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Attraction vs. greed for profit: The fake game with the Bundesliga

Attraction vs. greed for profit
The fake game with the Bundesliga

The salaries are too high, the money too dirty, the fans just an accessory: During the corona crisis, there was a lot of talk about alienation between football and its base. But now the stadiums are full again and the question is: How does that fit together?

The free sale lasted less than ten hours. Already five days before the home game against RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund announced on Monday evening: All 81,365 tickets are sold out. Eintracht Frankfurt is also expecting more than 50,000 spectators against SpVgg Greuther Fürth on Saturday. The thesis that more and more fans alienated themselves from modern professional football during the corona crisis cannot be substantiated, at least by the current audience figures in Germany. How football in general sends numerous signals after the two-year pandemic that at first glance do not match at all.

Since the first lockdown, club and association representatives have announced a new “humility” in their multi-million euro business. But in her first big “Bild” interview as the new managing director of the German Football League, Donata Hopfen didn’t even want to rule out a Supercup in Saudi Arabia. Hertha BSC applied for government corona aid of around seven million euros, although entrepreneur Lars Windhorst invested around 375 million euros in the club between 2019 and 2021. But no sooner have full stadiums been allowed again since March 20 than the supporters fill them up again in most places. How does that fit together?

“Everyone is a little tired of the pandemic”

Experts see no contradiction in this. “I think it has a lot to do with the situation in society as a whole,” says Helen Breit, chairwoman of the “Our Curve” fan organization. “People want to go out. Everyone is a bit tired of the pandemic. Football, like the cultural sector, offers the opportunity to experience normality again like before.”

Professor Thomas Alkemeyer heads the Sociology and Sports Sociology department at the University of Oldenburg, and he too perceives “a longing for normality” in society. And he says: “The talk of more humility was a bit of symbolic politics. It was necessary to save football’s image.” At the beginning of the corona crisis, he “got on the defensive in large parts of the public. This discussion has died down. That doesn’t mean that alienation doesn’t exist.” It just started well before Corona.

And so there is some evidence that many discussions of the pandemic period are far from over, but are only now becoming really concrete. How does football reconnect with its base? How does he get the exorbitant salaries and transfer fees under control? And how will he relate to dictatorships like Russia, Saudi Arabia or Qatar in the future, who have been able to use sport with a lot of money to expand their influence for years?

Clubs in the “fight for survival”

Manager Robert Schäfer has been walking one of the biggest conflict lines in modern football for years. He was managing director at 1860 Munich when the investor Hasan Ismaik and the parent club were at loggerheads. And the 46-year-old is again at Hannover 96, where the majority shareholder Martin Kind and the opponents of Kind, who are supported by many fans, face each other at the head of the registered club.

Schäfer’s assessment after two years of the corona crisis is: “For two years, which is almost an eternity in times of digital change, our industry was hardly able to look ahead.” Almost all clubs were “busy with the struggle for survival”. Now football is coming out of the pandemic “with a new leadership: Donata Hopfen is the managing director of the DFL, Hans-Joachim Watzke plays a stronger role there as head of the supervisory board and the DFB also has a new president. But those who already have a goal and a strategy have presented are the organized fans.”

Bundesliga is politically correct and clean

Their “future professional football” concept calls for a commitment to football as a grassroots popular sport – with its own commission for fans and fan cultures in the DFL and a more even distribution of TV money. This goes far beyond the results of the DFL’s “Future Professional Football Task Force”, which Breit also calls “a disappointment”. And she was there in 2020 as a fan representative at the table.

But while Schäfer considers it important that professional football formulate “a goal and a strategy” as quickly as possible, the statements there have been quite mixed up in the past few days. Dortmund boss Watzke told “Sport Bild”: “As a league, we have to make it clear to people in Europe and around the world: The Bundesliga is politically correct and clean. And it definitely develops the most young players and has by far the cheapest tickets , focuses on sustainability issues.”

Just two days before this interview appeared, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge questioned the 50+1 rule. If you don’t change it “so that investors can still invest in the Bundesliga, then the question arises as to how long the Bundesliga can maintain its competitiveness,” said the former CEO of FC Bayern Munich in the “TOMorrow” podcast.

A “dark day” for football

The 50+1 rule only limits the influence of external donors in Germany. It is a guarantee that an example like this from the English Premier League cannot happen to the Bundesliga: within a few days in mid-March, 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia and the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in Great Britain on charges of aiding and abetting warmongering Lost control of Chelsea FC. Then, on March 13, Chelsea played Newcastle United, owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. A “dark day” for football, wrote the “Guardian”.

Because of such connections in professional football, many fans in Germany remain skeptical, even though they are going back to the stadium. “This euphoria is simply overwhelming at the moment. The question is whether it will hold up in football in the long term,” said Helen Breit.

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