Competition Focus

Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Which is bigger? And how wrong are we?

They are two of the biggest clubs in world football and dominate the sports agenda like no others.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are by far the most successful Spanish teams by trophies won — Madrid have 101, Barcelona have 99. Third-placed Athletic Bilbao have just 35. They boast huge fanbases and many of the world’s best players and El Clasico draws millions of eyeballs around the world.

On Sunday, they will be battling it out again for another piece of silverware in the Supercopa de Espana final in Saudi Arabia — the 256th edition of the Clasico. That led The Athletic to investigate the most contentious question possible for both sets of fans: which is the bigger club?

In 2020, we set out to do the same with England’s clubs and concluded that Manchester United was the biggest in the country when measured against metrics including crowds, global fanbase and trophies. We have reproduced those parameters here, with some changes to reflect the unique context in which Barcelona and Madrid operate. We will award a point per category (apart from some, where there is more than one point on offer) and the club with the highest total will be named the biggest.

This is by no means meant to be scientific — it is a bit of fun which is not meant to be taken too seriously. There are also plenty of factors which are impossible to measure. Please don’t hate us too much for the conclusion we’ve come to, but you are, of course, welcome to defend either club’s honour or let us know where we went wrong in the comments. We’re big, we can take it.

Let’s get into it…


Barcelona and Madrid are both global institutions, but like any club, they are also defined by their match-going fans.

This category is complicated by both teams undergoing significant stadium renovations. Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou ground is in the process of being demolished and redeveloped into a 105,000-seat stadium, while Madrid are putting the finishing touches on the new and improved Santiago Bernabeu, which is set to cost them at least €1.4bilion.

Barcelona are playing their home matches at the Lluis Companys Olympic stadium while the Camp Nou works take place. Many season ticket-holders have chosen not to attend games there, but as the season is not over, we decided to take an average attendance over the past five, non Covid-affected seasons and divide this by each stadium’s maximum capacity to see how much of their ground each team tends to fill up.

Madrid have played with a reduced number of fans at various points over recent seasons while carrying out the refurbishment of the 84,744-seater Bernabeu. This helps explain the steep drop in attendance from 2018-19 to 2019-20. The stadium is expected to be officially inaugurated between the end of May and early June this year after several setbacks.

Barcelona plan to return to the Camp Nou in November 2024 at two-thirds capacity. They experienced falling crowds for two seasons before Xavi’s team drew in an impressive 83,498 fans on average in their title-winning 2022-23 campaign — their first La Liga win in four years. That gives them the edge over Madrid, with 67.4 per cent of the Camp Nou filled over those five seasons compared to 63.9 per cent for their rivals.

We included another category to reflect historic attendance: both club’s highest-ever figures. In April 1956, Madrid attracted 129,690 fans to the Bernabeu for the first leg of their European Cup semi-final against AC Milan. Barcelona’s all-time high of 120,000 was recorded in the first leg of their European Cup quarter-final against Juventus in March 1986.

Result: One point to Barcelona for average attendance as a percentage of max capacity, one point to Real Madrid for highest-ever attendance

How attendance figures compare

Barcelona Real Madrid


Average attendance as percentage of max capacity



Highest ever attendance



It is difficult to measure a club’s fanbase — even more so for two of this size, who have millions of supporters across the world.

To accurately reflect that spread, we chose to divide this into three categories: social media platforms, Spanish fanbase and global fanbase. Our 2020 study on English clubs used Facebook, Twitter and Instagram followers to gauge clubs’ social media footprint, but we have included TikTok given the growth of the platform since then.

We also wanted to show just how popular these teams are in Spain. The tradition of penas — official fan groups who often have specific bars where they meet and sometimes have an area of the stadium reserved for them — is unique to Spanish football. According to lists on both clubs’ websites, there are more than 3,000 Barcelona and Madrid penas across the country.

Those groups have spread across the world, too. Barcelona have official penas in Kosovo, Kuwait and seven in Cuba, while Madrid have two groups in Nepal alone. There are 12 Barcelona penas in the United States compared to 17 for Madrid.

Madrid come out on top in all of these metrics, with 39.2 million more followers on social media, almost 1,000 more Spanish penas and 55 more groups globally. These figures are all accurate as of early January.

Result: Two points to Real Madrid — one for social media platforms and one for fanbase in Spain and across the world

Major trophies

These are the two most successful clubs in Spain by trophies won, but we wanted to differentiate between Champions League titles and the less illustrious honours such as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

So we implemented a points system, dishing out 10 for each Champions League title down to three for the Club World Cup, Supercopa de Espana and the UEFA Super Cup. We decided not to include some trophies that no longer exist — such as regional tournaments before La Liga was established and the Intercontinental Cup.

Madrid’s superior Champions League and La Liga record — they are the record holders in each competition with 14 and 35 titles respectively — puts them above Barcelona, but it is a different story for the past 20 seasons…

Result: One point to Real Madrid

Recent major trophies

As well as historical success, we wanted to reflect these teams’ recent titles. We settled on trophies won in the past 20 seasons (going back to and including 2004-05), weighted using the scoring system outlined in the previous section.

Despite Madrid’s five Champions League trophies won in this time — including four in five years from 2014-2018 — Barcelona have the upper hand thanks to their La Liga and Copa del Rey performance. They have won five more league titles than Madrid in this time and four more Spanish Cups. By contrast, Madrid’s victory in the Copa del Rey last year was only their third in 30 years.

Result: One point to Barcelona

Barcelona and Real Madrid’s trophies in past 20 seasons



Real Madrid



Champions League



La Liga



Copa del Rey



Club World Cup



Supercopa de Espana



UEFA Super Cup





League finishes

Barcelona and Madrid regularly finish first and second in La Liga, with Valencia (2001-02 and 2003-04) and Atletico Madrid (2013-14 and 2020-21) the only other champions in the 21st century.

