What Next, VfL Bochum?

On October 7th, members of VfL Bochum gathered at the club’s highly anticipated general assembly and voted in favor of changing the club’s legal status.

Prior to the vote, VfL had always been a registered association (e.V.), which, in simple terms, is a corporation that does not engage in profit-oriented business practices and is comprised of members, rather than owners or shareholders. The change of status opens a portion of the club (20%) to investors by transforming Bochum to a partnership limited by shares (GmbH & Co. KGaA).

In Bochum’s case, members of the club will retain 80% of its shares. The measure needed a three-quarters majority to pass. Despite the efforts of anti-outsourcing initiative echt VfL – nur ohne Ausgliederung (Pure VfL – only without outsourcing), the vote passed with 80.19% in favor.

After the vote, VfL Bochum fans in the anti-outsourcing minority laid candles in front of the Ruhrstadion, spelling out “e.V.”

Given that German football has a reputation for empowering fans and limiting the influence of corporate investors, one may wonder why VfL Bochum fans are interested in outsourcing 20% of their club. Primarily, a limited partnership equates to an increase of financial resources, which, of course, increases the attainability of success.

While success is relative and always varies depending on the stature of a club, Bochum’s idea of success is promotion to the Bundesliga. Since VfL’s first appearance in the Bundesliga in the 1971-72 season, the Ruhr club has spent 34 of 47 seasons in the top flight. Despite that, Bochum has been in the second flight for 8 consecutive seasons now, meaning that they have spent more time in the 2. Bundesliga since 2010 than they did from 1971 through 2009.

Should Bochum fans expect this change to result in such success? A look at some current and past 2. Bundesliga sides may provide some clarity.

Of the 18 clubs in the 2. Bundesliga, twelve (including Bochum, as the club has yet to officially change its legal status) are registered associations; the other 6 clubs are either limited liability companies (GmbH) or partnerships limited by shares (GmbH & Co. KGaA). This 12:6 ratio very well may change depending on which clubs are promoted and relegated at the end of the season, but VfL fans, or at least the roughly 80% in favor of outsourcing, will feel optimistic knowing they have a financial upper hand on roughly half the league if they remain in the 2. Bundesliga past this season.

In each of the last five seasons, at least one club with either GmbH or GmbH & Co. KGaA status has earned promotion to the Bundesliga: Hannover 96 in 2016-17; RB Leipzig in 2015-16; FC Ingolstadt 04 in 2014-15; 1. FC Köln in 2013-14, and both Hertha BSC and Eintracht Braunschweig in 2012-13. Clubs of such status account for 60% of the promoted clubs in the last five seasons, while they account for only 13 (41%) of the 32 clubs to have played in the 2. Bundesliga during that span. While there are some outliers, such as Bundesliga regulars Hertha BSC and Red Bull-operated RB Leipzig, it is clear that clubs that have abandoned the traditional e.V. status have been successful in earning promotion from the 2. Bundesliga to the Bundesliga.

As fans of numerous GmbH and GmbH & Co. KGaA clubs can attest, a greater financial might does not come with any guarantees. Since the 2012-13 season, five such clubs have been relegated from the 2. Bundesliga: 1860 München and Würzburger Kickers in 2016-17, FSV Frankfurt and MSV Duisburg in 2015-16, Arminia Bielefeld in 2013-14, and Jahn Regensburg in 2012-13. Two of these clubs, Jahn Regensburg and FSV Frankfurt, were relegated to the Regionalliga in the season after being relegated to the 3. Liga. Even with financial superiority, any club is susceptible to failure in the absence of competent management.

It has certainly been a turbulent season start for Bochum. Gertjan Verbeek, who had been trainer of VfL since January 2015, was sacked in July and replaced by Ismail Atalan. The new trainer showed much promise in the 2016-17 season as he led Sportfreunde Lotte to 3. Liga promotion and a very impressive quarterfinal appearance in the DFB Pokal. After failing to register a win from their first three games (0-1-2), VfL Bochum collected nine points from the following six, which was not enough to convince sporting director Christian Hochstätter that Atalan was the right man for the job. Atalan was sacked on October 9th after a 3:0 loss to Holstein Kiel. For the time being, VfL Bochum have appointed their U-19 trainer, Jens Rasiejewski, who will work alongside assistant trainer Heiko Butscher. The duo of Rasiejewski and Butscher got off to a positive start on matchday 10, defeating third-placed SV Sandhausen by a score of 2:0. Given that there is still two-thirds of the 2. Bundesliga season to be played, VfL have plenty of time to mount a push for promotion, but they will have to overcome the distractions that have weighed them down thus far.

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Zach Townsend

Zach Townsend is a freelance writer covering the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga from the United States. He follows and writes about German football all the way from the Schwarzwald-Stadion up to the Holstein-Stadion. You can find him on Twitter at @fussballerisch.

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