Real Madrid Live Game Experience Is Strikingly Different Than American Sports

Real Madrid had a great atmosphere
Real Madrid had a great atmosphere / Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The legendary sportswriter Dave Kindred, who spent time at the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and a number of other publications over the decades, has spent recent years covering a girls high school basketball team in central Illinois.

“I like that the games are 1 hour, 15 minutes,” Kindred told media reporter Ed Sherman in 2015. “There’s no Katy Perry at halftime, no commercials. That’s all I’ve wanted from every sporting event I’ve ever covered. The girls just give you the game.”

Kindred would find a relatively similar situation in La Liga. On vacation in Spain last week, I headed to a Real Madrid game vs. Celta Vigo on February 16th. The game ended in a 2-2 draw and was relatively uneventful, but I was absolutely stunned at how little commercialization there was inside Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.

First of all, there was no jumbotron, or even a videoboard anywhere we could see for replays. There were scant concession stands, and all they served were baguettes, pizza, candy, popcorn, soda, and non-alcoholic beer. If there were any sponsorship tie-ins to the game whatsoever, they went over my head in Spanish. The only ads were on the panel at field-level around the pitch. You are in and out of the stadium in under two hours.

For a relatively nondescript contest, the crowd was wild. If the 80,000-plus capacity venue wasn't completely filled, it was damn close. Fans somehow knew when to pierce the air with their whistles in resounding unison. There was a really palpable energy that, when it exists in American sports, is reserved for contests with major stakes or at least a heated rivalry.

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu was majestic, and felt like watching a game at Lambeau, Wrigley, Fenway, or the old Yankee Stadium. The ghosts in the building were alive and well.

But I keep coming back to the lack of commercialization in the stadium, and wonder whether the constant bombardment of sponsor interruptions in America have zapped some of the passion out of the live product. It's not as though the genie is ever heading back into the bottle, but it's something to think about next time you're at a sporting event and wondering where all the energy went.