Commentary

Bundesliga fans getting gouged to watch a foregone conclusion

The streaming service DAZN this week announced it will soon more than double its monthly subscription rate in Germany from €14.99 to €29.99. As Bundesliga broadcasting rights are split between DAZN and Sky Sports, this means that anyone wishing to see all their team's games on TV will have to pay around €57 ($65) per month. That's not only a problem for the fan, it's a problem for the league as well, which can be summed up in two words: Bayern Munich.

"The only team that can do a half-decent job of representing Germany in Europe," a relative of mine once muttered when I was in one of my anti-Bayern rants in the middle of a christening party (hey, I kept it in until we'd left the church). That's a positive spin on the Qatari-sponsored Bavarian side currently six points clear at the top of Germany's top flight, and well on course to secure its 10th successive title. A record! How exciting is that, says exactly no one, not even Bayern fans. Not even the Bundesliga, which is forced to focus on the relegation struggle for excitement. Not a good look.

Bayern's dominance and the missing thrill of genuine competition is much discussed in German soccer circles, but no one can think of an answer that wouldn't end up being some kind of revolution. Abolish the UEFA Champions League, say, or at least oblige the participating clubs to share their UCL earnings with the rest of the league. Enforced socialism in a meritocratic structure, in other words. See how many clubs vote for that. And try explaining to Bayern why the work they've put in over the decades to establish themselves as one of the most successful clubs in the world should no longer count.

Unsatisfactorily, the simplest way out of this would have been for Bayern to defect to the failed European Super League project, which you might recall was the next big thing in soccer for around 48 hours last spring. Take the biggest, richest clubs out of any major European domestic league - all those Champions League perennials - and then you might see a competition amongst equals again, albeit without some significant players. Still, there could be several clubs unaccustomed to silverware battling for the title, and not just in the Bundesliga. A poor midseason run might not necessarily exclude winning the championship. You might not have half the league playing relegation-avoidance soccer from August until May. Just like it used to be in the 1970s, when no one was rich and players didn't earn enough every week to start a new small business.

Only, those troublesome fans (that none of those super-clubs thought about asking) didn't and don't want to be part of the ESL project. Something to do with history and heritage and a certain sense of honor, and everything not being about making more cash and kicking off at times suited to an audience with no kind of connection to the cities where these games are still played (at least for now, with the exception of the Spanish 'Super Cup' in soccer-loving Saudi Arabia). Never mind that it's decades too late to stop the grab for cash that started with the Premier League and the Champions League in the 1990s, and has continued thanks to inflationary sums for broadcasting rights and high-stakes sponsorship from firms and states with questionable ethics and human rights records.

So, we're back at square one. How can the Bundesliga keep its fans interested when every single one of those fans knows that Bayern Munich will be champion before a ball's been kicked? Let alone justify charging them €57 a month before they've even left the house and set off for the stadium.

The league could stage playoffs between the top six to eight clubs, but then Bayern would probably win those too. Even if they didn't, no one's going to say that the fifth-place team winning the title is anything more than a charade. I remember the debate in MLS about playoffs when the league was in its early years. Why did the league not just crown the best team at the end of the season? You know, the team with the most points over eight months of soccer? Like the rest of the world, where there's a true soccer tradition.

As a compromise, MLS conjured up the Supporters' Shield for the team with the best regular-season record. Has there ever been a ticker tape parade through town for the team that won the Supporters' Shield? Could you name the winners from 2012? Or any other year? You really need to go for one or the other, and in the USA it's the playoffs that have tradition on their side. No one would now seriously suggest abolishing MLS Cup. (On the other hand, I love the thought of a highly paid U.S. consultancy flying in to Europe and trying to sell the idea here. Sure, just head for the beer stand and let us know how you get on. If it doesn't go down well, suggest the All-Star game instead! Here's the number for security, just in case.)

Other than turning back the clock, the Bundesliga has absolutely no answers at all to the problem of Bayern's monopoly, other than exhorting the other teams to up their game. "Look, that Lewandowski, he's good, but have you tried stopping his shots? Just get in his way. Take the ball off him." If it were only that simple. For the fan, though, the answer really is simple. We can stop paying €57 per month to watch an inferior product, and force the Bundesliga to get a little more creative. In the meantime, just watch the highlights on free-to-air TV instead. Like we used to do back in the 70s.

14 comments about "Bundesliga fans getting gouged to watch a foregone conclusion".
  1. R2 Dad, January 25, 2022 at 7:27 p.m.

    Thankyewthankyewthankyew for bringing up this topic. There are ways to do this, none of them popular (as you mentioned). 1) What's the biggest problem? Bayern poaching all the talent from the other clubs. Is it really so difficult to understand when the best club keeps kneecapping their competitors by poaching their players and coaches? No, so maybe the league can establish some sort of rules to mitigate this. I don't think it's possible to micromanage without unintended consequences. What's the most Bayern thing to do going forward? Poach Haaland to replace Lewa, and no one would be surprised. That would be the kiss of death for the DFB.

