Faced with impending bankruptcy and extinction, debt-ridden Spanish soccer club Real Oviedo has discovered a precious asset that may yet save it from doom: the loyalty of its fans.
As one of many clubs struggling to survive in the country’s economic crisis, Oviedo needs to raise nearly 2 million euros (US$2.54 million) by Saturday to stave off legal writs that would force its dissolution, a sad end to 86 years of sporting history.
However, thanks to a novel fund-raising effort — selling shares in the club at cut-rate prices — and a rampant social-media campaign, the third-tier club is halfway toward reaching its target.
“There is a lot of excitement to save the club. All of us, from the fans all the way to the town mayor, are going to do what it takes to pull through,” lifelong fan Jose Garcia Ordonez said. “The effort is coming from people with financial problems like so many are facing in this country. With 30, 40 euros they are doing what they can so that one day we can tell our children how we saved 86 years of history of the club of our parents and grandparents.”
As a last-ditch tactic, Oviedo opted to issue new shares at a price of 10.75 euros — down from 60 euros per share at its first offering 20 years ago.
Current shareholders were initially slow to respond, but when the offer was opened up to the public, the response was overwhelming.
Thousands have bought shares as a plea to help save the club spread across Twitter and even Real Madrid president Florentino Perez — whose budget this season is 520 million euros — has approved the purchase of 100,000 euros worth of shares.
When more than 20,000 fans showed up to support the team at its 1-0 victory on Sunday against Real Madrid’s C-team, Oviedo president Toni Fidalgo could make a triumphant announcement: “Without including Real Madrid’s contribution, we have now collected more than 1 million [euros],” he said, drawing huge cheers.
Several of the club’s former standout players — including Chelsea forward Juan Mata, Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla and Swansea City’s Miguel “Michu” Perez — have also chipped in to buy shares.
However, in the end, it is the support of regular fans that can ensure Oviedo’s survival.
“This is a very, very delicate moment,” Garcia said. “The fans have always supported the club and even more so in moments of crisis. We are born with a love for the team’s colors. It’s a religion.”
Oviedo is the provincial capital of Asturias, a mountainous northern region along the Atlantic coast. It has about 200,000 inhabitants, 11,000 of which are members of Real Oviedo. The club has languished for the last 11 years in lower divisions, but it has a proud past.
It has spent a total of 38 seasons in the top division, finishing third on three occasions. Garcia, 47, is president of Oviedo’s Garra Azul fan club. He said he had bought 37 shares, while 45 other members had purchased at least 10 shares apiece. Four shares give the owner a seat and a vote at the club’s annual meeting. Fans still have fresh memories of how Oviedo celebrated a victory against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the 2000-2001 campaign. However, later relegation started a downward slide — accelerated by the trap of living beyond its means — that saw it fall as low as Spain’s fourth division.
Having climbed back to the third division, they have six wins, three draws and three losses this season, staying unbeaten at home.