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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
FC Barcelona is one of the world’s most famous sporting clubs with their signature red and blue soccer jersey worn by fans in every country on every continent. What few people outside Europe realize is that the club is not just about soccer, but several other sports as well. Chief among these is basketball, which is very popular across Europe and has more fanatical supporters than a typical NBA team. FC Barcelona Regal (named after a sponsor) plays in both the domestic circuit (ACB) as well as the EuroLeague, basketball’s equivalent to the Champions League.
The team takes the court at the Palau Blaugrana, a relatively small gymnasium next to Camp Nou, the biggest football ground in Europe. The word Blaugrana combines the Catalan words for blue and deep red, the colors of the club, while Palau is the Catalan word for Palace. Perhaps the name is slightly exaggerated as the venue is now over 40 years old, but it is still a wonderful place to watch basketball, with its cozy confines and passionate fans making a game here unlike anything you will see in the NBA.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Like so many European sports venues, food here is an afterthought. With games lasting 2 hours or less, a snack is all most fans are looking for and that is all they get. There are a number of options on the menu but it seemed like many of them were actually not available. Foot-long frankfurters at €4 were the most popular but are best avoided as the bread is not particularly fresh. There were sandwiches and hamburgers also at €4 (add .50 for cheese) but I think you will be better off eating at one of Barcelona's many sandwich shops before hand.
At €3.20, soft drinks are extremely overpriced, while €2 will get you a bottle of water. Don't bother with the beer, it is alcohol-free as the venue seems to be dry, perhaps a result of past troubles between fans with different political opinions.
With capacity under 8,000 and constructed for the sport (rather than hockey as many multi-purpose arenas are), the Palau Blaugrana is a great place to watch basketball with seats right on top of the action. The first thing I noticed is that there are two groups of supporters who cheer separately. As best I can tell, they are differentiated by their feelings toward Catalan independence. Barcelona is in the Spanish area known as Catalonia, which has a strong separatist movement that has been active for decades. Catalonia has its own flag and those fans who push for their own nation wore the yellow and red from that standard, while the other group sported the blue and deep red of FC Barcelona. Putting politics aside, having two diverse yet loud groups of fans supporting the home team was a unique experience and really added to the atmosphere.
Beyond that, there are a number of small additions that made this a very memorable experience. Before the game, music plays as the teams warm up. Cheerleaders dressed in gold appear to dance to the crowd. The teams are introduced fully, without particular import paid to the starters. During the game, the cheerleaders made a few quick entrances, either to throw t-shirts to the crowd or dance to Christmas songs. There were a couple of contests featuring kids trying to shoot basketballs as well. It wasn't as overstated or loud as you might get at an NBA arena, but enough to keep fans into the event during the few breaks in action.
The stadium is right next to Camp Nou, which is cool enough in its own right. You can even take a tour of the soccer stadium should you have time, although at €23 it is not cheap. There is nothing else in the immediate vicinity as the soccer stadium dominates, but just five minutes away lies Palau Reial, a minor royal palace built in 1924, part of which now hosts a Museum of Decorative Arts. Palau Reial also happens to be the name of the nearest metro and tram station.
Further afield you can see Barcelona's numerous sights, all within a few minutes on the metro. The city is one of the world's most impressive tourist destinations and few visitors bother to make it out to Palau Blaugrana. It is hard to blame them; the various neighborhoods in the city can captivate the most seasoned traveler. Spend your days there and then head over to the game in the evening.
I mentioned the two groups of fans that add to the atmosphere. The more sedate supporters are quite loud as well, cheering and whistling throughout the game. They were polite and watched the match with excellent knowledge, ensuring the officials were aware of every mistake they made. I'm docking a point because of the two groups of fans though, who should be able to work together rather than bringing politics to the sports arena.
The stadium is located just down a hill from Palau Reial metro station on L3 (tram lines 1, 2, and 3 also stop here), which is itself just a few minutes from the center of town. The path to the arena is wide, as it needs to be accessible for a soccer game, when over 90,000 fans might show up. When you arrive at the front, you will notice the ticket window, which also sells the stadium tours. Make sure to choose the window for the basketball game, not that difficult as the word is "Basquet" in Catalan.
There are several doors with those holding upper deck seats asked to enter from the second level. Once inside, it might be a bit confusing to get to your seat as they are not consecutively numbered. Odd-numbered seats are on the left of the aisle, while even-numbered seats on are the right. Moreover, there is no aisle between the even and odd seats in different sections. For example, section 110 ends with seats 20 and 22 next to each other. Section 109, seat 23 was then the next one over, and there is no aisle between them. It isn't rocket science, but be aware of this if buying tickets online.
The concourse is small but suitable for the crowd. You can't really walk all around the concourse, rather there is an inner concourse that you can traverse if you want different views of the court. You might have to go up and down some stairs to continue your journey but with the arena so small, this is not a problem.
The most expensive seats for the game were € 53 (about $70). Given that games are just 40 minutes long (and total game time under 2 hours) this might equate to $84 for an NBA game, which is good value if you are two rows from the court. There are two sections in the lower deck, inferior and superior. You might think the superior seats are better, but this means "above", so in fact it is the inferior seats which are closer to the action. The superior seats are € 4 less along the sidelines, but beware these seats in the corners and behind the net as the upper deck blocks much of the view and the ambience.
If you are on a budget, cheaper seats can be had though, with the upper deck corners providing the best value at € 19.They are right on top of the action and your view is not blocked by the net or anything else. These were not available on TicketMaster though, but they were selling them on FC Barcelona Regal's site, although my credit card was not accepted there. Keep in mind that the supporters sit in two of these four corners (the two that are behind the benches) so if you want to avoid sitting with them, best to buy your ticket at the gate to ensure that you are on the opposite side.
A few nice touches here include a number of electronically displayed retired jerseys along the top of one wall, including those from the handball club.
If you like to collect tickets from the games you attend, pick up your ducat at the ticket window at the Palau Blaugrana, as it will have the FC Barcelona logo on it. I was very excited to see this and the guy handing over the tickets had a bit of fun with me, pretending to give it to me and then taking it back a couple of times, so an extra point for some good humor there.
In the seating area, FCB is in yellow letters behind the benches. Of course, the other seats are blue and deep red.
Finally, a point for being next to Camp Nou and having the stadium tour available.
FC Barcelona Regal may be the lesser-known team when compared to their world famous soccer brethren but that doesn't mean that they should be ignored. The quality of basketball is high - former players include Pau and Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, and Anderson Varejao among others - and tickets are easy to get. If you happen to be in Barcelona during the long basketball season, check out the FC Barcelona Regal home page to see if there is a game while you are in town. There has been talk of building a larger facility which would be a shame as this place is perfect for basketball; let's hope that wiser minds prevail and this place remains an excellent stadium destination for years to come.
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