We charted Barcelona and Madrid’s league finishes through the 91 La Liga seasons since its establishment in 1928-29 (the league was suspended from 1936-1939 during the Spanish Civil War) and then took an average for each side. Madrid finished a decimal point above their Catalan rivals (an average position of 2.7 compared to 2.8).

Since 2004, neither team has finished lower than the top three — illustrating the duopoly at the top of Spanish football.

Result: One point to Real Madrid

Champions League record

The Champions League is Europe’s premier club competition, so we wanted to give it special prominence — with a point on offer for most appearances and most times won.

It is no surprise to see Madrid so far out ahead as record holders (14 titles) and record appearance makers (43) in the European Cup/Champions League. They have played and won the most matches (482 and 291) and are the only team to have scored more than 1,000 goals in the competition (1,063).

Even so, Barcelona’s five trophies won compare favourably to their 27 appearances in the tournament. They won it three times in six years from 2006-2011 but had not reached the knockout stages for three years until this season.

Result: One point for Real Madrid for most times won and most appearances

(Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

Player quality

In 2020, we measured English clubs’ player quality based on the England internationals they had provided along with how many representatives they had at the 2018 World Cup. But many of the best Barcelona and Madrid players were born outside of Spain, so judging these clubs on Spanish internationals they have produced did not feel right.

We replaced that metric with Ballon d’Or winners — no clubs’ players have won the award more times than Barcelona and Madrid’s joint-high of 12. Much of this is down to Messi and Ronaldo’s dominance in the 21st century, so we limited ourselves to individual players who had won the Ballon d’Or while at either side.

But the World Cup remains the pinnacle for many players and a decent gauge of player quality, so we combined this figure with the number of players each side sent to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and took an average.

Madrid have provided eight Ballon d’Or winners (Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Luis Figo, Ronaldo Nazario, Fabio Cannavaro, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema) to Barcelona’s six (the Spanish Luis Suarez, Cruyff, Hristo Stoichkov, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Messi). But the Catalan club sent 17 players to Qatar — the most of any club — which gives them a narrow win.

Result: One point to Barcelona

Commercial revenue

Barcelona and Madrid are not just successful on the pitch — they are commercial juggernauts. While the former’s financial problems are well-documented, these are still two of the most lucrative European clubs.

Deloitte’s Football Money League ranks the highest revenue-generating clubs in world football every year by measuring a club’s commercial, broadcast and matchday revenue. We took an average figure for each team from the past five years of the report.

Madrid finished second in the most recent edition, with revenue worth €713.8million, while Barcelona fell from fourth to seventh in the list despite making €638.2m. Barcelona have pulled a series of financial ‘levers’ — selling future revenue streams for upfront payments — over the past two years to sign or register players despite their precarious situation.

By contrast, the renovation of the Bernabeu does not seem to have impacted Madrid too much, with their revenue only dropping below €700m for two years in 2020 and 2021. But there is little to separate the teams over the past five years of Deloitte’s report.

Result: One point for Real Madrid

Spending power

Spain’s big two have a unique pulling power when it comes to transfers. Being able to attract the world’s biggest stars is still a huge source of pride for fans.

To measure this, we counted each team’s appearances in the list of the 50 most expensive transfers, according to the site Transfermarkt. It is no surprise to see Madrid come out on top given their history of ‘Galactico’ signings, but the difference is not as pronounced as you might think.

Madrid feature seven times in the list (Eden Hazard, Jude Bellingham, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Aurelien Tchouameni, Zinedine Zidane and James Rodriguez). Meanwhile, six of Barcelona’s signings make the top 50 — although not all have been successful (Phillippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Neymar, Frenkie de Jong and Luis Suarez).

Result: One point to Real Madrid

Barcelona’s appearances in top 50 transfers



Transfer fee








Real Madrid’s appearances in top 50 transfers



Transfer fee









Women’s teams

This is one category in which there is no comparison. While this is a study about Barcelona and Madrid’s men’s sides, fans of both clubs take pride in their women’s teams — although Madrid have only had one since 2020.

Barcelona’s women’s team are the current Champions League holders and provided the bulk of the team who delivered Spain’s first Women’s World Cup title last summer. Barcelona have won every game against Madrid and beat them 5-0 when they last met in November.

We have used a similar scoring system to the ‘major titles’ sections above — although really there is no need given the disparity between the teams.

Head-to-head record

The most obvious way of settling this debate. Barcelona and Madrid’s men’s teams have met 255 times in all competitions, with 103 wins for Madrid and 100 for Barcelona. Madrid have scored 426 goals in Clasicos compared to 416 for Barcelona.

Carlo Ancelotti’s team came out on top in the last game at Montjuic in October thanks to two goals from Bellingham, but the previous Clasico effectively sealed La Liga for Barcelona — a 2-1 victory with a late Franck Kessie goal.

Xavi spoke of last season’s Supercopa de Espana win against Madrid as a turning point for his side. He will be hoping this final can provide another one after a torrid first half of the season.

Result: One point to Real Madrid

El Clasico head-to-head record



Real Madrid












Goals scored


Overall score

Real Madrid: 9

Barcelona: 4

So the results are in and… Real Madrid are bigger than Barcelona. Well, according to our measures at least.

Once again, we want to emphasise this is far from scientific. Barcelona fans would argue they have a more productive academy than Madrid’s and a greater social reach — two things we have not been able to explore in this article.

Regardless, both clubs will be vying for the Supercopa and much more when they meet on Sunday. As ever with El Clasico, it is about much more than just one game when it comes to these sides.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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