THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

31 January ~ Last week the Bundesliga announced a record high revenue for its 18 clubs during the 2010-11 season, with a turnover of almost €2 billion (£1.7bn) and an overall profit of €52.5 million. On the same day, UEFA revealed that more than half of its top 650 clubs lost money during 2010, despite the threat of exclusion from European competitions under its looming financial fair play regulations. What is Germany doing right that the rest of Europe is doing wrong?

A few years back, Bayern Munich were making noises about landing their own television deal so that they could break free from the Bundesliga's collective and relatively egalitarian financial structure. The club would then become richer and compete better in the Champions League. Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre last year clamoured for the same thing in the Premier League, whose distribution of TV income is even more socialist than the Bundesliga.

Bayern then realised that if they overly dominated their domestic league, the knock-on effect would be severely detrimental to the Bundesliga and German football as a whole. The current table is a perfect illustration of the beneficial effects of financial stability, built on long-standing rules that prevent moneyed individuals completely taking over a team and saturating it with transfer cash – or debt.

One point separates the top four teams, with Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke all on 40 points, and Borussia Mönchengladbach one point behind in fourth place. Hoffenheim are in eighth position with 23 points, only five points clear of the relegation zone.

There is no zone of mid-table obscurity. Clubs are either fighting for the title, a European place or the right to stay up. This season is not at all unusual. In the past five campaigns there have been four different champions – Dortmund, Bayern (twice), Wolfsburg and Stuttgart.

Bayern remain the team to hate and the team to beat, but they willingly play up to the role of the devil while having recognised that it is not in their best interests to win the league by 15 points every year. Despite being top of the league right now, they have already lost five games this season. At the same time, the league's relative parity allows for a team like Mönchengladbach to rise from being last season's relegation play-off escapee to potential title-winners.

Attendances were up again last season too, averaging just over 42,000 per game. The Bundesliga remains the best attended in the world. The retention of standing areas in most stadiums means there is more space (even though someone like Franz Beckenbauer pipes up for their abolition every time there is crowd trouble), the atmosphere is switched on, admission prices are still sane and the competitiveness makes almost every game meaningful.

In terms of actual quality, the Bundesliga is no doubt a step below the Premier League and La Liga on their best days. Those leagues have overspent to attract the best players, and the top-heavy competition means that only a limited number of games are of interest. In Spain, it is arguably down to the two clásicos every season, with the rest a sideshow. It is no coincidence that Barcelona and Real Madrid negotiate their own fat TV deals at the expense of the rest of the league.

In the long term, the Bundesliga is the only viable model for the modern game. Its sensible 34-game season – with no league cup and no German cup replays - benefits both the players and the clubs. During the past decade many of its teams have prioritised developing youth over importing an abundance of overpaid and more experienced players. This has been fruitful both for a club like Mönchengladbach, and Joachim Löw's young, attacking national team.

No set-up is perfect, of course. Mönchengladbach will lose their prolific 22-year-old striker Marco Reus to Dortmund this summer for just under €18m. No one is pretending that money doesn't still play a major role. For many purist local fans the Bundesliga has already become way too commercial.

The German game is also still dealing with recurrent fan violence. Earlier this season I saw running battles at a third division game between Erfurt and Darmstadt fans that took me straight back to 1970s England. Dynamo Dresden have been banned from next year's German cup because of violent behaviour by a section of their visiting supporters in Dortmund last autumn.

Still, just yesterday the German football association announced that its foreign broadcast rights will bring in €71m per year in the period 2012-2015, up from €47m. It is not much compared with the Premier League (which receives eight times as much) and the Bundesliga may not boast the flash and glamour of the Bernabéu. But its canny finances and open competition make it – in many respects – the most attractive league in Europe. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (19)
Comment by t.j.vickerman 2012-01-31 12:03:13

A thriving economy, competitive, high-quality, affordable football that offers an excellent spectator experience and great beer...typical Germans.

