How Long Will Bundesliga Lag Behind Top Three European Soccer Leagues?

Khalid KhanCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2009

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 08:  Juergen Klinsmann and Frank Ribery of Bayern Munich look on during the UEFA Champions League quarter final first leg match between FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou stadium on April 8, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

It is somewhat perplexing thinking as to why Bundesliga, first division soccer league of Germany (the richest country in all of Europe), is not very prominent when it comes to worldwide viewership and fan-base.

Why is it not catching up in popularity with top three leagues? What does it will have to do to more? Is it money that hinders its European success?

First argument that some make is that it is because of defensive style of play. While some may call it anti-football but supporters consider it efficient football to achieve results rather than playing attractive game especially when it comes to modern realities of winnings titles and staying on top.

However, things are changing in recent times and teams are playing offensive soccer. Wolfsburg played aggressively to win Bundesliga title last season. Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen are playing fast, physical, one-touch football that is getting attention of fans in Germany and around the world.

Werder Bremen is known for highly offensive play in recent times albeit to the disadvantage of woes in defense.

Former German national soccer team’s head coach Juergen Klinsmann also employed an offensive strategy while in the job.

For an outsider, Bundesliga seems a one-club affair with Bayern Munich dominating the competition mostly. There are not too many permanent occupiers at the top of the table as is often the case in three top leagues. Qualifiers for UEFA Champions League change almost every season with the exception of Bayern Munich.

Still it is more competitive than top three European leagues and teams like Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, and Borussia Dortmund have won league titles in the last decade.

Last season Hoffenheim came up through promotion for the first time and for more than half of the season stood at the top of the table. Only after losing striker Vedad Ibišević to injury (top scorer for half of the season) did they faltered and finished seventh eventually.

In Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, big clubs regularly win places for UEFA competitions which gives them great visibility and money but leaves out competition.

Bundesliga is very closed in nature in that German citizens must be the owners of majority shares through membership organizations and also should have majority of votes in clubs.

All Bundesliga clubs are legally Non-Profit Corporations. Many critics say Germany will have to change its laws governing shareholding to catch up with rest of the Europe.

In 1999, clubs were allowed to off-shoot their parts into a separate legal entities forming a club, with restriction that original NPO is obliged to obey “50+1 Rule” of the shares thus effectively barring foreign investors from assuming majority shareholding.

Only investors who had supported a club for twenty years until 1999 were permitted to keep the majority shares, as in the case of Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg. To change “50+1 Rule”, two/thirds clubs of German soccer league will have to give approval along with German soccer association.

Foreign investors would cause some resentment because existing hierarchical structure will be driven out of power. Traditionally, clubs form an important part of the host city and locals do not like to relinquish that to blatant commercialism.

Foreign investors are not essential but it could bring a freshness of approach to soccer in Germany. This is considering the fact that Bundesliga was the profitable league in whole Europe, with most of the clubs in green, for 2006-2007 displacing Premier League, with highest profit rate of 18 percent which provides a great incentive. Though for 2007-2008 it lost that place to Premier League.

Now, according to latest figures, Bundesliga has replaced Serie A as the second richest European league this season for 2007-2008 behind Premier League. The question now is, can it overtake Serie A in UEFA rankings anytime soon and get four spots for Champions League?

German clubs generate major part of the revenue from higher spectator attendance (due to lower ticket prices), stadium naming rights, lower wages and highest shirt sponsorship income than Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.

With foreign money many clubs can become stronger and compete for the title and UEFA club competitions. It will be good for breaking domination of Bayern Munich at the top and make league more evenly balanced and fairly competitive.

Many sugar daddies would be eager to come in but German authorities fear loss of competition would come with that with fewer clubs dominating the league.

Bundesliga has been very conservative in its adaptation its fiscal policies and acceptance of innovations. German clubs spend around 45 percent of revenue on player salaries (according to 2006-2007 figures) whereas Premier League nearly two third in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.

This has kept operating costs down and profits up and it is good as a business model. But in sports reality, wage levels mean that Bundesliga has failed to attract best (so expensive) talent available, compelling some to argue that this is the reason behind lack of success in the Champions League.

In 2008, Germany’s anti-trust agency, Federal Cartel Office, has raised concerned about the €3 billion worth live TV broadcasting deals for Bundesliga games saying it is a monopoly and does not protect rights of consumers.

German soccer league and clubs are raising voices that without the bigger TV contracts they will be unable to get big players to come to Bundesliga. That is the reality of the times that without hell of a lot of money there is not much chance of success.

As Bundesliga improves its revenues and maintains its profitability, ambitious clubs should have to use this on acquiring best talent. Even without big names, success is possible through improved work ethic, better management of transfers, good head coaches and development of talent through soccer academies.

To reach worldwide popularity, clubs will have to play attractive game to lure audience. Slow, defensive soccer may be pragmatic for the team but it is just not going to bring viewers flocking to watch Bundesliga. Improving and marketing their brand of soccer is going to be tough but decisive call to make if Bundesliga clubs harbor global ambitions.


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