Ross The Ger
Since the 2000 Bundesliga report, the German league has thrived in the last decade and has become one of the healthiest and most competitive of the major football leagues in the world.
The German Bundesliga has a fascinating structure which, for me, is ideal for Scottish Football.
I was encouraged by Neil Doncaster's recent comments that said terracing might be re-instated at Scottish stadiums. The safe-standing sections in the Bundesliga have revamped the atmospheres and have also increased the capacities at some grounds in Germany. Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion holds just over 61,000 in UEFA competitions but in the Bundesliga the stadium can hold well over 80,000 and has given Dortmund one of the highest average attendances in the world. The club also sells over 50,000 season-tickets. Can you imagine an Ibrox, Celtic Park, Tynecastle or Tannadice with an extra 10,000 capacity due to safe-standing sections?
Bundesliga ticket prices average at around 15 Euros which is a ridiculously good price when you consider paying £22 to watch SPL matches. The "Yellow Wall" at the Westfalenstadion has an average ticket price of under £10, combine that with being able to stand with your mates and make use of the excellent catering facilities then you have yourself a stunning deal. These match tickets also have an increased value when you consider that fans can travel on public transport for free on a match-day. The overall matchday revenue for the Bundesliga clubs last season was 424 Million Euros; quite astonishing when you think about it.
Combine that with 573 Million Euros in Sponsorship and 594 Million Euros in broadcasting revenue then you have a financially secure league. The Bundesliga clubs paid around 50% of this income on player wages which, again, shows how superbly managed the Bundesliga and its clubs actually are. According to the Bundesliga report, the league brings nearly 3 Billion Euros to the German economy. Only 11 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs are in debt.
On a positive note, Scottish football has one of the best attendances per population. We do have to remember we are a country of just 5m so we won't be having 30,000 attendances at every game. There is absolutely no doubt our Old Firm, with safe-standing, cheap ticket prices and a good match-day experience, could easily be filling 60,000-70,000 every week and possibly on an Old Firm derby be pushing over that amount. Even for your Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen, I think they could be pushing over 20,000 with a competitive league and these aspects from the Bundesliga model.
Despite the poor product, implementing the 'Bundesliga model' might just be the saviour of our domestic game. The product can be poor but if the football is entertaining, competitive and offers a quality matchday experience then fans will seriously buy into that.
That’s it in essence: little debt, huge crowds, a thriving youth football set up, fan-friendly stadiums and prices. It is a league which looks to its customers as King. Their needs are catered for; when Schalke 04 built their new stadium the wheelchair fans helped design and build their own area; HSV set aside an areas without advertising to let their fans drape their banners; the list goes on: beer, good food, flags, banners, chants and all for £10 and without Police and stewards clamping down on outbreaks of fun. We cannot look south as we have done for so many decades; the situation there is based on debt, ludicrous TV revenues and an ‘arms race’ amongst Asian and Middle Eastern billionaires to ‘own a slice’. We cannot compete with that - EPL-lite was tried and it failed. SPL did not become the ‘promised land’.
In the current system we are harming clubs who are left with a harsh choice of developing the team or building a stadium fit for the SPL. All you have to do is look at Airdrie and Falkirk in the early days of the SPL for unfair situations at both ends. Airdrie built a nice stadium fit for whenever they win their way into the SPL; unfortunately they never had the quality to achieve this. Falkirk, however built a fantastic squad that regularly destroyed SPL clubs in the cups but Brockville was deemed unsuitable for the SPL so they were denied promotion despite being champions.
From a sporting point of view this is an offence to all supporters and people that put money into the game. A more reasonable option would be the introduction of controlled standing areas as well as seated sections alike to what they have in Germany and Holland to great success. Obviously they would have to adhere to Health & Safety regulations which should be enough to provide everyone inside the stadium with security.
This also increases capacity of stadia and therefore brings prices down. Which also means the working class family can all attend matches and support their local club. This would provide higher crowds creating a better atmosphere at matches, and overall clubs would make more money out of this through food and programme sales, in fact ticket sales alone with cheaper prices would probably overtake the current set up. In the current economic climate we are all in right now, it makes good sense.
The seating capacity requirement is elitist and counts against all sporting integrity.
With all the coverage about Germany looking impressive in the World Cup, is it time for more domestic leagues to model themselves on the oh-so-efficient Germans?
You may question why draw comparisons between the national team and the domestic league – after all it hasn’t always worked out that way. However, the German team is almost unique (bar those crazy North Koreans and the English) in that every member of the WC squad played in the domestic league.
From my slightly obscured vantage point here in the UK, where coverage of the Bundesliga is somewhat limited, they appear to do everything correctly.
1.The stadia are top notch, helped by the 2006 WC with options for the different category of fan. Take the Westfalenstadion and the 24,000 capacity Südtribüne terracing whilst still having standard and premium priced seats. Compare ours to anyone who's contracted deep vein thrombosis sitting in the Jerry Kerr stand at Tannadice.
2. The ticket prices appear to be fairly reasonable – on the above terracing at Dortmund’s ground a season ticket was available for £200 a few years back; excellent value for money. Naturally, you will pay more for ‘better’ seats but making season tickets available at the bottom end of the pricing scale helps to remove the trend of making football an elitist sport, almost being reserved for the middle classes. I read on here recently about some paying £17 to watch Morton. Jesus Wept.
3. Effort is made to accommodate the football fan. Transport to and from the grounds is fantastic and can be easily combined with your match ticket. I live in Newcastle and, to the city councils credit, for an extra £10 on your season ticket you get public transport between 3 hours prior to kick off and 3 hours after full time for free during the season (St James metro is also tiled in Black and white with images of their latest Messiah’s). Compare and contrast to the farce of the numerous idle police hanging around Buchanan St subway on a Rangers match day and the ever increasing price to alight at Ibrox for “Bellahouston Park”.
4. The package on offer is good – the number of top internationals playing in the league is growing. At the end of the summer the likes of Robben, Ribery, Dzeko as prime foreign examples with Lahm, Klose and Ozil being ‘local lads’.
5. Match day atmosphere is fantastic – anyone who has attended any of our German based Champions League games in recent years will see how good it is. The large singing sections, generally with the fans standing (few problems seem to occur) with crowd-conducting lunatics on megaphones adding to the atmosphere. Stuttgart fans at Ibrox in recent years have been praised for their efforts. Add to that, the German fans are trusted to be able to have a beer at the game – shock horror! Imagine having that in Scotland.
6. Fan ownership. We all know about Hamburg’s model which has been debated to death on here. Although not for every club, numerous ones make the effort to involve the fans.
I know this model would be difficult to implement in Scotland – it helps that Germany has a huge population to support this coupled with high TV revenue. But clubs MUST make more of an effort to change their ways.
But compare and contrast to the
• English Premiership – a league built on debt: high ticket prices, officious policing and a stale & sterile atmosphere at many grounds. Compare Arsenal’s cheapest season ticket being £1,000 and a pint in Wembley being a fiver (and you not being allowed to drink it anywhere you can view the pitch).
• The Spanish league – in almost as much debt as the EPL, numerous crumbling stadiums and a collection of clubs finding it near impossible to compete with the Big 2.
German football is the way to go for me – and in my eyes this model may result in the national team reaping the rewards in the years to come.
Does any of this give a hint to our own future?
Is it sustainable and/or workable?
What we have now clearly isn't.