On a more serious note, I'm not sure Bayern are deliberately trying not to walk the league by 15 points every year, only that they seem to regularly fall victim to the kind of cliques and infighting to be expected at 'FC Hollywood'. They are also, long-term, the only real behemoth in the German club game in a way that Manchester United, try as they might, will never be in England.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-01-31 12:14:44

Another interesting article Ian. A lot of the positives you highlight about the Bundesliga ring true but the one argument I can't abide is that the atmosphere is better because there is standing etc. This is simply not true.

By trade, I'm a Grimsby Town fan but I live in France and have a season ticket for Saint-Etienne. I have also attended multiple Eintract Frankfurt matches in Germany with a friend who lives in the area. The major difference between the English league and our continental counterparts is that their singing is orchestrated - the supporters groups appoint leaders with mega phones who decide when and what to chant.

People regularly state the atmosphere is better on the continent because the fans sing for the full 90 minutes at every game. This is precisely why the atmosphere is not as good as in England and Scotland. A prime example of this is when Sainté concede: The home fans in the 'singing' sections continue to sing. At Blundell Park, immediately following an opposition goal, you could hear pin drop in the centre circle.

It should be this way - the singing should ebb and flow because sometimes the match is drab an people are uninterested and therefore don't sing. Other times, the team start to play and give the fans a lift who in turn start to sing. On other occasions, it's the fans who give the team vocal support when they appear in need of a lift. And, then, you have those one off matches where all four stands are bouncing. We appreciate this because it's not a constant - sometimes it's supposed to be quiet.

One of the things many foreign players always say about English and Scottish football is that they think the atmosphere is fantastic in the grounds - this is why.

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2012-01-31 13:10:48

"In the long term, the Bundesliga is the only viable model for the modern game. "

Well there's absolutely no chance of the halfwits in this country using it then.....

Comment by Coral 2012-01-31 14:05:06

"Last week the Bundesliga announced a record high revenue for its 18 clubs during the 2010-11 season, with a turnover of almost €2 billion (£1.7bn) and an overall profit of €52.5 million"

"In terms of actual quality, the Bundesliga is no doubt a step below the Premier League and La Liga"

"What is Germany doing right that the rest of Europe is doing wrong?"

Depends, does doing wrong mean not making a profit or not making for the best football? Also not sure that Bundesliga is the most viable way to go. The EPL is along way ahead in terms of global income and the fact that there is no control on owners coming in means that there can be a merry go round of Sheiks and Russians pumping money into the club. German football sits in the country with (arguably)the stongest post recession economy with less unemployment than any other European country. It also has a huge population and less competitive lower leagues than England so it is no surprise that they have more fans in the ground and with more disposable income to spend. Can we not just enjoy watching our own football without finding some faults?

In summary, I am sick of the money side of football being discussed as a greater priority than the entertainment value of football.

Comment by Lincoln 2012-01-31 14:32:21

Perhaps Germany is the most competitive because of the lack of quality? Man City were a mid ranking team, as were Spurs, until they invested heavily. In Germany it doesn't take as much to recruit better quality than the opposition, in the EPL and Spain it does because the best players in the world play there

Comment by shadsworth cloud 2012-01-31 19:01:21

much of the german football boom dates back to the re-building od stadiums for the 2006 world cup. no wonder the grounds are full now, but go back 10 or 15 years when there were huge empty terraces round a running track. when it rained you got wet, when it snowed you got cold
places like hannover or stuttgart especially had much smaller crowds. now in modernised stadiums the crowds are there.

Comment by nastynip 2012-02-01 04:00:04

Lincoln

Sorry but that sounds like something straight from the Tim Lovejoy phrasebook. Football chat from the pages of FHM...

The Bundesliga got Italy's 4th CL spot last year. As the Spanish league descends into a farce where 18 clubs act solely as cannon fodder for Barcelona and Real Madrid, it will quite possibly overtake that league in the co-efficients in the near future. Club for club it's already stronger, bar 2 obvious sides.

Bayern are 3rd favourites for this year's CL and I'd say their current squad is stronger than any EPL team apart from Man City, who Bayern still managed to swat aside fairly easily in the one game they played that mattered. Once City sign a few more superstars it will be a different story, but by that time they'll be coasting home by 15 points each season as the old "Big Four" continue their steady decline.

