As expected, the Bundesliga ownership model is being touted ahead of the all-German European Cup final this Saturday. This isn’t a bad thing of course; the 50+1 fan ownership rule ostensibly promotes a saner, community-based approach to football finance, and despite the skepticism of soccer economists like Stefan Szymanksi, the lower wage-to-turnover rates and availability of lower ticket price ranges isn’t a bad thing (although as Swiss Ramble pointed out a while ago, the figures have been exaggerated a bit).
This doesn’t make the Bundesliga a footballing utopia. Szymanski has raised the point before that league-enforced spending rules sometimes ossify club hierarchies, which means a lot of the same few teams winning all the time. Although that’s hardly different than what fans have witness in the Premier League in the past two decades, so the point may be moot.
Here’s David Conn on the German model and its relative financial responsibility:
Bayern, without doubt one of Europe’s mighty with €202m commercial income including booming corporate sponsorships, stormed their way to Wembley with a wage bill, a reported £140m in 2011-12, below that of Manchester City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Dortmund’s wage bill was £68m for Jürgen Klopp’s fine young squad, £134m less than City spent in 2011-12 and lower than seven Premier League clubs including Aston Villa. While Premier League clubs spent 67% of their huge income on wages, Seifert said the Bundesliga clubs spent only 38% of theirs on players’ wages, despite their lower income.
Which is interesting, although as cited in the earlier Counter Attack post above, that 38% figure may be misleading. In any case, Conn as others before him has done the work of touting the Bundesliga’s apparent financial superiority, and sort of left it there. And of course, this isn’t without a touch of schadenfreude aimed at England’s money men:
RT @theboyler thought of English football’s “ownership neutral” powers-that-be watching two fan-owned teams makes me smile a lot…
— David Conn (@david_conn) May 23, 2013
What goes unsaid in all of these articles however is just how exactly a similar model might work in England. What would be the best way to transition from the current free-market approach to Premier League ownership to a club member/stakeholder option? Who would have the best political authority to implement these kinds of changes? Would it be best to work through the Football Association? Or promote the supporters’ trusts? Should politicians be drawn into the conversation?
Further to that, are there elements from the Bundesliga model that could more successfully exported than others? Does the FA enjoy the kind of authority the DFB and DFA have in implementing top down policies on finance? Are there better financial incentives for companies to own up to and including a 49% stake in a football club but not the ‘whole enchilada’ as it were? If not, how can fans challenge owners in conceding a legally-enforced stake in the teams?
“Why don’t you write that article, you asshole?”, you might be thinking. Well maybe I will one day. But the point here is that both the Football Supporters Federation and the Supporters Trust movement might begin to sit down and start a public conversation that involves these basic questions of strategy, and those interested voices in the media might start exploring these questions seriously.
Simply holding up some figures to the establishment and shouting, “See!” to random passers-by isn’t going to get us much beyond the “Gee wouldn’t that be great?” stage.