Change of direction for German football

Executive Committee:

Fri, 05. October 2018
Change of direction for German football

Over the next few weeks, the DFL Deutsche Fussball Liga e.V. (DFL/German Football League) will undergo a number of personnel and structure changes.  

In October, two new representatives of the 2.Bundesliga will be elected to join the DFL's Executive Committee. In addition, the organisation has submitted a proposal for structural reforms, which are to be voted on by clubs at the DFL Annual General Meeting in December.

1. FC Union Berlin are now the club, which has been present in the 2.Bundesliga for the longest period without interruption. As such, this responsibility to represent the league has prompted the Executive Committee of 1. FC Union Berlin to discuss a “change of course for professional football in Germany.”

Dirk Zingler, president of 1. FC Union Berlin: “We shouldn't limit the discussion on reforms in German football to personnel and structural aspects, but we should also consider the direction we want to take in the future. Our position is very clear: we consider a change of direction to be urgently required, which promotes competition without barriers to entry between clubs in Germany and appreciates and takes into accounts the many different interest groups in German football.

The Executive Committee of 1. FC Union Berlin have made their considerations available to the DFL and the club members in a comprehensive position paper.

1. FC Union Berlin’s position paper on the change of direction for German football:

German professional football will change. A proposal for structural reforms of the DFL has been sent to all 36 professional clubs for further discussion. 1. FC Union Berlin’s Executive Committee sees the current draft as an opportunity to explain their views about the current conflict-laden situation in German football and have presented their own solutions.

Professional football in Germany is currently accompanied by a discussion around these crisis symptoms:

  • Lack of competition in the most important national competition, the Bundesliga
  • Early failure of Bundesliga clubs in European club competitions
  • Increasing alienation between key stakeholders

These and other signs point to it: German football at club level is at a crossroads. Its still economic outstanding growth potential is based on its social relevance and high sympathy levels. Instead of carefully nurturing those conditions, professional football has distanced itself from those make it up — the people.

The distance is the start of the alienation process, which can also be observed around German football. The sport is an important part of German society and represents its tendencies and developments in a condensed form. The strengthening of the radical margins — both in society and in football — has long been obvious due to a perceived threat. People who are not valued and taken seriously resort to extreme forms of action and communication. Provocative songs, discrediting banners and permanent verbal attacks on associations and individual executives bear witness to the escalation of those unresolved conflicts.

Public expectations, huge economic differences between the professional clubs and indescribably high cash flows among the participants in European competitions allow club management to take considerable economic risks that endanger the existence of clubs and leave people without the understanding behind it. Sporting competition has above all become an economic one. A small number of clubs have been detached beyond the point of being able to catch up. Their overwhelming sporting dominance is devaluing the national competitions, at the top of which the same competitors always play for the championship title. This development is particularly clear in Germany and threatens German football as a whole, including its international competitiveness. If the national competition becomes uninteresting, the interest of the people first decreases, followed by that of the media and finally the interest of the sponsors. Weak national competition also weakens international competitiveness.

The most important foundations for people's identification with, and commitment to football, are the national football clubs and their overall competition. Strengthening them gives German professional football a socially relevant and internationally competitive future perspective.

Thesis of 1. FC Union Berlin: 

  • a) National competition without barriers for all German professional clubs maintains the popularity of football in Germany and strengthens its international competitiveness. 
  • b) Many different players with different interests contribute to the fascination of football and give it social relevance. The participation and co-determination of all influencers in football ensure that the various positions are appropriately valued and taken into account.

Thesis a)

Proposal 1: Organisation and marketing of all three professional leagues (Bundesliga, 2.Bundesliga, 3.Liga) under the DFL umbrella

The DFL is a capable organisation for the successful safeguarding of match operations and their marketing in German professional football. The 3.Liga is also a professional league and should therefore be organised under the DFL umbrella. Smaller meetings for appropriate organisation is reasonable. The German FA (DFB) supports the national teams and amateur football. The regional and county associations of the DFB are responsible for the various regional competitions.  

Proposal 2: Expansion of the three professional leagues to 20 teams each

The Bundesliga is the only league with 18 participants instead of 20, among Europe's top-five. The situation for the 2.Bundesliga is indeed similar, while the third-tier has already 20 teams. Germany has a large number of attractive clubs with high attendances and a competitive infrastructure. Expansion of the professional leagues increases clubs' chances of participation. Clubs, who are not involved in European competition, earn an important part of their income by hosting football matches. In comparison with clubs at that level, these clubs not only lack the bonuses from these competitions but also play significantly fewer matches. The additional number of four league matches is therefore attractive from a sporting and financial point of view for these clubs, whilst a bearable burden for the major clubs.

Proposal 3: 2.Bundesliga / 3.Liga / Regional: Direct promotion of all champions / promotion and relegation play-offs for several teams

Winning a league championship is an extraordinary sporting success, which should be rewarded accordingly. There is currently a trophy for the 2.Bundesliga and 3.Liga, but the resulting sporting prize of promotion is shared by the champion and the runner-up. In the regional leagues, not even the champion is assured promotion to the 3.Liga in the current setup. An appropriate reward for the champion should be guaranteeing the only fixed promotion to the higher division. The upward mobility is ensured by play-off matches, involving several teams from leagues either end who compete for places in the higher division. All participants benefit from additionally attractive games.

