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Real Madrid's $2,400 Dinner Helps Soccer Team Surpass Barcelona in Sales

Real Madrid will come out the winner in its Champions League semifinal against Barcelona, at least at the box office.

Real sold about 4,500 premium tickets, some of which cost 1,652 euros ($2,413) and include dinner at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium’s Puerta 57 restaurant tonight. Those seats will garner as much revenue for the nine-time European champion as the other 75,000 ordinary tickets, and help it stay above Barcelona as soccer’s biggest team by sales, according to former Real president Ramon Calderon.

“It seems over-the-top, but if that’s what people are willing to pay, fair enough” Calderon said in a telephone interview.

Real Madrid increased income from its stadium and membership fees by 110 percent to 148.6 million euros for the year to June 2010, compared with five years earlier, after investing $190 million on building three restaurants including Puerta 57 and groups of VIP boxes, its accounts show. Team officials declined to comment.

Barcelona, which is charging 750 euros for its costliest ticket to the May 3 rematch at the Camp Nou, doesn’t have a restaurant and has fewer luxury boxes. The team, which canceled a 250 million-euro stadium redesign by architect Norman Foster last year, got 115.5 million euros in fiscal 2010 from the arena and membership fees, a 54 percent increase from five years earlier.

“The VIP boxes are bigger and flashier” at Real Madrid, said Jose Maria Gay, an accountancy professor at Barcelona University who writes an annual report about Spanish soccer team finances. “People go for the glamour.”

Beckham, Ronaldo

Real Madrid has pursued revenue more aggressively than Barcelona since Florentino Perez became president in 2000, partly to finance marquee player signings including David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, Calderon said. It overtook Manchester United as the biggest team by sales in 2005.

Barcelona, the No. 2-earning team according to a report by Deloitte LLP in February, has dominated on the field: winning the Spanish league in four of the last six seasons and taking the Champions League in 2006 and 2009. Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez are among the squad who graduated from its youth team. Real last won the elite European title in 2002.

Wood-paneled Puerta 57, which means “Gate 57,” seats about 100 diners and is “brightly bourgeois,” according to a review on American Express Publishing Corp.’s Travel + Leisure magazine’s website. The restaurant’s specialties include clams, octopus and peppers, the website says.

Free Bar

On match days, clients watch the soccer from a seat in the second tier of the stadium before retiring to the glass-screened restaurant overlooking the field at half-time for a buffet dinner including cured ham, tortilla and Rioja wines. A free bar in Puerta 57 is also open for an hour before and 30 minutes after the game.

Real Madrid can command more for corporate hospitality because there are more companies in the capital and more of a culture of entertaining than in Spain’s second city, Esteve Calzada, a former Barcelona team marketing executive, said.

Companies and wealthy individuals are still spending on premium tickets even as Spain struggles to emerge from two years of recession: only 80 VIP passes for tonight’s game remained yesterday, according to the Real website.

Spain’s unemployment rate is more than 20 percent and households are reining in spending to pay down debt taken on during a decade-long property boom.

Cutting Costs

Real’s income increased by 20 million euros last year after the team hosted the Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, its accounts say. This season’s final will be at London’s Wembley Stadium. Manchester United and Germany’s Schalke are the other semifinalists.

For next week’s game in Spain, Barcelona was able to sell “very few” premium tickets because most of its boxes are booked for the season, officials said. The club built some third-tier boxes about five years ago and still plans an extensive revamp of its 54-year-old stadium, although it hasn’t decided how, the officials said.

This season, it’s cutting costs including travel by executives after posting a 77 million-euro loss for fiscal 2010, partly after losing a lawsuit against pay-TV company Sogecable SA. The Camp Nou “needs a revamp, everybody agrees,” Calzada said. “The question is about how to do it.”

Tonight’s semifinal is one of four games between Real and Barcelona in less than a month. They drew 1-1 in the Spanish league at the Bernabeu on April 16 and Real won 1-0 in Valencia to win the Spanish Cup on April 20.

Even if Barcelona, based in the capital of the Catalonia region, invested in making corporate hospitality more glitzy it might not trigger a bigger premium-ticket market for cultural reasons, Gay said.

“People go to Real Madrid to be seen,” Gay said. “Us Catalans like to go unnoticed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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