Stefan Szymanksi, the noted co-author along with Simon Kuper of Soccernomics, wrote a Tweet this morning in response to an op-ed in support of the Bundesliga in the Independent today:
— Stefan Szymanski (@sszy) May 1, 2013
Szymanksi for his part wrote a small critique of the Bundesliga, particularly addressing the notion that the league’s ticket prices are substantially more affordable (I’d show it to you but Szymanksi’s site looks a bit borked at the moment; here’s the cached version). Kieron O’Connor, author of the incredible Swiss Ramble blog which has recently rumbled back to life, added this important correction to the Indy piece as well, which cited a wage to turnover rate in the Bundesliga as 37.5%:
— Swiss Ramble (@SwissRamble) May 1, 2013
This kind of skepticism is very important, particularly with the rash of pro-German model op-eds that will inevitably precede the likely all-German final at Wembley Stadium. The venue will also provoke comparisons to the laissex-faire Premier League, and it would be easy (and I’ve done it too in the past) to attempt to use the one to bash the other.
Even so, it would be overly stubborn not to point out the benefits of the Bundesliga model, in which all but two teams have a 50+1 fan shareholder rule and all clubs are under a break-even licensing agreement. The Bundesliga model shouldn’t be grafted on other domestic league wholesale, but there is evidence that it provides club stability, reasonable profitability for private, minority investors, and competitive relevance in Europe.
The problem is football is a really bad marriage between sport and business. What works in the free market doesn’t usually graft on well to clubs locked in a promotion/relegation league system over a century old now. There is confusion over the purpose of a club-slash-business—is it to turn a profit for owners and investors, or to win trophies for fans? These two goals aren’t always mutually exclusive, but often the one comes at the expense of the other.
The Bundesliga model seems to have carefully addressed this precarious balancing act by letting private capital in the door to enjoy the rewards but not to steer the ship. It’s not perfect. I don’t know for certain but I suspect that Szymanksi would point out that the break-even requirement is one of the main reasons why Bayern Munich’s continued domestic dominance is assured for years to come (it’s not particularly good that the club bailed out Dortmund a mere decade ago when it faced bankruptcy). Bayern’s national popularity and rich history give it a built in advantage in revenues, an advantage nearly impossible for other Bundesliga clubs—who cannot spend wildly in excess of turnover on players—to circumvent.
Except this financial disadvantage is to some degree mitigated by an excellent academy system revamped following the disastrous 2000 Euros that in part built the Dortmund side that is in the Champions League final and which beat Bayern in the league last year. Yes, the club is set to lose one its premiere players in Mario Goetze to the league champions, but the mere fact that Stuttgart, Dortmund and Wolfsburg have all finished first in recent years indicates that money, whilst vital, is not an absolute guarantee of permanent success.
So beware the lure of the “England should adopt the German approach wholesale” argument. But don’t let your inner skeptic dismiss it out of hand, either.