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The German Bundesliga has turned into the breeding grounds of the world champions, and the process has been mesmerizing

Debjit Lahiri
SENIOR ANALYST
Editor's Pick
2.40K   //    26 Aug 2016, 16:16 IST

"Football is like chess, only without the dice."

It should seem rather normal to start off a serious article with a relevant quote. However, that is only until you realize that the game of chess does not really have the use of a dice.

Well, this paradoxical statement which apparently transcends the boundaries of common logic features in a 2008 article on Spiegel called the "German Football's Greatest Sayings" and is attributed to German international Lukas Podolski. They had a particularly hilarious take on this quote stating that the former Arsenal man might have been "channelling Yogi Berra when he came up with this instant classic from the 'like a fish needs a bicycle' school".

A little more research on it – however – would go on to reveal that Podolski might not have defied human rationale after all. A case of mistaken identity perhaps – as this article would disclose. Therein Bohmermann, a comedian who is known to have impersonated the football star on numerous occasions on a weekly radio show, had actually coined this phrase; but as fate would have it, this went on to be held as a real Podolski quote by several renowned and otherwise credible media outlets!

So, there's your trivia for tonight.

"That's alright" – you'd probably say. "But what was the point in all of this?"

Well now, as you would go on to see, this above reference was not completely random. Despite the factual anomalies in the statement itself, this is perhaps the closest analogy I've encountered about German football – something that captures the very essence of the game in the country. German football is indeed like a game of chess – calculated, measured, tactical and mostly executed with ruthless efficiency. In fact, one can argue that these are the very traits that have always defined the German mentality and have propelled them to resounding success on the world stage.

Yet, this is not something that has only been confined within the footballing fraternity of the country itself. Germany's meticulous revival and subsequent growth time and again in crucial spheres of life – be it technologically or economically – despite encountering major historical setbacks speaks volumes of the German efficiency and tenacity.

However, that is something to debate and analyse for another day. Coming back to football, their measured and calculated form of play on the pitch, which has yielded enormous success over the years, is certainly not something that has come out of the blue. This has culminated because of a similarly efficient and sustainable off-field financial system that has supported the very core of German football.

The German league – the Bundesliga –  structure is backed up by a very healthy business model – one that has seen them notch up an aggregate revenue of nearly 2.62 billion Euros in 2016, according to the latest official report from the Bundesliga. What strikes out particularly from the report is that 17 out of the 18 clubs operated on profit – a trend that has been following for the last few years now and one that is in stark contrast to the state of the clubs in the English Premier League. Only back in 2013, all but only 3 top division English clubs, had their numbers in negative.

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However, what begs for an answer is this: how exactly have they managed to achieve such a profitable and at the same time an incredibly stable working model?

Well, football, as we all know, is a game that can assure the maximum loyalty. Football's tryst with its evergreen set of supporters and fans has always been a story of romanticism and rich emotion. And that is where the Bundesliga has successfully cashed in. Germany's seemingly super sophisticated and sustainable business model is actually something that revolves around an invaluable asset of the game that often tends to go unnoticed – the fans.

Ticket prices in Germany are nominal – a tool that is being used to drive up and create a support base from the community itself. On an average, a Bundesliga game can be witnessed at a price as low as 23 Euros.

The results are astounding.

Despite the glitz and glamour of the English Premier League, the Bundesliga managed to have an average attendance of 43,300 per game in 2015/16, which is around 7000 more than what the Premier League recorded in the same season (36,452) . The star-studded La Liga lagged further behind as they were left on a disappointing number of 27,775.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2014, the Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert reaffirmed this very stance as he explained that the clubs were indeed willing to sacrifice their match-day ticket revenue if it meant they can bring together "finances, the game, and the society."

In a couple of my brief interactions with FC Schalke 04 – one of the most prominent clubs in Bundesliga and a regular name in European competitions over the past few years – the club went on to confirm the same. Dr. Anje Kleine-Wilde, the club’s head of corporate communications, cited the core values of Schalke’s mission statement which states their intention to bring people together from all social backgrounds.

Schalke 04

"Since we began as a colliers' and grafters' club, we made an decision to enable all our supporters from all social backgrounds to participate in the life of the club and attend matches. Our tradition is of a miners’ club and we acknowledge our social responsibility.”