The Bundesliga is still not at EPL level across the board, but the massive gap in quality that existed between the 2 leagues maybe 5 years ago simply no longer exists. Should the Sheiks and Roman decide enough is enough, then consider that gap disappeared.

Comment by danielmak 2012-02-01 06:36:16

Uli Hesse has finished his ESPN Soccernet column the past few years with an assessment of goals scored, and the Bundesliga is always at the top. This information can suggest that the defenses are weaker or the data can suggest that the play is more open (probably a bit of both). Combine the number of goals with a recent trend, as mentioned by Ian, of rotating champions and I think the Bundesliga is an exciting league that should be enticing for neutrals and fans just discovering the game. But it is clearly a league that is missing the game's top stars. The ironic product of that lack of stars is that the most competitive top leagues (Bundesliga and Ligue 1) over the past few years seem to be the least watched on TV and the least shown on TV. In the US, for example, Gol TV has the rights to the Bundesliga and they sub-license 2 games each week to ESPN. That leaves 3 games that come with International English commentary feeds, yet for the past 2 weeks, Gol has only showed 1 game each week. This is especially odd because the Spanish commentary (Gol has a secondary audio option so almost all games have English and Spanish commentary) is already done because Gol shows 3-5 games each week in Mexico and Chile. Instead, Gol (US) chooses to show kids football drills, 30-minute edited blocks from Milan TV or endless repeats of their own News shows. In short, the Bundesliga gets very little love. Ligue 1 gets less with 1 game per week on a $15US per month Fox soccer channel that mostly shows rugby. All of this says to me that neutrals only care about stars. They could care less if La Liga is the SPL South or that the Big 4 snore in England has really been a Big 2 (United and Chelsea) for the past 5-6 years.

Comment by Lincoln 2012-02-01 09:55:52

No need to apologise nastynip, the article you are commenting on does feature the phrase "In terms of actual quality, the Bundesliga is no doubt a step below the Premier League and La Liga" so me and Ian are both guilty of being Tim.

You're predicting what will happen rather than focusing on the here and now. Both German sides might well crash out of the Champion's league and might do next season. Man City might not go on to be the dominant force (remember Chelsea?) as Man United might invest heavily.

TV audiences suggest that the EPL is more entertaining than the German league. That is something Lovejoy would definitely say, doesn't mean it isn't true though. I do look forward to the day I rush round to my friend's with ESPN to watch the Bundesliga.

Comment by Karolus 2012-02-01 17:35:15

danielmak, I think you are living in the wrong country if you want to watch Bundesliga. The Chinese are said to be into stars, but the Bundesliga gets an even better coverage than the EPL in China.

I think the popularity of certain leagues in the US has a lot to do with language. English and Spanish are the most spoken languages in the United States and hence EPL and La Liga are the most popular leagues. If the US were German- or French-speaking, those leagues would be the most popular. Stars are rather irrelevant.

Comment by nastynip 2012-02-02 00:55:44

I'd say they're already ahead of 17-18 members of the Primera Liga, which is simply the Scottish Premier League multiplied by 10. Guys in ironic retro trainers sipping bottled beer at the pub still like to blabber on about "Barca" as if they know what they're talking about, but that competition holds litte interest to most of the people I know with a serious interest in football, or Jose Mourinho if recent reports are to be believed.

I appreciate that you're a fan of the Premier League (as am I, especially this season which has proved consistently fascinating), but the argument that the Bundesliga is a template to follow is a very strong one. German teams stayed relatively prudent when the rest of the footballing world was setting itself up for financial meltdown, and while a few years in the European wilderness was the price they paid, the quality on show in the league improves year on year while the clubs continue to live within their means.

It's also home to the only group of players who look like having a shot at unsurping the painfully boring, holier than thou Spanish national team from their perch, which can only be a good thing.

Comment by nastynip 2012-02-02 01:04:14

(Sorry, only posted half of my above comment, please delete.)

I appreciate your "here and now" viewpoint Lincoln, but we have to see the bigger picture. 5 years ago there was a chasm in class between the EPL and Bundesliga and as recently as 2010 Man United were handed an "easy" CL Quarter Final against Bayern, The inevitable happened and 2 years later I'd probably put Bayern as slight favourites in that one over 2 legs, or at least I would if Man U were capable of reaching the knockout stages.

