March 25, 2017

Arminia Bielefeld vs. SV Darmstadt: Much is at Stake in Relegation Playoff

As league seasons come to a close around Europe, with many great sides declared their respective nations champions after battling, it cannot be overlooked that the battle for the bottom places can carry equal if not more importance to clubs, not only for short-term success but also long-term survival.

Such a scenario was played out in Saxony on Sunday as Dynamo Dresden hosted Arminia Bielefeld, with the sides entering the game level on points sitting right on the precipice of relegation to the 3.Liga. The winner would enter a playoff for survival whereas the losing side would have no such second chance.

The manner of the game gave a clear visual indication of the importance of what was at stake.  Each side had a player sent off as nerves began to show. Arminia soaked up intense Dresden pressure before being able to break out twice to snatch a two goal lead as Dynamo players, knowing that the club’s future in the league and possibly their future at the club disappear, felt their hearts sink as they saw the passions of their supporters rise.

Not content with what they were seeing on the pitch, a small group of Dynamo supporters began to throw flares onto the pitch causing the game to be suspended for some 15 minutes  —  supporters who were not prepared to passively watch their side fall to defeat and relegation. These were supporters who had seen Dresden drop out of the 2.Bundesliga in 2006 to endure a five-year stint as a third tier club.

It was during this time that Dresden had committed to a new stadium which they now call home, though the relegation brought such a reduction in expected finances that the club briefly flirted with insolvency in 2008. A shortfall of €1.2 million was reported, a sum that the improved TV revenue in the 2.Bundesliga would have covered with a minimum of €3.5 million being allotted from TV companies to league clubs.

This example bears many similarities with the case of Arminia Bielefeld. Following financial mismanagement largely related to renovations at their own stadium, Arminia eventually had to rely on a €1.2 million bailout from the league in 2011 when their relegation to the 3.Liga was all but certain. The fund was created in 2004 to help prevent the demise of clubs such as fellow Westfalen side FC Gütersloh who declared bankruptcy in early 2000 just months after their relegation from the 2.Bundesliga.

As Bielefeld and Dresden emerged from their long wait to restart their all or nothing fixture, the fight for survival was reignited as Dynamo quickly pulled a goal back. They then quickly equalised to spread joy and relief around the stadium and leave Arminia fans staring at relegation after just one fleeting season in the second tier. The plot though would have one final twist, one final goal as Bielefeld’s young Polish striker, Kacper Przybyłko, struck the decisive blow to leave a final score of 3-2 to Arminia, sending Dresden down.

Even with this result which left them ultimately finishing ahead of Dresden in the final 2.Bundesliga table, Arminia still stand to earn €500,000 less in TV revenue for the past season than Dresden. This arises as the distribution of television money is determined on a calculation of placing in the league in recent seasons, with emphasis place on the most recent years with 3.Liga placing counting for nought. As such Arminia’s previous two-year stint in the 3.Liga continues to impact their financial state as being calculated as bottom of the chart, they are set to receive the smallest portion of the TV money in the league, set to be just over €3.8 million.

Although this is the poorest return from the TV pot that Arminia could have hoped for, a side which will not be feeling sorry for them is SV Darmstadt 98 who finished third in this seasons 3.Liga and as such are set to face Arminia in the two-legged relegation playoff (the first leg kicks off on Friday, the second next Monday). The structure of TV coverage at the third tier level will leave SV  Darmstadt  with approximately €800,000 for their great efforts this season, less than a quarter of what their opponents will receive though this is a fact Arminia have learned all too well in recent seasons.

Not only does TV coverage raise direct funds for the clubs involved, it also raises potential gains in sponsorship with every game guaranteed to be broadcast nationwide on pay TV with selected games shown free-to-air on Monday evenings. Additionally, the recent development of the 2.Bundesliga games being shown across Europe and even further afield as part of local Bundesliga TV rights deals, creates the attractive possibility of a large audience to attract sponsors or command higher fees from existing deals.

3.Liga sides can expect relatively small deals for occasional coverage from regional broadcasters often just for local derbies, with two types of exceptions being seen from last season’s two promoted sides. Arminia’s success in the campaign saw season long online coverage with a high number of games televised, while Karlsruhe had a mandate from the city that all games were required to be shown live for locals. However the drop in TV revenue is not to be solely blamed of the financial problems that some clubs experience in the 3.Liga.  Former DFB Director of Game Operations Helmut Sandrock explained

This is linked to the economic problems of individual clubs, but a differentiated approach is missing in most cases. The criticism relating to less TV money is completely unrealistic as the vast majority of clubs are more than satisfied with the TV money

Other factors are at play, but many of these can be linked back to the gap between the leagues. Added to the increased numbers watching at home, a place in the 2.Bundesliga promises more supporters at the grounds with league average attendances being over 17,000 in the previous two seasons. In contrast the 3.Liga is significantly overshadowed with an crowds averaging 4,569 in 2011/12, rising to over 6,000 last season with the participation of Karlsruhe, Aachen and Hansa Rostock.

