Pandemic delays stadium renovations for Madrid and Barcelona

MADRID (AP) — For Barcelona and Real Madrid, the coronavirus pandemic has affected more than their games and player salaries — it has also taken a toll on their stadium renovation plans.

Both Spanish soccer clubs are working on hefty renovation projects for their famed venues, with construction already underway at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and Barcelona close to start work at the Camp Nou.

Most of the construction work at both stadiums was planned for the off-season, which this year could be filled with rescheduled games to make up for the current stoppage in competitions across Europe.

The outbreak has significantly affected club revenue and forced both to cut costs, including player salaries. The teams have lost income from ticket sales, merchandising and several other means while games can’t be played and Spain remains in lockdown.

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Barcelona said this week it was working on overcoming the final bureaucracy hurdles to start construction work on the stadium when the outbreak started, putting everything on hold. The club had been finalizing the financing plan that would go before its members in a referendum.

“The arrival of the coronavirus crisis forced it to be put on hold until the pandemic has passed and the world returns to normal,” the club said. “Without a calendar for the end of the crisis, it is impossible to know or predict up to what point it will affect the construction process.”

Barcelona said those in charge of the stadium’s renovation project remained “working and making progress and looking at the possible effects of COVID-19” to minimize delays.

Work on urban redevelopment areas and smaller venues around the Camp Nou had already started before the pandemic.

The Camp Nou will have a new roof covering all seating sections and its sitting capacity will increase from 99,000 to 105,000. The cost of the project was initially estimated at nearly 500 million euros ($540 million). Work was expected to be concluded by 2021-22, but both the completion date and the estimated cost have already changed a few times.

Work at the Bernabéu in Madrid began last August and had continued during the season between matches. It went on even after the country was put in lockdown in mid-March, coming to a halt only after the Spanish government said non-essential industries also had to stop.

Work was halted for about 15 days but construction resumed this week after the government loosened some of the lockdown measures, allowing some non-essential activities to resume.

There were talks Madrid could play some of its rescheduled matches away from the Bernabéu so construction could continue during the summer, but the club is expected to maintain the same operation as before, with the renovation work taking place between matches.

The Bernabéu will gain a retractable roof and a revamped facade to modernize its appearance. It will also have a 360-degree video screen and a new seating section, though its capacity is expected to remain at about 80,000. The area around the venue also will be renovated.

The club this week posted a video of the new-look stadium on Twitter.

Madrid has tried to remodel the Bernabéu several times but earlier projects were turned down by the city. The club wasn’t allowed to increase the total size of the structures already in place so it had to rearrange the current constructions, transferring some office spaces to the team’s base in Ciudad Real Madrid, in the city’s outskirts.

Four years ago, Madrid said the goal was to finish the new stadium by 2020, with a cost initially estimated at 400 million euros ($437 million).

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