As for "best players in the world", well only 1 English team is capable of attracting them these days, as is only 1 German club admittedly. Much of my argument does rely on the likes of BVB and Schalke catching up with some of their European counterparts, which is a few years away yet.

I'd say they're already ahead of about 17/18 members of the Primera Liga, which is simply the SPL multiplied by 10. Guys in ironic retro trainers sipping bottled beer at the pub still like to blabber on about "Barca" as if they know what they're talking about, but that competition holds litte interest to most of the people I know with a serious interest in football, or Jose Mourinho if recent reports are to be believed.

I appreciate that you're a fan of the Premier League (as am I, especially this season which has proved consistently fascinating), but the argument that the Bundesliga is a template to follow is a very strong one. German teams stayed relatively prudent when the rest of the footballing world was setting itself up for financial meltdown, and while a few years in the European wilderness was the price they paid, the quality on show in the league improves year on year while the clubs continue to live within their means.

It's also home to the only group of players who look like having a shot at unsurping the painfully boring, holier than thou Spanish national team from their perch, which can only be a good thing.



Comment by danielmak 2012-02-02 07:32:20

I should say up front that my focus on media coverage in the US is not meant to pull the conversation away from the quality of play on the pitch when comparing different leagues but exists in the context of the cash infusion that the Premier League receives via sales of TV rights to non-English territories. That cash infusion puts the EPL in a great position compared to all other leagues, with La Liga seemingly (distant?) second. I assume that N America and Asia are big spenders on that front. But to respond more directly to Karolus's response to my initial post: you're right that Spanish language networks drive the marketplace for league football. Mexican league is the top seller, with America-Chivas superclasicos getting higher ratings than any other league game year in and year out. There are more Spanish language TV stations in the US airing football than English language stations, but the US is oddly an excellent place for football on TV (minus the local announcers). But I disagree about a correlation between the dominant language of the nations that host EPL and La Liga and US viewership. There are two reasons why I disagree: (1) most Spanish speaking immigrants in the US don't come from Spain; they have not connection to Spain. This is why Mexican league and Central American league games are on so many satellite/cable channels (and over the air TV). The immigration patterns have been Central America>Mexico>US or Mexico>US (that's changing given the global economy with many Mexicans staying put and many Central Americans stopping there). 2. The top English sides have very few English players and every other major league also broadcasts games in English. Perhaps the connection between England and the English language would matter if people started watching football with the idea that they wanted to eventually go see a live game, and hence England would be easier to navigate because of the language, but I think the percentage on this is so statistically minor that it's a moot point. What the Premier League and La Liga have that the Bundesliga doesn't have is stars and better broadcast times (mid-afternoon US time vs. very early in the morning). And in the case of the English clubs, those stars aren't English outside of Rooney.

To go back to the language issue (and somewhat repeat what I said in my first post). The Bundesliga's host broadcaster prepares 5 games each week with an English feed. In theory all of those games could be shown in the US (3 on GOL TV and 2 on ESPN's on-line channel, ESPN3). Two games are sub-licensed to ESPN Deportes (Spanish only). Gol has 2 commentary options for almost all broadcasts in which they have English and Spanish rights. Thus, they rarely ever show games that aren't included in this 5 (i.e., they aren't going to spend money to purchase an extra clean feed broadcast and then pay 2 announcers to do the game). Again, Gol has channels in Mexico and Chile and they tend to show 5 games if memory serves me correct from my time in Mexico City. Between the international English feed and the Spanish commentary done for Mexico and Chile, Gol should show 3 games each week. They *never* show 3 games. If it's their week to choose the first, third, and fifth pick (with ESPN getting picks two and four), Gol might show 2 games (one will always be Bayern). It makes no sense to me why they never show the third game when the cost to put the Bundesliga on TV is the same as re-airing a news show for the 5th time (again, international English feed is provided and Spanish commentary can come from Mexico plus pre-game/post-game highlights are probably provided by the German host broadcaster). Gol still has to pay an engineer to sit in a booth and do what s/he does no matter what airs.

