Sometimes it takes an obscenity like the European Super League and Project Big Picture to spark change.
Notably, two major teams were absent from the Super League discussions: Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. You would think that the owners of both German clubs be interested in a scheme almost guaranteeing a huge profit. However, it would be almost impossible to happen thanks to the structure of the German league. Lee Sidebotham investigates.
There’s so much to admire about the German game. The safe standing, the electric atmospheres at full stadiums, even the simple pleasure of taking your beer to your seat in the ground with you. But the most admirable has to be the ‘50% +1’ rule.
The German 50 +1% model has been credited as the reason why no Bundesliga clubs signed up to the Super League. It ensures that the majority of the football club is always owned by the fans. For example, Audi and Adidas each own 10% of Bayern Munich, but the rest is controlled by the club members.
The Bundesliga says the rule “protects against reckless owners and safeguards the democratic customs of German clubs”.
Ticket prices are also vastly cheaper than the Premier League. The average price for the cheapest tickets is £20. In the Premier League, fans pay an average of £40. For a season ticket, the average price in Germany’s top division is £220. Compare that to £420 in England’s Premier League.
Fans of Borussia Dortmund, Germany’s second largest football team, pay just £9 to get into the south stand and form “Die gelbe Wand” – the “yellow wall” of colour from the club’s scarves and jerseys. In comparison, a ticket to sit in the KOP end at Liverpool is £43.
When Uli Hoeness, Bayern Munich President, was asked why his football club did not have higher ticket prices, he said: “We do not think the fans are like cows to be milked. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”
According to Statista, Bundesliga clubs made a profit of £63m in the 2018/19 season, whereas Premier League made a loss of just over £32, even though the income to the English league was £3bn, compared to the Bundesliga’s £1.9bn.
In 2017, the total revenue for Bayern was £420m, not that far below that of English club Manchester United with £445m.
Despite this, Premier League clubs still run at a loss, whereas all Bundesliga clubs run at a profit due to owners taking far less money than there English counterparts.
Revenue also does not necessarily mean the quality of football tarnished. German clubs do not simply buy football stars. They groom young players who make their way through the system. Bayern won the Champions League last season with eight of their own academy players on the team sheet. In comparison, their opponents, French champions PSG, only had two.
Peter Vice is Editor of the Bundesliga News organisation Bulinews. “It could be argued that the German football model is a league apart from the English.
“No club in the top two divisions of the Bundesliga are currently in debt. Therefore, they are not indebted to drown fans out with ridiculous ticket structures and pricing. There have been calls not only in England, but across Europe for a German model as it is proven to work.
“With the 50 + 1 rule, fans have a more direct say on matters such as ticket pricing, or wages, and stops them from feeling as though they have become the proverbial ‘customer’ to their football club. In that sense, it keeps the well-documented ‘fit and proper person’ in charge, and lessens the risk of German clubs’ finances spiralling out of control.
“This is arguably most reflected in the overall match day experience and atmospheres in the Bundesliga. Whereas Premier League matches are quite often derided as lifeless outside of the so-called ‘Big Six’, German football games are often noisy affairs.
However, is the “German model” realistic?
For example, Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bought the club for £150 million in 2008 and has splashed out billions of pounds since then, turning the former mid-table team to a European super power with four Premier League titles and 2 FA Cups to its name in that time.
Forbes estimates that Manchester City are now worth just under £3bn, meaning it would cost just over half of that for fans to buy a majority share hold in the team.
However, Vice still believes it is realistic for fans to own their beloved clubs once again.
“I think it may be a lot simpler than many think. Of course, it won’t just happen on its own. This concept needs to be either Government backed or heavily funded by a supporter’s trust.
“Don’t forget, the German model isn’t perfect. Obviously, the Bundesliga doesn’t receive the money that other leagues such as the Premier League enjoy. However, German football has not been hindered by this. As recently as last year, Bayern won the UEFA Champions League.”
Football has been successful for centuries thanks to the close proximity to its loyal fans. But in today’s age, football is now a business and has become out-of-touch with its fanbase. It is clear that the English football is a long way away from the German model. However, recent events including the Covid-19 Pandemic and the European Super League may have proven that we are finally en route to change and something similar to our Bundesliga counterparts.