21 November ~ Football in Germany is flourishing – Bundesliga clubs continue to attract bumper crowds and the national team still has the knack of saving its best performances for the World Cup. However, if you look beyond the headlines and focus on those teams struggling a few rungs down the ladder, the picture is far less positive. In 2008, the German FA (DFB) made sweeping changes to the structure outside the top two divisions, introducing a third national league and a wholly new structure for the leagues below. The Regionalligen were reorganised into three sections (West, South and North) and were guaranteed improved coverage on Germany's extensive regional TV network.

However, the DFB caved in to pressure from the Bundesliga clubs on one vital point – they allowed the reserve teams of the professional clubs to take up places in these new regional leagues, and a limited number were even allowed into the third division (but they cannot get promoted into the second division from there).

The top clubs maintain that they need their reserve sides to mature in the competitive environment of "proper" league football, but it is a fact that the majority of these second-string teams are not popular with spectators. The crowd figures at their home games can often drop to under 1,000 and, apart from a few exceptions such as the two Munich clubs (for wildly differing reasons), they also have next to no travelling support. This season, 24 out of 54 Regionalliga teams are reserve sides, thus reducing the number of attractive fixtures for the other clubs and putting more pressure on revenue streams, already affected by reductions in TV fees and sponsorship income.

Meanwhile, clubs are forced to gamble ever higher sums on ground improvements to stay in the Regionalligen and chase the one available promotion spot in each division. The costs are crippling and there is little realistic chance of recouping the outlay after promotion, as inflated travel and policing costs soon eat up the extra revenue gained by progressing to the third division. The consequences are visible for all to see – in the summer of 2010, six clubs were declared insolvent and had to drop down to state league level, including the former Bundesliga teams Rot-Weiss Essen and Waldhof Mannheim.

Various state federations submitted reform proposals at the DFB conference in October 2010. These ranged from the creation of a national division for reserve teams, categorically rejected by the Bundesliga clubs, to the splitting of fourth-tier football into eight regional divisions. In the end, the DFB chose a compromise that seems to be acceptable to all concerned – from 2012-13, the "five-point solidarity plan" means that there will be five Regionalligen: North, North-East, West, South-West and Bavaria. The champions of each division will then play-off to determine who gets promoted to the third division.

The DFB have achieved their stated aim of avoiding a schism between professional and amateur clubs, but the reserve teams will be just as present in the new structure as they are today. And it remains to be seen how many of the current Regionalliga teams will be able to take their place in the new leagues in 2012 – SpVgg Weiden last week became the first club this season to open bankruptcy proceedings. John van Laer

Comments (4)
Comment by Alex Anderson 2010-11-22 13:22:17

Great piece on a very interesting topic. Can I be pushy and ask - just out of curiosity - what are the "wildly differing" reasons for both Munich reserve teams attracting bigger away supports?

Comment by aubzamzam 2010-11-24 03:22:06

My side (SV Darmstadt 98) is trying hard but the chances of promotion are becoming increasingly unlikely. And who is currently between them and table leaders Hessen Kassel? All upper-tier reserve teams! I am kind of glad that league leader Kassel is an "indy" team (even though they are hated cross-state rivals).

2nd tier was sort of par for Darmstadt for a while there...ahh, the bitter taste of near-insolvency.

FWIW, I actually lost my general distaste for Bayern München for a minute or two there when they came and played Darmstadt in a fund-raising match a couple of years back, and actually played starters...

Comment by JVL 2010-11-24 07:20:07

@Alex Anderson:
Sure... Bayern's reserves attract big crowds all over the country due to their massive nationwide support. Local fan clubs exist in towns and villages around Germany and come out to support the reserves when they're playing locally, and also neutral fans will come along in the hope of seeing a star name getting some playing time in on the way back from injury. A lot of 1860's fans, however, simply refuse to watch any matches in the Allianz Arena as they don't want to put any money into Bayern's pockets. So they go to the reserve team's games instead, home and away.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2010-11-24 14:49:07

Ah - I see. Thanks for that, John - that's really interesting. As soon as I asked about Bayern I realised why they'd get a following at reserve games but the TSV 1860 thing wasn't so easy to work out. So I assume Bayern are acting as landlords in the Allianz Arena deal - that must be hard to swallow for the 1860 fans. I never understood why the blue half of Munich didn't just stay in the Olympic stadium or the old Grunwalder strasse (sic?) ground. I suppose the TSV fans don't understand either!

Thanks again


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