There was a world record 91,553 attendance at Camp Nou to see FC Barcelona Femení beat Real Madrid Femenino 5-2 in the Champions League quarter-finals last week.
For context, Barcelona’s men’s team have struggled throughout the season to get 75,000, with matches averaging over 50,000.
What happened last Wednesday did not happen overnight. It involved years of meticulous planning and building a new football team. It is a new football team where, regardless of gender, it is identifiable as FC Barcelona.
The women’s team originally played in the now demolished Miniestadi, a stone’s throw from Camp Nou in the city center, and average attendance was between 500 and 1,000 people.
The Johan Cruyff Stadium was built in 2019, and there are on average between 3,000 and 4,000 fans in attendance.
Twenty-one years ago, the newly created Spanish Superliga didn’t want Barcelona close to their league due to poor results. Eventually, they were admitted after FC Barcelona officially added them to the club. In 2007, Barca were relegated, and ironically enough, Wednesday night substitute Melanie Serrano was part of the relegated squad and then history makers.
In the summer of 2015, the club turned professional and an idea was born: instead of creating a women’s club, why not create a professional club playing the Barcelona way in women’s football? Understandable, given that Barcelona’s heritage is rooted in tiki-taka, fast possession football. If the men didn’t change, the women had to be the same.
The team has grown in terms of budget, personnel, world-class players and the ability to market itself as a unique product away from men’s football while still relying on the same supporters.
For example, Alexia Putellas’ jersey was the best-selling jersey on matchdays last week, displacing more numbers than Pedri, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembélé and Gerard Pique. In fact, Putellas’ shirt sales were double that of Pedri, the men’s team’s top-selling shirt.
The club has quadrupled the staff and their efforts. In 2015, the first year of professionalism, Barcelona’s head of department was also the head coach. Under him was a coordinator in charge of the first team (assistant, physio and coach) and the academy (under 11 to under 18 and Barcelona B).
The staff has now expanded, including roles such as an additional assistant manager, goalkeeper coach, analyst, team delegate, kit manager, doctors, psychologists and nutritionists. The academy has also received a boost, with team coaches doubled and more physios, doctors, psychologists, physical trainers and methodologists offered.
The women’s under-10, under-12 and under-14 teams also play in the men’s leagues and are the only club in Spain to do so. In fact, the girls’ team won the boys’ league and their under-14s top the standings this year.
This idea is to get players used to training at high intensity to facilitate their adaptation when they are older. Usually younger teams have three to four training sessions per week, and as they progress they increase it to five or six sessions.
Moreover, nine teenage girls from the academy who play with Barcelona B are staying at La Masia for the first time in the club’s history. Alongside the training, they learn nutrition, social media, football and Catalan.
The philosophy was simple: invest in minor and young structures, capitalize on the talent we have, become the best team and the best players will want to come. It has served Barcelona well.
In Wednesday’s record game, two academy girls, Aitana Bonmati and Claudia Pina, set the tone, scoring goals two and three with fine finishes.
For the board and FC Barcelona, it was indeed more than empowerment.
The Socios, members of FC Barcelona, received up to four tickets, with only an administration fee of €2.50. Twenty-four hours later, non-socios were buying tickets between €9 and €15.
There were fears when heavy rains started falling and would not stop until the afternoon.
But FC Barcelona didn’t just have a match but an event planned. The ultras behind Gol Nord were ready with their drums, chants and deafening support. Supporters cheered and whistled, encouraging fans to jump up and down. After all, only Real Madrid fans don’t jump at the Camp Nou.
The club did not engage in any advertisements or promotions, with Putellas admitting his local barista was unaware the match was in progress.
The support that built up in the Camp Nou was, like the club’s DNA, organic and done the Barcelona way.
Plans are underway for Femení Camp Nou 2.0, this time against Wolfsburg on Friday, April 22. Fifty thousand tickets were purchased by the socios, with general release figures yet to be revealed.
What is certain is that another football party is on the way. What is also certain is that if you invest in women in the right way, you will reap the rewards.