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The Ordinary General Assembly held on October 17 will reconvene on October 23, after President Joan Laporta adjourned the session after the 4th point on the agenda on Espai Barça and the approval, if applicable, of funding for the operation.
Several members requested more time to discuss one of the most important points not only of the Assembly, but also of the future of the Club, and so Mr Laporta decided the best thing would be to postpone the vote and convene the delegates again on a later date to address this issue and the rest of the items on the agenda in proper depth and with more time for debate.
The Ordinary General Assembly began at 3.30pm but the first items on the agenda, the President's report, the settlement of the accounts for the 2020/21 season and the budget for the financial year 2021/22, which were approved by large majorities, ended up taking much longer than expected.
Institutional Vice-President Elena Fort took the floor to present one of the most important points of the Assembly, funding of the Espai Barça. Fort began by explaining the reasons why the project is so necessary. It includes the complete remodelling of the Camp Nou, the construction of the new Palau Blaugrana (plus a Petit Palau and an Ice Rink), a Barça Campus that will be a world-class venue for sports and entertainment, as well as other buildings including a hotel and offices.
"Espai Barça is essential to keep FC Barcelona at the forefront of world sport." she said. "It is the most important project for the present and the future of the club. We want to be proud of our stadium again and make it a benchmark in the sector as it was in 1957."
Fort outlined why it is such a crucial project, but one that is coming more than 15 years too late, and is now of unavoidable urgency for the future feasibility of Barça. Most of the club's biggest competitors around Europe already have state-of-the-art stadiums or they are under construction.
"In Europe, there are 67 stadiums with more than 40,000 seats that are more modern than the Camp Nou" she said. "Of these, 58 have been modernised since 2003 and, in this same period, 7 of the 9 clubs in the Spanish league with stadiums of more 40,000 seats have already modernised them or they are doing so, only Valencia and ourselves are left”.
Fort explained how a comparison with costs of Barça's main competitors' stadiums shows that the predicted costs were unrealistic. "Wembley, for example, cost 900 million euros in 2001 and extrapolating a stadium that would have had 105,000 seats, would have cost 1.1 billion. The Santiago Bernabeu, a stadium for 81,000 people, has a cost of almost 900 million”.
A new and feasible project and financial sustainability
The vice-president also explained the changes that are being made to the Espai Barça project to make it much more viable and sustainable, and the reasons that have led to the reformulation of the project. The first is that the project has been undervalued in terms of costs and time given that the financial plan approved by the members in the 2014 referendum provided for an investment of 600 million euros that would be paid with title rights (200 million), bank debt (200 million) and equity (200 million).
"We have corrected the budget by adapting it to reality" she said.
Another of the most important reasons has been the impact that the previous project had on Barça members, namely "the movement of 12,500 members from the first to third tier." The new project maintains the first tier and a completely new third tier is to be built, meaning season ticket holders won't be moved and generating an increase in revenue from the hospitality and VIP lounges that will be located in a double ring between the second and third tier.
It also improves aspects such as “security, accessibility and comfort in the stadium and the Palau, we will build a Barça Campus that will be a benchmark in sustainability and that will include better energy management, photovoltaic panels, geothermal energy and more green spaces. We have also become a technological benchmark and we are creating new spaces to generate the income that the Club needs for the future.”
Espai Barça to be self-financed
General manager Ferran Reverter then explained the financing plan, which is based on the additional revenue that the new project will provide thanks to new boxes and VIP seats, new operating spaces, new sponsors and the exploitation of new assets generated by Espai Barça itself. This financing plan is guaranteed by the increases in revenue generated by the new Espai Barça once it is completed, estimated at 200 million euros a year. Therefore, as Revertere explained, the project will not cost the members any money, jeopardise the club's assets or put its sporting endeavours at risk. Since the payment is based on additional revenue, the returns do not affect ordinary management.
The financing operation that the club will negotiate through international operators with expertise in the financing of sports stadiums and facilities involves an estimated investment of up to 1.5 billion euros, will have a market interest rate and a return at 35 years, with a five-year grace period, while the stadium is being renovated. These 1.5 billion will be distributed as 900 million for the future Camp Nou, 420 million for the new Palau Blaugrana, 100 million for the development of the environs and the Barça Campus, 60 million for investments agreed to in the MPGM (Modification of the General Metropolitan Plan) and 20 million for possible improvements to the Estadi Johan Cruyff.
"This project is not only necessary, but it is essential to maintain competitiveness in sports and economics in the future," said Reverter, stressing that "in recent years Barça has not invested, and not investing is impoverishing. When one invests, it generates a very quick profit. I think this has been a bold move by this Board, but we need a future."
The delegate members then took to the floor and mostly praised Fort and Reverter for their presentations, but many of them asked the President and the Board of Directors for more information and more time to discuss such an important issue for the future of the club. Some delegates also called for a vote to be held in a referendum in which all members can participate.
President Laporta responded to the demands by saying "You're right and I apologise. It is proof that we have a living club, that operates democratically and that we all love Barça."
The president then announced that it was best to postpone the Assembly so that everyone could go to the Camp Nou to watch the match against Valencia and have more time to continue the debate at a later date.
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