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The Bundesliga road steamer – more haste, less speed

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In the last few years, the Bundesliga has raised its profile in a very professional manner. Both the economy and its partners have come to appreciate it as a strong brand that, for all its economic appeal, has never lost sight of its genuine potential offering fans a fascinating competition and great emotions. There is no doubt the Bundesliga is one of the world’s most attractive football leagues, however, there are a lot more still to come yet.

The Bundesliga is well set up, with a sound financial background and professional organisation, it has the highest attendance figures and best stadium atmosphere across Europe. Its new stars have made it even more popular. Total income in licensed football has almost reached a record € 2 billion, corresponding to an increase of just under 15 per cent compared to last year, and a sensational 37 per cent compared to the 2003/2004 season. It is not exaggerated, therefore, to claim that professional football in Germany has leapt into completely new financial dimensions in recent years.

Professional football may be a sport with all the facets of excitement and drama, but it has long since developed into a high-growth branch of industry. The establishment of modern management structures has professionalized the clubs in Germany, which to a certain extent are managed like business enterprises. This is a sound basis for further growth. Werner Wenning, CEO Bayer AG Leverkusen

It is remarkable to see what good husbandry practices clubs have applied when managing their finances over the past years. The enterprise ‘Professional Football’ remains a success story with record turnover, reduced liabilities and a constant growth in jobs reflecting the sound financial management of the clubs. An increasingly professional management ensures that the business model, with which exciting matches and fair competition stand and fall, remains stable. None of the clubs that have been part of the Bundesliga since its formation in 1963 had to file for bankruptcy during any season.

The increase in revenue on the one hand and the restraint in expenditure on the other have led to a hitherto unheard of result after tax for the period under review. All Bundesliga clubs and twelve of the 18 clubs in the Bundesliga 2, in other words 83 per cent of all licensed clubs, were in the black in the 2006/2007 season. As at the balance sheet date, 15 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs reported positive equity capital.

In absolute terms, the English professionals receive about € 1.3 billion in salaries, more than twice what their Bundesliga colleagues get to see, which amounted to a grand total in expenditure of € 530 million. This accounts for a 39.3 per cent share of total revenue. It’s almost becoming a tradition that the Bundesliga has the most favourable indicators here compared to the leading European leagues. According to a survey by Deloitte & Touche, Spain’s Primera División comes in top in this category with 64 per cent, followed by England’s Premier League (63 per cent) and French Ligue 1 (59 per cent).

Probably the best-served fans in Europe
Football and the Bundesliga — it’s become a social event, no less.
Franz Beckenbauer

The Bundesliga is a well-established, if not the most important German sports brand with a clear-cut profile. It has been fascinating millions of fans since 1964; no other league is as well-known or popular. The stars of the clubs set an example in particular to the very young fans, who feverishly follow their idols in the stadium, passionately cheering their favourite club on. For almost 45 years the Bundesliga has been a social event, casting its spell across different generations. The Bundesliga has long since advanced to an important element of both German society and economy. Almost everyone has heard of the Bundesliga. This is not an opinion, it is a fact: following awareness scores of 96 per cent in 2002, 98 per cent in 2005 and 99 per cent in 2006, 99.5 per cent of the public aged 14+ claimed to be aware of the Bundesliga.

Despite the high demand for tickets, prices have risen only moderately over the past years. The Bundesliga has by far the most affordable ticket prices of all European top leagues. Supporters of the English Premier League pay an average of € 48 per match, 2.6 times more than a Bundesliga fan with his € 18.63.

The Fan-Arbeit 2010 initiative is a fan-related project, which has become more and more demanding over the past years. To meet these requirements, the DFL has for some time now supported the professionalisation of this segment. The DFL licensing regulations require that the clubs nominate a fan representative.

The Bundesliga is steeped in history. In recent years, the DFL has joined forces with the German Football Association (DFB) to set up a Media Library in honour of this history, containing many moving pictures. Over the next couple of months, the world’s largest digital TV archive for all things football will come into being. In future, all Bundesliga fixtures recorded since 1963, and all international matches and DFB Cup matches will be stored digitally in one central place for future generations. Bit by bit, over 24,000 hours of historic football material will be entered into the archive, each Bundesliga season adding a further 612 fixtures and around 1,000 hours, including moving images and photos. The size of the archive will make it unique in the world.

