THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Paul Joyce reports on Germany's reaction to the Game 39 proposals

Support for Richard Scudamore’s 39th step has been non-existent in the German media. “Why do they still bother playing in England at all?” asked the left-wing newspaper Taz. “They may as well sell the whole circus to south-east Asia and put up giant screens in English stadiums.” The Berlin-based daily Der Tagesspiegel saw the Premier League’s expansionism as part of a post-Empire identity crisis: “While many Englishmen view this internationalisation as a stigma, they profit from it financially and it forms the basis of their sporting success. And the English are proud of this success.”

Nor have any German football figures proposed that the Bundesliga should follow Scudamore’s lead. Franz Beckenbauer found the idea of an international round of league matches “not bad, but I don’t know if it works. Manchester United and Arsenal have a lot of fans, but how do they get to Sydney?” The Bayern Munich president also warned the Premier League not to “be so cocky as to go against FIFA” if England wanted to host the 2018 World Cup.

If the idea is a non-starter for the Bundesliga, this is largely because its low profile abroad would make overseas fixtures financially unviable. The sale of global broadcasting rights nets the German Football League (DFL) a mere €20 million (£15m) per year – a third of the figure earned by the Italian and Spanish leagues and a 15th of the overseas revenue of the Premier League. Having been criticised by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman of Bayern Munich’s executive board, for being “asleep for ten years” in its overseas marketing, the DFL belatedly organised friendlies for Borussia Dortmund in Indonesia and Energie Cottbus in China in December 2007. But such teams are hardly likely to set Asian pulses racing: the National Stadium in Jakarta was 80 per cent empty for Dortmund’s game against Indonesia.

German clubs had previously lobbied for some cup ties to be held abroad. Bayern and Dortmund led calls for the Ligapokal (an annual pre-season trophy for Germany’s leading clubs) and even the German Cup final to be held in China or Japan. It seems likely instead that the Ligapokal will be scrapped in 2008 to allow Bundesliga teams to schedule their own overseas tours. Rummenigge also took on the German Football Association (DFB) in January 2007, stating that he would “no longer show consideration for the DFB’s interests” if international friendlies clashed with Bayern’s lucrative overseas commitments.

Yet, if anything, the Premier League’s plans for foreign expansion have focused Rummenigge’s attention on financial matters closer to home. Two weeks after Scudamore made his proposal, Rummenigge secretly approached Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, arguing for changes to the central marketing of the Bundesliga’s domestic broadcasting rights. And with negotiations for the 2009 DFL TV contracts already indicating an increase in the number of  Sunday matches and an end to the terrestrial broadcasting of Bundesliga highlights at 6.30pm on Saturdays, German fans may well find that their relative immunity to football’s commercialisation is now over.

From WSC 254 April 2008

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