Following concerns from its top brass that the Bundesliga is in danger of losing its place among Europe’s elite leagues, a new UEFA report may well prompt fresh doubts. But there is also room for optimism.After a host of underachievements on the European stage, that stand in contrast to the success of its national teams, German football is having a moment of introspection.
Christian Seifert, the chief executive of the German Football League (DFL), said on Tuesday that the league was starting to “fall away” from the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Serie A in Italy and, to a lesser extent, France’s Ligue Un.
Hot on the heels of Seifert’s comments, came a report from UEFA entitled ‘The European Club Footballing Landscape’, which was published on Wednesday and forms a comprehensive report card on the financial health of European football.
The report, which takes in to account the financial year of 2016, notes that the Bundesliga is the most profitable league in Europe, with all but 3 of its 18 clubs reporting profits in the relevant time period. A large part of this is attributed to German club’s stringent management of wage bills, with Bundesliga sides spending just 50 percent of their total revenue on wages, compared to 64 percent in the Premier League, 57 percent in Spain, 68 in Italy and 69 in France.
Broadcast deals causing disparity
However, there is a huge income disparity between the top leagues, mostly as a result of lucrative TV deals, especially those signed by the Premier League. Those deals mean English clubs occupy an incredible 16 of the top 20 places in the broadcast revenues table, with not a single German outfit in sight. They also explain why its clubs occupy five of the top 10 spots in the total revenue table. With a total revenue of €592 million per annum ($724 million), Bayern Munich is the only German side in the top 10.
Despite recent efforts by league bosses to broaden the Bundesliga’s appeal, that support remains an unusually domestic affair when compared to most major European clubs. Official club website traffic, one of UEFA’s markers for the nature of support bases, reveals that Bayern and Dortmund’s sites are only the 10th and 11th most visited of European clubs. Furthermore, 56 percent of Bayern’s visitors are from Germany while the figure for BVB is 77 percent. That compares to 22 percent for Real Madrid’s site from Spain and 21 percent of Manchester United’s from England.
Despite it’s famously cheap tickets, Bundesliga fans appear to overpay in other ways. Germany has the second highest shirt prices in Europe, after Switzerland, with the average price of a replica jersey at €80. In the Premier League the figure is €59 (see tweet below).
The same section of the report shows that Bayern make the 5th most money from each match-going spectator, an average of €72.50. Eintracht Frankfurt (number 13) are the German club that squeeze the next most out, averaging €41.20 per fan, then Hamburg (number 17, €39.80), Werder Bremen (20, €38.10) and Stuttgart (30, €31.10).
All of which means that clubs in the other top leagues are consistently able to offer more attractive financial packages than their German equivalents, leading to fears of a talent drain away from Germany.
In transfer terms, German clubs’ net spend was only €10 million for the given period, which includes the summer transfer window of 2017. That compares to €118 million for Italy, €111 million for France, an €8 million surplus for Spain and a staggering €772 million spend by English clubs.
The wage gap
The financial might of the Premier League is further confirmed by the enormous disaprity between the wages it pays and those handed out by the rest of Europe. Somewhat surprisingly, the Bundesliga has the second highest wage bill in Europe but it’s less than half that of the Premier League, which pays out three million euros a week on average. Germany’s €1.35 million average is slightly above Spain and Italy, while, among the 20 highest-paying leagues, German club football continues to have the lowest wage to revenue ratio (50 percent).
One area where German football has always been strong remains one of its trump cards. Borussia Dortmund (3rd), Bayern Munich (5th) and Schalke (9th) are among 11 clubs to have reported cumulative attendances of over a million, while Hertha Berlin and Hamburg are also in the list of the top 20 best attended clubs. The Bundesliga also retains the highest average attendance of any league, with 41, 516 the benchmark in 2016/17.
There are, of course, multiple ways to read this data, and most fans of German football value its perceived morality over the more money-hungry approach often employed by the Premier League and La Liga. Despite his concerns, Seifert said Germany will not be heading down that path.
“No-one wants a completely open market where investors can do whatever they want and take advantage. Football is not a game of Monopoly.”