We visited Madrid for 5 days and fortunately were able to be there for a scheduled match. In all my searching, I could not find an authoritative guide on how to purchase tickets to a Real Madrid home match. For American sports games, it is usually straightforward how to purchase official tickets or how to find them on an aftermarket website. My experience was a bit crazier, and it reinforces my long-held belief that Ticketmaster is a bunch of monopolizing thieves that exist to infuriate customers.
Tickets for the Real Madrid v Malaga CF match got released one week ahead of time. Usually, tickets for public purchase are not released until this time. Both the official Real Madrid website and Ticketmaster sell the seats. The crunch for tickets can be explained by the fact that in an 80,000 seat capacity stadium, 68,000 seats are taken by season ticket holders. Unfortunately for us, we were in Uruguay at the appointed time. I set my alarm for 5:00 AM, because the tickets got released at 10:00 AM Madrid time, and there was a five hour difference.
I stumbled into the bathroom and shut the door so that the light wouldn't wake Lindsay up. I immediately pulled up the RM website and got to work on the hotel's weak wifi connection. The ticket system is easy to navigate and brings up a stadium map broken into quadrants with available seats listed by a number. After you click on a quadrant, it zooms to bring up the sections, then the actual seat available. I selected two seats, and tried to proceed to checkout. By the time the page reloaded, the seats were deemed "unavailable" and must have been scooped up by someone else. I was forced to start the whole process over from the homepage, and went through this for at least five iterations with the same result.
With my frustration mounting, I grabbed Lindsay's cell phone and tried to double time it on Real Madrid's website and Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster was a disaster of customer experience. They make you select a section and seats based on name only, without seeing a stadium map, because of course you are on an Apple device that doesn't support the full system. Their ticket availability was awful, and I wasn't able to find any two adjacent seats in the whole stadium.
My original hope was that I could wake up and 5:00 and be back in bed by 6:00 so I could get a few more hours sleep. By 7:00, I was at my wits' end. Lindsay woke up and tried to help me, and all the while tickets kept slipping away and the systems were log-jammed. We finally reached the ticket check-out stage on the RM website, entered all our credit card information, and received the message that they couldn't process a foreign credit card. Rage welled up inside me like never before! After two hours of attempts, I admitted defeat and decided to deal with it when we arrived in Spain.
I threw on some clothes and ventured to the hotel lobby for breakfast. After two cups of coffee and some pastries, I still couldn't let the frustration go.
I jumped on the lobby's desktop computer to try again. The connection was quicker, but the results were the same. No success.
I had read the previous night of an alternative service, Viagogo. It is a third-party website, similar to Stub Hub, that resells tickets for individuals. However, the customer reviews are mixed and some people have either bought bogus tickets or the tickets never got delivered. I was reluctant to try this in spite of Viagogo's "coverall" guarantee.
However, after spending three-plus hours striking out, I decided to buy tickets on Viagogo. The tickets cost 150 euro each, which was a reasonable deal, and were email-delivered e-tickets. The other option is physical tickets that you must coordinate a pickup with the owner or pickup from the box office (in reportedly long lines). I bought the tickets online and held my breath for a week in hopes that the tickets would work.
Two days before the match, Viagogo sent me an email to download the e-tickets. I printed them out a copy shop down the street from our hotel. My anxiety didn't fully abate until we entered Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and the ticket-takers scanned the barcodes and the turnstile light turned green. Success!
I can honestly say the Viagogo process was much easier than fighting though website functionality issues on both the RM and Ticketmaster websites. We paid about a 40 euro markup on the tickets, as can be expected from a reseller, but the seats were incredible and well worth the money. We got to watch the match from the second level at perfect mid-field. So close you could see the hair gel glisten off Christiano Ronaldo's prettyboy head. Our seats were on the West (Castellano) side of the stadium. This is the best side. The north and south are goal sides where the view is bad or you have to deal with the small section of Socios (hooligans). The east side faces the sun in the afternoon and the glare appeared pretty bad over there.
The game experience at Satiago Bernabeu Stadium is pretty high-class. It's a nicely kept stadium and was full of business people and families. It's a vast difference from our match experience in Montevideo with their lunatic fans. Although, I did miss the passion for the game exhibited when you let a ton of hooligans into the stadium. The Real Madrid fans lacked a certain rabid and overzealous quality that makes fútbol so different from football.
If you can get though the ticketing experience, I highly recommend attending a Real Madrid match. It's like watching a Yankees game in New York: it's overhyped but also quintessential. It might be more authentic to root for an underdog, but it's more fun to watch a winning team.