Real Madrid's first home game post-Ronaldo drew lowest attendance in 10 seasons

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How many of Real Madrid’s millions of fans were actually just Cristiano Ronaldo fans? (Getty)
How many of Real Madrid’s millions of fans were actually just Cristiano Ronaldo fans? (Getty)

Real Madrid had very little trouble with Getafe in its 2018-19 La Liga opener on Sunday. It did, however, have trouble drawing fans.

Only 48,446 people watched Madrid’s 2-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, leaving the stadium less than 60 percent full. It was the thinnest crowd since May 24, 2009. What do those two days/games have in common?

May 24, 2009 was Real Madrid’s last home game before Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival in the Spanish capital that summer. This past Sunday was its first since Ronaldo’s departure for Juventus.

The Ronaldo effect

Ronaldo, beyond being an exceptional soccer player, is a marketing department’s dream. He’s an icon, and a fan magnet. Many believe he alone will revitalize Italian soccer and substantially boost Juventus’ profitability.

On the other side of that is Real Madrid, which is undoubtedly less popular now than it was a few months ago. Heck, La Liga has lost two of the world’s three best players, and two of soccer’s three biggest individual brands, over the past 13 months. In the modern star-driven world, that’s a blow.

Real Madrid will still be immensely popular. It has still won four of the last five Champions Leagues. It is still one of the three biggest clubs on the planet. But without a megastar, its attendance very well could suffer.

Other reasons for Real Madrid’s attendance dip

The empty seats really were noticeable on the broadcast. They were everywhere, from front rows to the stadium’s vast upper decks. To some extent, it must have been alarming for club executives.

But there are situational factors at play here. Sure, Madrid’s roster might not entice fans as well as last year’s did. But an early-season match against Getafe isn’t exactly a glamorous occasion – especially with the UEFA Super Cup four days earlier attracting more interest.

Plus, there was the timing: The match kicked off at 10:15 p.m. local time on a Sunday night. That’s great for an American TV audience. It’s not great for locals.

Oh, and there’s this, eloquently explained by Spanish newspaper AS:

August in Madrid. The city swelters under the incandescent Spanish sun, the asphalt shimmers in the heat and visitors who are used to the incessant noise and bustle of the capital are surprised by the silence. There’s almost nobody here. Everybody who possibly can has legged it, mostly to the coast, leaving a skeleton crew in the metropolis of emergency workers, interns and… professional footballers.

But last year’s home opener drew 61,739. The previous year’s had 61,568. The first La Liga game of the Ronaldo era brought a sold-out crowd of 80,000. There is, understandably, a bit of a lull around the Bernabeu in the wake of Ronaldo’s departure.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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