“Everyone who is associated with the club – be it the employees or the members or the fans – share a common passion for the game and FC Schalke and that is what unites us. Our identity consists of sharing collective joy and collective pain. Every one of us gives the best for the club and we stand by it both in the good times and bad. 

Each of our home matches during a season is sold out with 61,076 fans - each of them is an important part of our success. And all this explains our lower ticket prices.”

The theme was more or less the same at Borussia Dortmund – arguably one of the top two teams in Germany along with giants Bayern Munich – when I contacted the club hierarchy. The club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke remarked that ticket prices will stay the way it is and it represents their contribution to their footballing culture.

“Ticket prices are the greatest good for us and our fans as well. We do not intend to raise them, not even by inflation rate. Dortmund LogoThis is our contribution in keeping the balance between our home Dortmund and global growth.

“We want to grow as a club, grow globally, but at the same time we are proud of having 28000 stands in our stadium, which we continue to offer at lowest possible prices. This is our contribution to football culture and will never change.”

The trend seemed to continue at the home of one of Germany’s eternal powerhouses - Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Speaking exclusively to us, they reiterated their own stance towards the fans of their clubs.

“The so called community engagement is a base of German football and an outstanding value. The relations between fans and clubs are usually very intensive; clubs are very interested in taking care that these circumstances are improved year for year. We think that the special relationship between the clubs and the fans lead to a special reception of Bundesliga in other countries, your question confirms this in a way.

“The atmosphere is unique in mostly sold out German stadiums, not only in Bundesliga but also in the second league. Especially in Leverkusen we tried to underline the importance of the fan-club-relationship in setting up a special director in our management leaderboard who is responsible just for improving this relationship, to communicate with our supporters, to bind them. There are many opportunities to work with our supporters and we try to do this day for day.”

“After all, this could be the reason for the outstanding engagement of football supporters for their clubs. And in the end, people on the tv-screens worldwide can watch fascinating pictures of Bundesliga, of sold-out stands. The main reason for this is a moderate price policy. If people can’t pay football any longer, they will not enter the stadiums.”

Hannover 96, two-time German champions but currently plying their trade in the second tier of German football, resonated identical views on their approach towards their fans.

Christian Bönig, the head of media and communications in Hannover 96, went on to describe the fans as the most important asset of the game in Germany – something that has, sadly, not been recognized at any other top leagues in the world.

“The people in the stadia are the heart of the clubs. Without fans the football in Germany makes no sense. Therefore, the fans are the most important asset. So we try to get in the arenas a mood, which is unique to the world.”

Well, this “fan-centric” approach of the Bundesliga clubs might well have far-reaching implications on the footballing dimensions of the country. As you could probably infer by now, the football clubs should clearly be able to pull the population more towards football, given their courteous outlook towards their supporters. With clubs caring more about the fans, the fans themselves will eventually start feeling as part of the ‘family’. 

Invariably with time and with a growing interest towards the game, aided by such continued close association between the clubs and the fans, it is very much possible that young families might be encouraged into thinking football as a viable career option for their kids – where they can emulate their local club heroes. And thus, as a result, the clubs should probably be getting more entries into their academies, and which in turn should increase the possibility of finding more ‘potential’ professional players for their respective clubs since they will have a larger pool to work with in the first place.

Yes, this is perhaps applicable for all countries where football enjoys a ‘religion’ status, but a little more caring hand from the clubs – who has significant potential to influence the local masses – should, in all certainty, accelerate the process. Therefore, what appears to be a move that causes significant cut-down in the club revenue, the lower ticket prices paves the way for the preservation of bonds within the community, maintaining an electrifying atmosphere in stadiums and ultimately leading to the overall development of the game in the country.  

Now while the above mentioned possible chain of events might be increasing the pool of football aspirants in number, it is Germany’s subsequent management of this available youth resource that goes a long way in maintaining the financial stability of the clubs – something that has been discussed later in the article.

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Debjit Lahiri
SENIOR ANALYST
25, MBA student - IMT Ghaziabad. Erstwhile Engineer and massive sports enthusiast. Formerly Associated with Goal.com India. Also published with Firstpost, Sportskeeda, Zee News etc.
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