Comment by danielmak 2012-02-02 07:33:49

(cont.)

Ligue 1 has better TV times but is obviously a lower league. When Setanta existed here (RIP) they showed 1 live Saturday game, 1 live late Sunday game, and 1 game on delay. All were English commentary games using the international English feed.

I bring all of this up because these leagues are available in the dominant language(s) in the US, both are competitive (or have been during the past 4-5 years with rotating champions, championships going down the final few weeks, multiple teams competing for European spots, and [more in Germany than France] some excitement at the bottom of the table). The EPL and La Liga have been two-team races in recent years with a bit more competition for European spots and some excitement in the drop zone, but does anyone really believe that the average US fan is watching the so-called 6 pointers between Wolves and whoever else is fighting for survival? Did the average US fan care about Valencia and Villarreal fighting it out for 3rd place last year when Valencia (3rd place) was closer to the drop zone than to Real (2nd Place)? No way. They're watching, United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, and now City. And 10 years ago they weren't watching Chelsea; they were watching United (always United), Arsenal, Liverpool, and Leeds. La Liga is the same but worse because people tune in to see Barca and Real and that's it. Knowledgeable football fans, who really dig the sport, will of course watch other games, and I think that's a growing number in the US but the casual fan is gloryhunting and they are seduced by the stars. To bring this back to the topic at hand, Bundesliga (and Ligue 1) are lacking in this area and so they can't sell TV rights for anywhere close to the same price as EPL or La Liga and then don't have the same amount of money to spend on stars, which then lowers TV rights, etc. etc.

(Sorry for the 20-page response--probably should have moved this to the forums. But Ian started something good, so....)

Comment by Lincoln 2012-02-02 09:48:02

Some good points there nastynip. I think my main issue really is that the EPL is constantly under attack for something. If it is not being good quality, it is because it is not financially viable. Think there are pros and cons to all business models for teams and it is a matter of debate as to which is best. Also think that some things get over hyped such as Liverpool facing financial oblivion and the fans releasing awful sanctomonious videos, now they are splashing out millions on players left right and centre.

Comment by nastynip 2012-02-03 01:23:01

I think a lot of the overhype and sensationalism comes as a direct result of the Sky Sports culture. To keep the 24 hour news coverage interesting and keep the public assured that this season's 10th Super Sunday is every bit as monumental an occasion as the previous 9, they simply have to turn the sport into a soap opera.

And it works. I know I shouldn't care if John Terry gets a handshake from his latest race hate / cuckolding victim, but like anyone else, I'm glued to the 3 hours of buildup, closeup shots, replays and subsequent analysis.

Comment by Lincoln 2012-02-03 09:29:49

Now that is something I fully agree with and could quite happily do without. Current soap stories are that Arsenal are fragile and Wenger is clueless, King Kenny is the saviour although that is changing, Cappello is an idiot who is too strict after preiously being a genius who was strict, 'Arry is a good honest fellow. The Terry and Suarez thing is a new story they can run with for ages, and I just can't wait for Tevez in the summer news now that Fabregas has gone and Gerrard is too old to be of daily interest.

Comment by trickydicky 2012-02-03 14:29:44

I can see the Premier League heading back the same way one day. Once Abrahmovich realises owning Chelsea doesn't make his business dealings appear anymore legitimate or make him look any less camp he will stop pumping money at it and flounce back down to Monte Carlo full time. Likewise, Arabs and Indians will realise that owning football clubs in drizzly towns in Lancashire doesn't make them popular celebrities and will return to enjoying their race horses and cricket teams. Americans are already out of the game thanks to the recession, I can't see anymore of them buying a team just to get in debt. Then we will be back to United having a slight advantage of everyone else due to stadium size and reputation and Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal, City, Newcastle, Chelsea et all in a tight group behind.

Comment by trickydicky 2012-02-03 14:33:59

I agree that Sky Sports overhype and pump up everything to do with the Premier League. But then most European counties, especially Spain (where Marca and AS are effectively Real Madrid Fanzines) & Italy, have daily sports newspapers that do essentially the same thing. I'm not sure if Germany has one though?

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