Space Jam and sinking libraries: why Perez’s plan for a Real Madrid theme park was always doomed to fail

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
RealMadridLand... The Maddest Place on Earth.

Hats off to Florentino Perez; only a special kind of madman could watch Space Jam and interpret the entire premise as a TEDtalk on proper business management. Then again, only a special kind of madman could possess the arrogant detachedness and greed required to match the cartoonish iniquity of Danny DeVito’s Swackhammer.

In recent days it has emerged that Perez, ever the outlandish profiteer, quite literally held ambitions of uprooting Real Madrid’s entire operation - stadium, training facilities, the full shebang - and relocating it to a theme park, imaginatively named ‘RealMadridLand’. Welcome to the age of post-irony. At least in Space Jam, they had the good grace to christen Swackhammer’s attraction ‘Moron Mountain’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This was more than just a half-muttered pipe dream too. According to new book Messi vs Ronaldo by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson, Perez was in actual talks with a cadre of former Disney executives, headed up by long-time CEO Michael Eisner, and had been mulling over the idea since 2004. The Spaniard had even gone as far as to start sketching potential rollercoasters - which, of course, is a perfectly normal thing for the chairman of the most recognisable club in world football to do in his spare time - including one based on Zinedine Zidane’s iconic volley from the 2002 Champions League final. Presumably punters would have just been fired out of a cannon. Sideways.

In the end, Perez’s elaborate plans fell through due to a combined lack of funding and space. He needed €2.5 billion and around 250 acres. He had €1.4 billion and 130 acres. Like the urban legend of the architect whose magnum opus library sank into the ground because he failed to account for the weight of the books inside, it would appear that dear Florentino forgot about hotels and conference centres.

There were other concerns too, however. For one, the new public training facility would have allowed Real’s opponents full access to their tactical machinations. If the practice pitch was akin to the (morally reprehensible) orca enclosure at SeaWorld, the likes of Barcelona et al. could quite easily cough up the entrance fee to have scouts sat gleefully in the splash zone, clipboards and little plastic ponchos at the ready. Perez’s response? “People see all that stuff anyway”. This guy.

It’s hard to imagine that fans, or indeed players and managers, would have been overly thrilled at the prospect either. Forget Looney Tunes, the billionaire’s fantasy was closer to lunacy - less storm in a teacup, more storm on the teacups.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

On a fundamental level, worries were also raised over whether or not RealMadridLand would even, well, break even. In and of itself, that should be enough reason to abandon any such venture post-haste. If it looked for a solitary moment as if Disneyland wasn’t going to turn a profit for even one second you can bet your bottom dollar that Walt himself would be thawed from his cryogenic slumber to whip Mickey and the rest of his anthropomorphic minions into shape. (By the way, convenient that if you google “Disney Frozen” the top hit is no longer about the preservative powers of liquid nitrogen, don’t you think...).

But what makes the potential financial peril of Perez’s brainchild doubly baffling is his insistence that it was the necessary evolution required to keep pace with the incalculable oil wealth of Manchester City and PSG. It’s difficult to see how such a folly could ever have provided a solution if it was operating at a loss - and the notion that it could ever turn a meaningful profit would always have been somewhat risible. Indeed, the promise of a theme park adventure feels like the last desperate Hail Mary of a divorced father scrambling for relevancy and affection in the face of usurpation from a cool new stepdad, not a plot engineered to bring down the economic might of a Middle Eastern petrostate.

In the wake of his vision collapsing, it is claimed that Perez saw no other option but to push for Real’s inclusion in a newly-formed European Super League. As far as villain origin stories go, they don’t come much brattier than: “Couldn’t build my own theme park so I’m going to completely shred the very fabric of an entire sport, thus decimating it as a competitive entity”. It’d be a bit like if LEGOLAND fell on hard times, padlocked their gates, and auctioned off their bricks to the Decepticons.

All of this is to say that Perez’s harebrained blueprint was never truly about sustainability or survival, but rather the ineffable avarice that motivates so many thought processes in the very upper echelons of the professional game. Would it truly have been a shock, for instance, to stumble across an equivalent scheme whereby Barcelona president Joan Laporta had drawn up plans to build the world’s largest water slide around the rim of Camp Nou? Greed begets more greed begets more greed until one day you’re stood in front of a board of directors pitching for training to be scheduled around a twice daily parade in which Thibaut Courtois is forced to dress up as Goofy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If there is a silver lining to this craziness though, it’s that anybody struggling for an idea of what to buy Florentino Perez for Christmas this year now has the perfect present just ready and waiting. Get him a copy of RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.