Behind the scenes at Old Trafford before United v Barca: Solskjær bids to muzzle Messi as club shifts 5,500 hot dogs and 6,000 pies 

9 April 2019

Old trafford champions league night
Photo: Getty Images "Hosting a UEFA Champions League quarter final at Old Trafford is a complex, high profile event which requires almost as much intense planning and preparation off the pitch as it does on,” United’s chief operating officer Collette Roche tells OffThePitch.com.

Almost 3,000 United staff are on duty for the Champions League quarter-final game against Barcelona.

Among the challenges, club chiefs reacted swiftly to Barca's sky-high ticket prices which were deemed outrageous by Red Devils fans.

Nearly one fifth of the club's income comes from match day revenue.

While Ole Gunnar Solskjær may have a meticulous plan to contain Lionel Messi on Wednesday, club chiefs will be executing plans to stage their biggest game of the season with military precision.

With 43 goals in 40 games in all competitions, the joint leading scorer in this season's Champions League will provide a constant threat to United’s back four along with Luis Suarez in what promises to be a mouth-watering quarter-final tie at Old Trafford.

The odds are stacked against Solskjær’s side overcoming Barcelona, who face United for the first time in almost eight years; the five-times European champions won their last two meetings, in the 2009 and 2011 finals.

Intense planning

When the stakes are this high, it’s not just another game for the players – or the club’s senior management.

“Hosting a UEFA Champions League quarter final at Old Trafford is a complex, high profile event which requires almost as much intense planning and preparation off the pitch as it does on,” United’s chief operating officer Collette Roche tells offthepitch.com.

“From the moment of the draw, our operational teams start the ball rolling. From ticketing and stewarding to media, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of almost 3,000 colleagues work seamlessly to put on the game, attended by 75,000 people and viewed by hundreds of millions globally,” she added.

We have again taken the difficult decision to charge Barcelona fans the same amount Barcelona are charging for the away fixture (£102).

“This team effort also extends beyond the club through the involvement of Greater Manchester Police and other services, along with media partners and various transport companies around the world.”

United deal with ticketing furore

United’s board faced an early challenge in match planning after the UEFA draw last month pitted the clubs together for their 11th showdown in European competition.

Club officials reacted swiftly to defuse a row that blew up over Barcelona’s plan to charge £102 for away fans to see the second leg of the quarter-final at the Nou Camp.

In an email to United supporters who were successful in the away ticket ballot, Sam Kelleher, the club’s head of ticketing and membership, said they would charge the 4,600 fans – its allocation for the tie – £75 instead of £102.

“We believe that our travelling supporters are again being subjected to increased/excessive ticket prices from the host club,” he said.

Subsidise travelling support

“We have again taken the difficult decision to charge Barcelona fans the same amount Barcelona are charging for the away fixture (£102). We will use the additional revenue gained to subsidise our travelling support by paying the £27 price difference for each of our travelling supporters.”

It wasn’t the first time United’s board had been forced to intervene in a ticket pricing row. They also stepped into subsidise tickets for Red Devils fans when Valencia and Sevilla hiked up ticket prices for European encounters earlier this season and last.

Under UEFA’s revenue distribution plan for Champions League participants, the club have already picked up €20 million for reaching the round of 16 and quarter-finals.

United would not comment when asked by OffThePitch.com if UEFA should get involved in future to regulate ticket prices to avoid fan uproar and supporters being priced out of crunch Champions League ties.

Raking in UCL and matchday revenues

Nearly 75,000 fans, including 53,500 season ticket holders and several thousand Barcelona fans, will set Old Trafford alight on Wednesday. More than 500 stewards will be employed.

After a turbulent season before Solskjær replaced Jose Mourinho, United’s owners and senior executives will be delighted with what could turn out to be a very lucrative European campaign. Under UEFA’s revenue distribution plan for Champions League participants, the club have already picked up €20 million for reaching the round of 16 and quarter-finals.

If they beat Barcelona, they receive another €12 million and €15m more if they make the final. The UEFA Champions League winners pocket an additional €4m.

It’ll be a good stadium payday for United, although the club won’t disclose their predicted income from the game. The stadium accommodates 8,000 seats for seasonal hospitality and another 2,000 VIP seats on a match-by-match basis. 

“We can say that matchday revenues (excluding broadcast rights) account for 18 per cent of our total annual revenue,” a United spokesman told OffThePitch.com. Depending on the number of home games played, matchday revenue inevitably fluctuates; in the club’s yearly accounts for 2018, 2017 and 2016 it was £109.8 million, £111.6 million and £106.6 million respectively.

Money-making facilities

Boasting the UK’s biggest football stadium, the club does its utmost to maximise income from the ageing Old Trafford ground and its fan facilities.

Of the nearly 3,000 staff working at the Barcelona game, as on similar match days, some 140 chefs will serve 25,000 courses in over 30 restaurants and 150 corporate boxes. Also on duty will be 120 welcome hosts and hostesses, 500 kiosk workers, 750 working in hospitality and 80 back of house staff.

Here’s an insight of what the club expects to shift for the Barcelona match (based on past comparable games):

•    35,700 alcoholic drinks (includes 28,000 bottles of beer)
•    10,500 soft drinks
•    4,500 bags of crisps
•    7,000 chocolate bars
•    12,000 hot food items (5,500-plus will be hot dogs – or over 1 mile long laid end to end – and 5,910 pies sold each game on average). The club gets through over 3,000 bottles of ketchup each season, enough to fill 20 bath tubs
•    9,750 hot drinks

Growing the United brand internationally

Hundreds of millions will tune in to watch the hotly-anticipated Manchester United v Barcelona clash – and the club believes the match will help to grow their global fan base, which it regularly touts as 659 million supporters.

A United spokesman talks up the club’s increasing engagement via its social media platforms. Since launch last year, he said the official app has reached number one in the iTunes App Store’s sports category download charts in 92 worldwide markets, top ten within the sports category in an additional 54 markets and currently has active users in over 220 global markets.

United’s branded presences on regional and language-specific platforms, such as Sina Weibo in China, will also be abuzz about the Champions League quarter-final games with Barcelona.

United’s social media fan footprint, includes over 73 million connections on Facebook, over 27 million followers on Instagram, and over 19 million followers on Twitter, according to the club, while its official YouTube channel passed 1 million subscribers within six months of launch, making it the fastest sports channel to reach this milestone in YouTube's history.

United’s branded presences on regional and language-specific platforms, such as Sina Weibo in China, will also be abuzz about the Champions League quarter-final games with Barcelona.

United and Solskjær know that while there may be no containing the twinkle-toed Barcelona superstar, La Liga’s top scorer with 33 goals so far, Messi’s role in the unfolding narrative of April’s games between these European giants can only elevate both club profiles abroad.