For the second week in a row I find myself in a half empty stadium.
This time there are 11,000 people but this is not Villareal, this doesn’t make sense. Palma de Mallorca, the city whose team I’m here to watch, has a population 8 times that of Villareal. If you include the whole Island of Mallorca then that figures doubles again. The low attendances are even stranger when you consider the season Real Mallorca, the club I’m here to see, are having. Going into Saturday’s match, Real Mallorca were sitting fifth in the table and were one of only two teams with a 100% home record. Furthermore, Saturday’s match was against the team directly above them, Sevilla. It was a match for a place in the Champions League. However, this only managed to coax 11,000 along to the Ono Estadi for the match.
So why is a premier league team on an island, with the next nearest premier league team a plane or boat trip away, struggling with attendances? One explanation is that the match was on the TV. I’m not buying that one though. All La Liga matches are on the TV if you’re willing to pay for it. Another reason was the weather, for a Spaniard the weather in February is cold. I’m not having that either, it’s colder in Bilbao, Gijón and Pamplona and they fill their stadiums. Finally you could argue that the football on show isn’t great. Once again, it’s not great in 3 aforementioned cities but the people come along in big numbers. When you consider Real Mallorca’s last few campaigns in La Liga, which involved fighting relegation, then this campaign has been great.
A more probable answer is that Mallorca doesn’t have the football culture of the North or of Seville. I attended the match with several Mallorca socios (season ticket holders). They were all born in Mallorca and attend the matches but they all had a second team from the mainland. They were Mallorca supporters but also Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia supporters. As they live on an island, it’s hard to travel to see these teams so to see football they go to see Real Mallorca. In the North you don’t get such supporters. I doubt anybody is an Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid fan. The same seems to be true of Seville. I don’t know any Sevilla and Barcelona fans. In Mallorca, the stadium gets close to full only when Real Madrid or Barcelona visits. The feeling of pride for the local football team just isn’t there. It doesn’t feel like a football town.
When we arrived on the island we were given a tour of Palma by one of the people we were attending the match with, Pedro (Valencia and Real Mallorca). During the tour he showed us Mallorca’s old stadium, Estadio Lluís Sitjar, now abandoned. Later at the new stadium, Nico (Real Madrid and Mallorca) was telling me that the move has been a disaster and the fans haven’t followed the team to the new stadium. The Ono Estadi (now named after a mobile phone company) is a “multi-purpose” stadium with a running track. In other words, it’s not a football stadium. The fans aren’t happy with its location, 3 km from the city centre, and the track which definitely takes away from the atmosphere. When it comes to atmosphere, the closer you can get to the pitch, the better.
Real Mallorca is one of many clubs in Europe to have made the mistake of destroying tradition. Moving 3 km out of the city centre, away from the pubs, to an athletics stadium named after a mobile phone company is not what fans anywhere want. This is even more destructive when you don’t have a big fan base to start with.
It seems the club is trying to undo some of the damage as there are plans to take away the track. However, you still have the problem of filling the stadium. For that there is no easy solution.