In my first article looking at the Bundesliga model and in particular, how the 50+1 rule impacts the financial side of the game in Germany, it became increasingly evident that at the heart of the entire football society in Germany is the fan.
In English football, it is often said that fans are the lifeblood of the club and that they are what really matters. This line is the clichéd thing for players, managers and owners to repeat. In modern times, however, top-level English professional clubs have viewed fans simply as an alternate source of revenue. Proving this attitude is very easy: you only need to compare what a typical Bundesliga fan pays to support their team compared to an English Premier League fan to see the shocking difference.
1. Ticket Prices
The Supporters not Customers website has compared the many different ticket prices during the 2013-2014 season in both the Premier League and the Bundesliga. The cheapest Premier League season ticket available for an adult was £299 at Manchester City. This price contrasts with £710 at Liverpool, £730 at Tottenham, and £985 at Arsenal.
In the Bundesliga, however, it is possible to get an adult season ticket for Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg for €80. This amount is less than the cost of some single match day tickets for some Premier League teams.
Indeed, the most expensive cheap season ticket in the Bundesliga was found at Schalke 04 and was €190.50, which is still over £100 less expensive than the cheapest Premier League season ticket.
There is, at most, a £110.50 difference in price between the lowest price and highest price Bundesliga season tickets, in the Premier League that difference is £686.
Averaging out the two leagues, the cheapest Premier League season ticket comes in at £503.85, while the average cost of a cheap Bundesliga season ticket, in pounds, is £118.12.
For example, during the 2012-2013 season in the Premier League, Queens Park Rangers fans paid on average £739 in season ticket prices to watch their team get relegated. In the same season, Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga and the Champions League final and their supporters on average paid less than £200 for a season ticket.
What is abundantly clear from this data is that despite massive income from television and other sponsorship deals, clubs in England still charge a vast amount more to supporters wanting to attend matches. It is not uncommon for English supporters to have to pay, two, three or four times what fans of Bundesliga clubs will pay to support their team.
The farcical nature of this situation is underscored by considering that it is cheaper for a football fan in Manchester to buy a season ticket at Werder Bremen and catch a flight to their home matches, than it is for them to buy a season ticket at either Manchester club and then attend the games throughout the course of the season.
Further evidence that the fan is more central to the Bundesliga’s raison d’etre is apparent when you consider transportation. In the UK, other than very rare and special occasions, most football fans have to foot the bill for their travel costs both to home and away games.
Over the course of a 19 game league season, plus home cup and European games, this cost can add up, even if the fan just attends home games. Obviously, travel costs are markedly higher for fans who follow their team home and away.
Yet in the Bundesliga, travelling to home games as a fan to many cities and towns is very different. A high percentage of Bundesliga clubs work in conjunction with local councils and authorities offering fans cheap or even free travel to and from games.
For fans, their match tickets act as a ‘pass’ on local public transit, allowing away fans to travel into the city for free for the game and back home again. Of course, being Germany, the local transport system is well-run and efficient, meaning that it can easily cope with the influx of extra supporters using the city’s buses, trains, and trams.
However, what is interesting to ponder here is, not that English fans pay more than Bundesliga fans, but asking why they are so happy to do so. Increasingly, the feeling amongst English fans is that you are not a ‘true’ supporter if you are not willing to play the over-inflated prices to purchase football shirts, attend games, buy a programme, or any other piece of football merchandise.
In recent times, football fans in England have increasingly viewed themselves less as part of one large fraternity, but instead have adopted a narrower and more parochial view with their supported club being the only issue that generally matters. As supporters in England increasingly focus on their club alone, club owners are emboldened to charge fans ever-increasing amounts.
In Germany, by contract, the role and value of the fan is different. In my previous article, I mentioned the 50+1 rule, which effectively ensures that fans are placed at the heart of every Bundesliga club (bar a couple that are owned by businesses). In the same way that turkeys wouldn’t vote for Thanksgiving in America, fans who have an ownership stake in their club in Germany are hardly likely to vote for a 300 – 500% ticket price increase to match the prices paid in the Premier League, even if this increase would mean more money for their club.
Another factor to consider here when discussing ticket prices in Europe is to remember that in Germany standing terracing is still used. This is not the case in the UK, and clubs argue (rightly) that providing a seat not only reduces capacity, but is also more expensive in the long-term than simply providing a place to stand.
While there has been some resistance to returning to terracing in the UK, chiefly because of “the Hillsborough effect,” the safe terracing system in use in Germany works well in the Bundesliga, allowing fans cheap access to games and enjoying the game in the way many British Premier League fans would like to.
It is worth noting that outside of the Premier League, terracing still exists and works without a problem. However, it is also worth noting that a fan at Borussia Dortmund pays £7 less to stand and watch their team, than a fan of Exeter City does to stand and watch the Grecians.
The presence of terracing, however, does not explain why Bundesliga fans get such a good deal. The real reason is quite simple and beautifully explained by Bayern Munich’s president who stated with regards to season tickets:
“We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income, but what is £2m to us?”
In a transfer discussions, you might argue about this sum for five minutes, but the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan. Bayern’s president continues:
“We do not think the fans are like cows who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”
And annoyingly, he’s right.
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