Youth system
The youth academies of the league are a kind of elite school for the best, and an excellent institution which is bearing fruits. Numerous excellent players from these academies have managed to go professional already. Joachim Low

Managing young players’ development responsibly and consistently is a key element in the strategy to maintain or, ideally, enhance the quality of professional football played in Germany. Over the 2006/2007 season, the Bundesliga’s clubs and joint stock companies invested a total of almost € 44 million in their respective youth/amateur football departments and youth academies.

Since 2002, it has been obligatory for German clubs applying for their professional football licence to maintain their own youth academies. Regular checks and visits are carried out in order to verify that every club meets (and continues to meet) all of the established criteria, e.g. field a sufficient number of teams, maintain adequate training pitches and provide good-quality standards in terms of sporting, medical, and educational care.

I believe it is a necessity as well as wise prevision. Real quality players are hardly available for Bundesliga clubs and it is always better to bring up Schweinsteiger-likes than buy them. It also has the obvious advantage that each and every German international play home-soil – a living proof that hard work, meticulousness, young players and home-grown talents can lead to success.

Editor: Also see Cherie’s excellent comparison of youth football training between Germany and the US.

Brand management
As a comparatively young league, the MLS can learn a lot from the know-how and experience of German professional football. The DFL prides itself on its Europe-wide reputation of a benchmark organisation in many areas. The clubs are financially sound, attendances are on a constantly high level, clubs are negotiating winning sponsorship deals, and licensing is successful. Don Garber, Commissioner Major League Soccer

For more than a year now, international activities have been part of the DFL’s strategic brand management drive. The commercialisation of the Bundesliga rights and licenses is one of German professional football’s key sources of income. It is only logical then that the DFL dedicates a great deal of time and effort to this particular area that comprises the marketing of media rights, as well as joint sponsorship, merchandising, and licensing. Looking back on 2007, it is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of the DFL’s activities were crowned by success.

This includes cooperation with the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States, the media market with the world’s highest turnover. While in the beginning, joint activities focused on know-how transfer in areas such as TV production, rights and licensing distribution, as well as marketing, plans for the future include exhibition matches and training camps. The objectives are to bolster the current rise of soccer in the US, improve the Bundesliga’s marketing options in the mid to long term, and further increase its positive brand image on the ground.

The Bundesliga “comes to town”: German league teams go abroad and play high-profile international friendly matches, closely co-ordinated with their local partners and cooperating with the media on the ground. This will add positive emotional value to the brand that is the Bundesliga. The media will accompany the players and club officials as they join their foreign hosts and take part in match-related events. It has not been always so, but clubs now actively embrace this approach, making the Bundesliga the only top league in Europe with a joint, unified foreign markets policy.

However, fairness demands to admit that, when it comes to revenues from international rights marketing, the challenge remains to bridge a considerable income gap between the Bundesliga on the one hand, and the other European top leagues on the other. This area represents a major challenge, as the Bundesliga has significant ground to make up compared to other leagues — especially the English Premier League — who have systematically invested in this area for many years.

No-one will dispute that the German clubs’ record in the European club competitions (UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup) has been less than satisfactory in the last few years. A critical analysis of this fact has yielded a number of possible explanations, one of the most frequently cited being that, compared with the earnings realised by other major European league clubs from the sale of the domestic TV broadcasting rights, German teams invariably lag behind. However, the efficiency gains realised from the central marketing of broadcasting rights (and the applied distribution key guided by the principle of league solidarity) form an asset that all of the Bundesliga clubs benefit from in no small measure.

On the whole, the Bundesliga is making excellent progress, which has been speeded up by the 2006 World Cup, the league is on the right track. With regard to attendance figures, infrastructure, finances, as well as safety and security, it does not have to fear any comparison with European competitors. Of course, it doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. However, when it comes to administering the professional game, the DFL has proven it is firmly in the driving seat looking for the best possible solutions.

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I am based from Budapest, Hungary. I grew up listening to stories of the 'Mighty Magyars', probably the best team of the world in the 50s, only to helplessly witness the annihilation of our national team at the 1986 World Cup, Mexico, which by the way was the first international football event of my life at the age of 7 - a shocking 'afterimage' and also an experience that changed my life forever. It was when I realised I turned into a football fan beyond recovery. As a blogger I contribute to Soccerlens on a weekly basis. Beside, I have been writing pieces for Nou San Trafford (a Hungarian blog) for almost two years and have had the opportunity to write live commentary and post as a guest author for a number of football related blogs and websites. I mainly cover the events of the Bundesliga and the Nationalelf.