real into the global sports arena like Manchester United and other international teams. Perez added the glitz to the stadium, the press room, the Real Madrid Café with pitch-side seats and he renovated the VIP zones.
In fact, Perez founded the stadium’s museum which is now the second most visited in the city, after the Prado. He also organized promotional summer training sessions in China, following a trend in other leading sports teams.
Florentino Perez’s boldest move was when he started buying players for extremely high transfer fees and referred to the team as “Los Galácticos” (literally, «The Galactics»). The superstar players bolstered Real Madrid’s international fame, merchandise and ticket sales.
First, Pérez signed Luis Figo for a transfer fee of 42€ million in 2000, which was a world record at the time. Figo played for Barcelona and when he left for Real, Barça fans scrawled anti-figo graffiti around the city and in Catalonia they called him a traitor. Then Perez bought Zinedine Zidane, from France, for 73.5€ million and Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal for 94€ million.
And then there was David Beckham, from the UK, for 35€ million. The first day Beckham signed, all jerseys bearing his name and number 23 sold out in Madrid.
Icon for the city and country
In 20011, the team went one step further to become a brand to sell Spain in a three year and three million Euro agreement signed between Real Madrid, the Community of Madrid and Madrid’s Ministry of Tourism. The team has become an international icon for their city and nation under the slogan “Visit Spain, Visit Madrid.”
Why isn’t Barcelona promoting Spain? They refused. For Barcelona, their slogan would be “Visit Catalonia, Visit Barcelona.”
Pairing the beloved team with the nation’s tourism agenda makes for a powerful business.
Sports marketing is one of the most profitable businesses to date. Football clubs are brands that represent sports, glamour and class. What’s more, football is the only universal sport of the masses. If you look at all the continents – Africa, Asia, Oceania – in this age of communication, soccer players become heroes. Everyone wants a hero.
As a nation, Spain has been selling itself as a brand since the 1960’s and 1970’s under the slogan «Spain is Different» when Manuel Fraga, Spain´s Minister of Tourism, promoted Spanish sun, coasts, flamenco and bullfighting. Madrid doesn’t have a beach, and flamenco and bullfighting are from other regions of Spain. But, they do have Real Madrid.