The stark contrast in attendance is further emphasized when glamour sides that occasionally drop to the 2.Bundesliga (such as Hertha Berlin and 1. FC Köln) average over 40,000 per game, while in the 3.Liga the participating u-23 sides of Bundesliga sides and smaller teams such as Wacker Burghausen struggle to average 2,000 per game. There can be no clearer example of the gap in prestige between the two leagues.

SV  Darmstadt will themselves be targeting an increase in attendance at a higher level having managed to bring in an average of 7,068 through the gates so far this season. Upon promotion last season from 3.Liga both Karlsruhe and Arminia Bielefeld enjoyed an increase of over 50% in attendance figures, an increase which, if predictive, would put SV  Darmstadt ’s attendance over 10,000, something which only two 3. Liga sides (MSV Duisburg and RB Leipzig)  could manage this season.

This creates a problem for smaller clubs who wish to participate in the league, with regulations insisting that clubs grounds meet minimum standards for the professional league, notably a minimum ground capacity of 10,000. This is a factor which caused Elversburg to play games in the first half of this season at league rivals Saarbrucken’s Ludwigstadion while they redeveloped their home ground. The fact that relegation occurred at the end of the season means that the expense paid for the work was only necessary for half a season of 3.Liga football. The high level of expectation on clubs at that level is a situation which former Babelsburg CEO Klaus Brüggemann has spoken about in the past.

From the economic aspect, the 3.Liga is a money burning league, as the clubs are intended to create professional conditions and structures which must be met, but the economic conditions are not there

SV  Darmstadt  themselves will now be forced to spend on renovation work should they progress to the 2.Bundesliga. Following inspections this year by the DFL, their Böllenfalltor stadium was deemed to require many improvements such as a doubling in the size of their TV production area, improved floodlighting and the installation of under soil heating which in itself would cost in the region of 800,000.

There are plans for a €27.6 million redevelopment into a new Böllenfalltor stadium something which may only be feasible if the club is at the 2.Bundesliga level. It should be noted that mismanagement around the redevelopment of Arminia’s ‘Bielefelder Alm’ stadium played a large part in their massive financial problems in recent years which left the club in a perilous state.

One rare occasion that these sides could expect a high attendance, potentially even a sell-out in such a new stadium is on the occasion when a top Bundesliga side comes to town for a DFB Pokal match. A place in the cup is extended to all teams in the top two divisions but only the top four finishers in the 3.Liga being guaranteed a place with regional cup winners making up the other participants. As such, a mid table finish in the 3.Liga may leave a side without a cup game, something which those in the top two tiers may take for granted.

Without the significant boost in finances that a place in the 2.Bundesliga would bring, many squads are forced to release a large number of their squad to accommodate the smaller wage budget that they are presented with. Most recently upon MSV Duisburg’s relegation, 22 players were released from the club featuring a wide cross-section of their squad.

Highly rated players such as Timo Perthel have been able to progress their career by making a dozen appearances for 1.Bundesliga side Eintracht Braunschweig this season. However veterans like Antonio Da Silva, who has a Champion’s League goal at the Nou Camp to his credit, and young players at the club who have not yet managed to make a significant breakthrough are liable to find themselves without a club. Arminia though have largely retained their 3.Liga squad and as such may not need to take such drastic action.

This litany of factors along with the passion and prestige of playing at a higher league level are what make this week’s playoff fixture such an important fixture for both Arminia and SV Darmstadt . However despite the intensity that the games will be played at, the effect of the result may still depend on whether RB Leipzig can overcome their licensing problems to take their place in the 2.Bundesliga.

There is a similar situation that SV Darmstadt  has had to wait out on quite recently. The club had an impressive run to third in the league this season but they had not been expected to compete in the 3.Liga after finishing in the relegation places the season before. Their participation in the league this season was only made possible by Kickers Offenbach being refused a league licence having amounted 9 million of deb, while also benefiting from Aachen being declared insolvent mid-season who had to see out the season adrift at the bottom of the table following penalties from the league..

This is a further example of the financial turmoil that may await clubs in the 3.liga, a set of circumstances previously outlined by former SpVgg Unterhaching president Engelbert Kupka saying in 2012.

The 3rd League is a professional league, but is treated like an amateur league. That’s in the future no longer acceptable and financially viable

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