Winter Term class enjoys front-row seat to La Liga clubs, Spanish soccer industry

As part of Associate Professor David Bockino’s Through the Lens of ESPN class, 13 students traveled to Spain to tour four soccer stadiums – all legendary and impressive in their own way – while also participating in marketing meetings with three of the country’s top clubs.

Sebastian Schroeter ’25 (from left), Aiden Evens ’22 and Kingsley Walkins ’22 share a laugh as they tour the playing level of Mestalla Stadium, home of Valencia Club de Fútbol.

The students’ first full day in Spain set an incredible benchmark for Associate Professor David Bockino’s Through the Lens of ESPN class.

First-year student Sebastian Schroeter, a sport management major, enjoys a light-hearted moment while in Atlético Madrid’s press conference room in Wanda Metropolitano.

After a short walk from their Barcelona hotel, Bockino and his 13 students – a mix of communications, sport management and business majors, plus a few soccer fans – embarked on a Jan. 13 tour of Camp Nou Stadium, the legendary facility of FC Barcelona. As the one-time home of Leo Messi, arguably the greatest footballer ever, the pitch is widely considered hallowed ground.

After touring FC Barcelona’s museum, as well as the stadium’s media and training rooms, the students entered the playing level via the players’ entrance. Under a piercing morning sun, the students posed for photos a few feet from the pitch and lounged in the cushioned chairs on the team’s bench.

Afterward, the students’ visit transitioned from entertainment to educational, and they discussed the club’s marketing and branding initiatives with Marcos Picalló Aguilar, Barça Universitas manager at FC Barcelona. Aguilar was insightful and candid, explaining to the students what makes Barça one of the most recognizable brands not just in Europe, but across the globe.

Following the meeting, the students spent the afternoon touring the city of Barcelona, taking in venues of the 1992 Olympics and 1929 Exposition, as well as visiting La Sagrada Família. The day concluded – yes, still the same day – with the Winter Term class attending a FC Barcelona vs. Anadolu basketball game at festive Palau Blaugrana. The decibel levels at the Euroleague match-up reached heights usually reserved for Cameron Indoor Stadium.

An individual would be hard pressed to find a better introduction to the Spanish sport industry, or a better kick off to a sports-centric course studying abroad. Over the course of 12 days, Bockino and the students divided their time in Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid, continuing to immerse themselves in the Spanish culture and sports industry.

Marcos Picalló Aguilar, Barça Universitas manager at FC Barcelona, spoke to the Elon contingent for nearly 90 minutes during the class’ Jan. 13 tour of Camp Nou Stadium.

“The purpose of this course is to explore the intersection of sport, media and society,” Bockino explained. “Spain, with its intense love for soccer, is the perfect place to do that. And it’s so interesting to see how these individual clubs have become powerful media platforms over the last decade. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, for example, have tens of millions of social media followers from all over the world. That kind of global impact says a lot about where the sport industry is headed.”

The School of Communications has a series of Flickr galleries highlighting the Spanish study abroad course, organized by location – Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid.

For sophomore Miles Vance, a cinema and television arts and history double major, the decision to study abroad for two weeks in Spain was two-fold: soccer and Bockino.

“Studying abroad is why I came to Elon,” Vance said, while sitting in John F. Kennedy Airport in New York awaiting a final connection home. “That is how Elon separated itself from my other college options.”

Ashlee Brackett ’22 snaps a photograph of Hannah Nelson ’22 (pictured) prior to Real Madrid’s Jan. 23 home match with Elche.

As a Communications Fellow, Vance had Bockino – the Fellows director – as his Communications in a Global Age instructor, and he enjoyed the associate professor’s teaching style.

“Why Spain and this trip? I love soccer. And I had already had Professor Bockino in class, and he was great,” Vance said. “Plus, the Winter Term class seemed like a great way for me to dip my toe into traveling internationally without spending a full semester abroad.”

While not every day was as jam-packed as the marathon first-day outing, the course’s itinerary never slowed down.

Two days after their whirlwind start, the students traveled an hour outside of Barcelona to tour Montserrat monastery, one of Europe’s most-visited attractions. The class hiked the Benedictine monk mountain retreat and enjoyed the jaw-dropping views of the Catalonia region.

Then the class packed up for the course’s second leg, traveling by train to Valencia, a coastal city known for the orange trees that dot the region’s landscape and line many of the city’s boulevards. Students toured fabled Mestalla Stadium, home of Valencia Club de Fútbol, and participated in a meeting with the club’s marketing staff. A common theme arose during the club meetings: the organizations are intently focused on pushing their brands beyond Europe.

“All of the clubs are focused on expanding their brands internationally, especially in America and Asia,” said Jack Shea, a junior economics major. “That is a main takeaway from all of our meetings: How could the clubs continue to expand their reach?”

Ashlee Brackett ’22 hikes a path at Montserrat monastery, a Benedictine monk mountain retreat that is one of Europe’s most-visited attractions.

Two days later, the class attended a Valencia and Sevilla football match, a mid-week contest between two clubs heading in opposite directions. Sevilla sits near the top of the La Liga standings; Valencia does not. Unfortunately, the home team was undone by an early own goal and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Beyond sports venues, the class toured Valencia and visited the City of Arts and Sciences, which consists of several iconic facilities (a science museum, theater and aquarium) designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. A few days later, the students laced up their boots and hiked the countryside above the nearby village of Naquera.

Lastly, Bockino and the students headed to the capital city of Madrid, and stayed just blocks away from Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of Real Madrid. Real Madrid is synonymous with championships – like the New York Yankees – having won more La Liga titles than any other Spanish club.

Members of Associate Professor David Bockino’s Through the Lens of ESPN class gather for a photograph near of pitch of Wanda Metropolitano.

While in Madrid, the students first got familiar with Real’s crosstown rivals, Atlético Madrid. Following a tour of the club’s stadium, Wanda Metropolitano, and a fan-centric engagement space, the students spoke with Jaime Olabarria, the club’s marketing manager, for an hour about how Atlético brands itself. Again, building international audiences is a key focal point for Atlético. And the club’s 2020-21 La Liga championship has certainly helped those efforts.

The highlight of the Madrid visit was attending Real’s Jan. 23 home match with Elche. The match-up didn’t disappoint as the home crowd had to suffer through a two-goal deficit, before Real tied the match in extra time. A sense of relief was palpable among the Real Madrid fans.

“The first time I saw the itinerary the Real Madrid game definitely stood out,” Shea said. “That game and our stadium tours, for a person like me who has always loved sports, this study abroad program was just the perfect fit.”

According to Bockino, the Winter Term course not only provides students with a clear image of today’s sport industry in Spain, but also a glimpse into the country’s storied history.

“The best part about this course is interacting with the students who begin to recognize the larger connections between sport, history and culture,” the associate professor said. “In Spain, there’s this mythology about the matchup they call El Clásico: FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. Understanding that matchup and how it’s discussed by those fanbases even today provides a fascinating window into the last hundred years of Spanish history.”