Proposal 4: Limitations to player salaries and number of players on loan

German professional football should take on a pioneering role in limiting salaries and the number of players on loan, whilst encouraging the introduction of these measures across Europe. The limitation of players' salaries is a clear sign that the steady upward spiral to heights which have long been impossible to follow, is no longer going to continue. The same applies to the limitation of the number of loan players per club. The tendency to loan players in and out endangers the identification with the clubs, both on the part of the players and the supporters. This development can and should be stopped at a relatively early stage. 

Proposal 5: Changes in distribution model of marketing revenues 

The current distribution model of revenues from centralised national and international media rights only consolidates the status quo of sporting performances of clubs and increases the differences between clubs, instead of promoting and developing competition. Even through their own efforts, clubs can no longer reduce the differences. They have to accept the existing conditions or take considerable economic risks in order to join the next highest group. As a result, national competition will largely be destroyed. International competitiveness will not be strengthened. An overarching league way of distribution must reduce the differences between clubs and thereby promote more attractive sporting competition. The relegation from a league remains a sporting loss, but is not necessarily an existential threat to the clubs concerned.

Proposal 6: Substantial increase in youth training compensation

The search for talented youth players has led to more and more youth players switching to or between professional clubs — despite all the voluntary commitments of the youth academies. Only a handful progress to professional football, but overall the impression is created that child-friendly training and development are being given less and less consideration compared to the lucrative side of the business. In addition, clubs who develop young players hardly ever have the opportunity to profit sustainably from their work. This development can be stopped or limited to absolute top talents with a substantial increase in training compensation.  

Proposal 7: Professionalisation of refereeing and the sports court

The importance of sporting competition is also expressed in the professionalisation of refereeing under the DFL body. Looking at the decisive role of referees in games, the adherence to amateur officials in a professionalised environment is neither modern nor sustainable. The same applies to the sports court. This also must be professionalised for the main leagues under the DFL's umbrella.

Thesis b)

Proposal 1: Representatives of all interest groups in the DFL committees

At present, not all players in German football are represented in the most important bodies of the DFL. The consequence of this situation is that attempts to include other, sometimes conflicting interests in forming opinions and decision-making are extremely complex and have threatened to fail repeatedly. 

The attempts to organise fan dialogue in recent months show this clearly. The diversity of interests must be taken into account and carefully moderated. No group has the sole right to interpret and make sole decisions. A one-sided balance towards the positions of one group promotes alienation of other interest groups. The effective representation of the diverse interests of the various groups who are significantly involved in German football presupposes that all are represented directly in decision-making bodies.

Proposal 2: Focus on the stadium experience 

In addition to the players on the pitch, supporters who visit the stadium are also a central component of the fascination of football. Without the atmosphere generated live in the stadium by the people who love football, the sport would hardly be marketable in the media and would also have little interest to sponsors. A focus on the core of football, the game and the fans, is the pre-requisite for maintaining the attractiveness of the sport. 

Adapting kick-off times to the needs of visiting supporters and observing maximum distances during Friday and weekday matches enables people to visit the stadium and enhance the stadium atmosphere. Monday matches should be abolished.

Meanwhile, clear and transparent regulations for the active fan scene, an accepted and important player in German football, must be worked out together with their participation. 

Proposal 3: Maintenance of the 50+1 regulation

German football can counter the excessive financial development at international level with its own way. Almost without exception, German football clubs were founded on the initiative of people who wanted to play and organise football. With their increasing popularity, membership in a football club has development, not only into an opportunity to participate, but also into an expression of support from supporters. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Germany are members of professional football clubs. The club belongs morally to the people who make them up. The influence of private investors should therefore also be limited at club level in order to ensure a balanced consideration of the different interests there. 

Unlimited access for investors into German professional football is also a further threat to national competition through the consolidation of the current status quo. Economically stronger clubs will attract economically stronger investors, than weaker clubs, both on a national and European scale. Therefore, it's not possible to strengthen competitiveness at international level through this mechanism. 

The template for structural reform of the DFL, which was presented by Peter Peters to all 36 professional clubs, was the opportunity for us to introduce our fundamental thoughts on the development of German professional football to the discussion. The time for fundamental changes is right — we shouldn’t let the time pass unused. We now have the opportunity, not just to reorganise German professional football, but also orientate the direction.

A prerequisite for this is the willingness to recognise crisis symptoms and as such, to take brave counter-measures and set a clear signal for a change of direction. German football reforms must begin with a debate on the direction of strategy. This should be conducted under pressure from the current timetable set out. We therefore propose not to vote on the proposal on 12 October 2018 as previously planned, but instead derive sensible changes for the organisational reforms from those deemed necessary.

The Executive Committee of 1. FC Union Berlin is prepared, on the basis of these theories, and actively ready to participate in this process by proposing solutions.