Ahead of the new season, the German Bundesliga continues to maximise its efforts in terms of fan engagement, setting an example for the rest of Europe.
Following on from yesterday’s feature on what lessons can be learnt from the Bundesliga’s relationship with its supporters, InsiderSport spoke to European Football Journalist Chris Williams about the how the league has evolved its fan experience.
InsiderSport: Bayern Munich won a seventh consecutive Bundesliga championship last season. However, it was the first time any team came within ten points of Bayern since Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund won the title in 2012. Was there a hugely increased interest, both domestically and internationally, as a result of this title race?
Chris Williams: In the run-up to the Winterpause in December the interest in the Bundesliga had been as big as I could remember it. There was a new leader, again, and Bayern looked at sixes and sevens, at home and in Europe.
As Dortmund began to wobble, and Bayern transformed the head-to-head at the Allianz was one of the most anticipated games in years. It was taken by 65 broadcasters across the world and there were 50 official Bundesliga viewing parties.
The end may have had a familiar feel, with Bayern winning, but the run-up had been watched across the world, more than ever.
InsiderSport: Having experienced Bundesliga venues and the matchday experience in Germany, what are the standout differences to you when comparing those with the matchday experience for an English football fan?
CW: There are many differences between the two fan experiences. For a start, your match ticket gets you local free travel on the bus/tram and train network, to and from the game.
Average prices are way lower than what Premier League and even EFL fans are used to paying. For example, I can get a ticket on the main terraces for £15. Lincoln City wanted £15 to watch a League 2 game and then the cheapest adult ticket in the Premier League is anywhere from £26 to £47. Although Liverpool offers a £9 ticket to those members with a Liverpool post-code, which is a step in the right direction.
Then the fans mix quite easily before and after the game in bars, restaurants and the terraces. It’s not uncommon to be turfed out an English ground if you’re not in the designated ‘away end’, it doesn’t seem to be a problem on the sides in Germany. Although, you don’t get away fans in the home end behind the goal.
Food and drink prices are significantly cheaper in the stadiums as is the beer – which you can drink in the view of the pitch.
The atmosphere is noticeably better as well, especially behind the goal. Fans still stand, in safe standing areas and those cheap tickets attract a younger average age, who are very much expected to sing and shout.
InsiderSport: Despite the protests regarding Monday night football and TV scheduling of fixtures, there seems to be a very good connection between the fans and the powers-that-be in the Bundesliga. The people in power really listen to the German supporters when they protest. Is this more of a cultural difference where there is not the divide between football supporters and the authorities that exist in England?
CW: The clubs are still owned by the fans, as members. The 50+1 rule means that commercial investors can’t have more than a 49 per cent stake in the club, the remaining percentage is in the hands of its members, so the fans can’t be taken for granted or left behind as the lure of marketing and money did in England.
The clubs exist because of the fans not due to the business investment. There are a few exceptions, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg are owned 100% by private companies but the clubs were offshoots of the companies – the workers historically played for the clubs back at the turn of the last century, so when the rule was introduced these clubs were allowed to continue in the structure they had been founded.
InsiderSport: What, if anything, does the Bundesliga still need to work on with regards to the fans’ experience?
CW: Kick-off times. Germany is very traditional and the creep of match-days to Friday and Sunday isn’t well liked. I don’t think that will change now, as the league needs international revenue and interest.