In what has been one the company’s greatest achievements to date, FTT MEDIA’s editorial crusade attracted the attention of FC Barcelona and their new main sponsor, Rakuten, who selected our company to join Barcelona on their 10-day US Tour, starting in New York City. I (Adrian C.) was the lucky one selected to capture content from the events and this is my experience…
I had always been a big fan of Barcelona, both for the players on the team and the way they played. I didn’t think I’d get to see them this summer though as the tickets for the game were extremely expensive. On the resale market, even the worst seats were going for over $100 and the official one was not much better, with the cheapest seats starting at $80. Friends had asked me throughout the week if I was going and I told them all the same thing: “too expensive.”
I was being given the opportunity to attend a meet-and greet with Barcelona FC at the team hotel and the chance to join Rakuten at Barcelona’s open practice at Red Bull Arena that afternoon. On top of that, and to my great delight, I was also given the opportunity to attend the match itself with media credentials.
As excited as I was, I had a practice to get to. I had never been to Red Bull Arena, but it’s definitely a place I could see myself visiting in the future. As I got there, I was shocked to see thousands of fans waiting in line to get into the stadium. Even just to see the players practice, Barcelona drew a large crowd. For me, that was a true sign of how widespread and devoted the club’s fans are. On a boiling Friday afternoon, they all made their way out to New Jersey to see their heroes practice.
Inside the stadium, the Rakuten contingent and I received VIP treatment. With an hour to spare before the practice started, arena staff and even the club’s general manager took us around to see the stadium. We received field access, and looking up, I learned what an impressive facility Red Bull Arena was. My only previous experience with a MLS stadium was DC United, and for anybody who knows the team, their stadium is a crumbling oversized mausoleum, to put it lightly. This on the other hand was clean and well-designed without a bad seat in the house.
Following the field tour, we were taken upstairs to the press conference where new Barca coach Ernesto Valverde and midfielder Sergio Busquets addressed the media. To nobody’s surprise, the questions focused on Neymar and the rumors connecting him to a move to Paris-Saint Germain. Valverde continuously denied the rumors and close to the end, I could see that both him and the translators had become exasperated with the number of Neymar questions.
After that, it was time to take our seats for the practice. On our way there, we were led through the Red Bulls’ offices, where we were told to help ourselves to the fridge. To nobody’s surprise, the fridges were stocked with the club’s namesake drink. We were even told that during matches, Red Bull was cheaper than water. We were seated behind the press area, with a clear view of the entire pitch. By that time, there were at least 6-8,000 people in the stands and they were as loud as a crowd twice their size, screaming with delight as Lionel Messi, Neymar, and the rest of the team came to practice.
The practice went as expected, with the players showing off their skills to the fans. At the end, things got interesting. A fan with an Argentina jersey ran onto the pitch, attempting to give Messi a hug, and after that, the floodgates opened with at least 10 adults and children running onto the pitch, most notably a large shirtless man who gave Neymar a hug. The fact that these people chose to do this despite the jail time that came afterward shows the immense devotion that they have for their favorite players.
The next day, I made my way back out to New Jersey, this time to Metlife Stadium. I had been once before, attending a Jets game last season, although the vibe this time was completely different. The first thing I noticed when I got there was that the demographics were extremely different from the first time I went to Metlife. This time around, it was largely working class Latinos with their families. Instead of the rock or pop one would hear from Jets or Giants tailgates, the cars in the parking lot were blasting reggaeton, cumbia, salsa, and any other form of Spanish music imaginable. It definitely provided a festive and exciting atmosphere, one that would translate to the game itself.
I entered the stadium and was taken to the press box. By that time, media from all over the world had gathered for the event and I admittedly felt a bit overwhelmed and out of place. In the short time I was in the press box, I heard Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Arabic, and a host of other languages being spoken. Metlife’s press box is a very quiet and relaxed place to be, a direct opposite from the chaotic nature of the rest of the stadium. I was able to grab some food and drink, and most importantly charge my electronics before the match. With 20 minutes to go until kickoff, I made my way to my seat. When the lineups were announced, especially Messi and Neymar, the stadium roared with delight. Oh. And I should mention that it was a sell-out. Over 82,000 people packed the stadium, beating the previous football attendance record, set by last year’s Copa America final between Argentina and Chile. The game itself was an exciting one. In the first half, Barcelona were absolutely dominating although both sides had chances. In the 14th minute, they showed off their passing skills, and Neymar managed to fend off Juventus defenders to score the first goal of the evening. While that goal was impressive, the second goal was something magical. In the 25th minute, Neymar once again received a good pass, and the Brazilian managed to weave his way through six defenders, including being encircled by five of them. He rifled the ball into the net, making it 2-0 Barcelona. With all the controversy surrounding him, Neymar was certainly looking to impress.
Barcelona slightly let off in the second half. With an entirely changed XI from the first half, Juventus showed stronger form and they eventually were able to make it close as in the 62nd minute, Giorgio Chiellini scored with a header, making it 2-1. While both sides had more chances, impressive goalkeeping on both ends kept the score as is. Although Juventus made it interesting at the end, Barcelona held on to win 2-1. To nobody’s surprise, Neymar was named man of the match. Equally as surprising, there were no pitch invaders. I guess they were all taken away on Friday. Afterwards I made my way back to the press box to pick up my stuff and to my surprise, my night wasn’t done just yet. I was given the chance to attend the post-game press conference with the manager. Once again, the questions mainly focused on Neymar and Valverde gave the same type of response. I was even told I could ask a question! Outside of the press conference room was the team’s locker rooms surrounded by fans and media alike. With my phone battery nearly dead, all I could manage was to try and take some photos of players. At one point, Neymar himself was inches away from me. I did get photos of Juventus manager Max Allegri, winger Juan Cuadrado and former Ballon D’Or winner Pavel Nedved.
The phrase that repeatedly came out during the two days was “I feel like a kid in a candy shop,” because that was the only thing I could use to describe the way I felt. Although I had been in other press boxes and received backroom access before, having done it for the University of Maryland and Washington Wizards, it was an entirely different feeling because these were players that seemed otherworldly for me, both because of the usual distance and their skill level. The main thing I got out of this whole experience was that this is what I want to do with my career. I want nothing more than to be that person in the press box crafting articles, or that person asking the coach questions. To conclude, I just want to thank FTT MEDIA, FC Barcelona and Rakuten for giving me the opportunity to experience this event, it’s definitely going to be something I remember for a life time.