I was in Berlin a couple of years ago and I remember being struck by an advert I saw in a hostel. The local football team Hertha Berlin were playing at home that weekend against Borussia Dortmund and the advert offered travel and tickets to the game for €19. This struck me as exceptional value to see top flight European football and was cheaper than watching my beloved Leyton Orient.
Sadly my girlfriend of the time didn’t see things the same way and we ended up visiting the Reichstag building instead. Nonetheless I looked into the prices when I got home and realised that it was about par right across the board in the Bundesliga.
I was impressed at the value and it sparked an interest in German football, the more I saw, the more I liked; safe standing at grounds, terrific atmospheres and top quality football. A recent article by the excellent David Conn gave me a glimpse at the way German football is run as a business and yet again I liked what I saw.
Here are the main the points of interest taken directly from the article:
The Bundesliga clubs are still large membership associations, owned and controlled by their supporters.
A league regulation, maintained by the clubs, holds that these football companies must be majority owned (50% plus one of the shares) by its member association. Even the mightiest of clubs the multimillion-pound giants on the European stage Bayern Munich and Dortmund are majority-controlled by their supporter-members.
The way the clubs work in practice varies, but all the member-owned clubs incorporate democracy. Now they are mostly structured like major German companies, with a management board running day-to-day operations, and a supervisory board appointing the directors and overseeing their performance.
The members of the supervisory board are elected at an annual general meeting, at which the supporter-members, according to a 50%+1 regulation, have a permanent majority. So, the supporters exercise direct, democratic control over the great German football clubs. The management board is delegated to run the club, it in turn delegates the football decisions to a coach and their staff, and the fans turn up to watch the fruits of their labor.
One of my biggest gripes with certain owners in the English game as that they treat clubs like their toy as a vehicle to quick glory to satisfy their own egos, when in reality they should never view themselves as owners of a club but as guardians. Football clubs are not like other businesses, owners can come and go, but the club and fans will exist for centuries with their own identity with the right care and attention.
Football in the UK still very much believes in a free market approach.
This has its pros from a business point of view but leaves clubs in a vulnerable position. Too often an ill-advised owner will swagger in to a club; throw money at it, and then step away when things don’t go to plan leaving others to pick up the pieces and the bill. The German model would certainly stop cut some of the volatility amongst clubs, protecting them and fans.
Fan owned clubs are starting to emerge in the UK with the likes of AFC Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers adopting the model in the Football League, whilst Swansea City are 20% owned by their supporters trust in the Premier League. It would be good to see a few more.