  2. R2 Dad, January 25, 2022 at 8 p.m.

    2) No alternative in Munich. Whatever happened to 1860 Munich? Berlin has a second team in the bundesliga, but Munich doesn't? How is that possible? A healthy alternative to Bayern is required to syphon off support. 3) Weak Austrian teams. Red Bull has the right idea to link up with Salzburg. Strengthening Austrian teams (as long as Bayern doesn't do it) and linking up with other German clubs would fortify the Bundesliga. 4) Media deal. Bayern isn't going to want to sign up for a media deal that doesn't give them the lion's share of the proceeds, but it wouid be a very German thing if they did, the aggregate being more important than the individual. At the end of the day, the longer they extend their record, the more resentment it will garner. That's not good for anybody. 5) Bayern domination of DFB? Is that a thing, and if it is, what can be done to change it?

  3. Victor Mathseon, January 26, 2022 at 9:59 a.m.

    The Bundesliga doesn't need an All-Star Game. Just watch any Bayern game - that's pretty much an All-Star Game right there.

    More seriously, another reason you don't do All-Star Games in European soccer is national team games basically serve the same purpose. Baseball and football in the US never really had real national team competitions, so the only way to see all of the best players in the same place at the same time was a league all-star game. 

  4. Ben Myers, January 26, 2022 at 10:56 a.m.

    The MLS Supporters' Shield is a joke both in concept and in name. Can I run down to my local sporting goods store and buy a supporters' shield to protect my soft parts?

  5. John Foust, January 26, 2022 at 11:38 a.m.

    Excellent rant Ian!

  6. Greg Gould, January 26, 2022 at 7:13 p.m.

    Why not spending limits? It's closed league. Spread the wealth around. 

  7. Ian Plenderleith replied, January 27, 2022 at 2:59 a.m.

    The argument then is: we'll lose our top players to leagues that pay more, especially the EPL. Which happens anyway, apart from the super-earners like Lewandowski, Neuer, Kimmmich, Müller et al, all at... Bayern (Dortmund is already resigned to the departure of its star player Haaland). The EU has talked about a continental-wide salary cap of some sort, but as with Uefa's (failed, but perhaps soon-to-be-resurrected in a different form) Financial Fair Play initiative, it's going to be extremely difficult to get 1. Europe-wide consensus and 2. actually implement it without the kind of legal challenges that Middle East-backed clubs can afford to mount when their monopoly is threatened (PSG, Manchester City). Though I absolutely agree with you that this would still be the best answer right now. 

  8. Peter Kurilecz, January 27, 2022 at 8:37 a.m.

    "MLS conjured up the Supporters' Shield for the team with the best regular-season record"
    WRONG! it was created by the fans. The idea for it started in 1997. it came to fruition in 1999. 


    learn more here


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supporters%27_Shield
    https://www.mlssoccer.com/news/what-supporters-shield

  9. Ian Plenderleith replied, January 27, 2022 at 10:53 a.m.

    Hi Peter - apologies for the error, and thanks for the correction! Best wishes, Ian

  10. Ian Plenderleith replied, January 27, 2022 at 10:55 a.m.

    Hi Peter, apologies for the error and thank you for the correction!

  11. Ian Plenderleith replied, January 27, 2022 at 10:56 a.m.

    (I always find it's worth apologizing twice if you make an error...)

  12. frank schoon, January 27, 2022 at 10:11 a.m.

    Maybe ,the German clubs should follow the Ajax model of providing excellent youth development that they are known for....That's how Ajax competes in the world of soccer.

    It is understandable what's happening in Germany for if all these clubs begin to really invest in their youth development like Ajax and produce nice technicians and more creative players than the problem would go by the wayside for Bayern can only have 11 field players.

    Beckenbauer once stated "We are workers, we lack the artistic qualities in soccer". This is why when Bayern picks up a better quality type of German player,for there are so few in Germany , it as a result has a big effect on the German soccer, overall. But if German clubs begin to develop better quality type of players, Bayern knack for buying up players would not have that effect....






  13. Peter Bechtold replied, January 27, 2022 at 3:14 p.m.

    The majority of Bayern starters are foreigners( 6-5). Bayern has strong youth teams, one was in Bundesliga 3 just recently. German clubs copied Ajax at least 40 years ago, not just Bayern. 


    The Beckenbauer comment is almost 50 years old, but Frank keeps quoting it. BTW, remember that time in the USA when Kentucky basketball was all white and played the NCAA final in College Park against all black Texas Western ? Some of these comments are wayyy dated.

  14. frank schoon replied, January 27, 2022 at 4:15 p.m.

    Peter, Ajax is Ajax is Ajax it has not changed their DNA one iota and neither has the German DNA. 
    Trends are trends and yes we don't play with a libero now it is a back four but the DNA has not changed. As a matter of fact I'd rather watch German socccer when Beckenbauer played for they had much better soccer players then.....It is a shame Guardiola is not coaching in Bayern for eversince he left Germany the soccer has gone down again...but regardless their DNA is still there.... Just like Brazil they haven't changed their mentality and only made some tweeks here and there but the DNA doesn't change....What Beckenbauer stated back in the 90's still rings true....

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