Business

German clubs and national team share same goals

Thomas Mueller celebrates scoring for Germany against England in the 2010 World Cup
Image caption Germany surprised with the performances of its young team at the 2010 World Cup

One of the highlights of last year's football World Cup was the verve with which a young German team played on its way to third place in the tournament.

A squad playing its club football entirely in the German Bundesliga league demolished England and Argentina before losing to eventual winners Spain.

But the creation of this youthful national team did not happen by accident.

Rather, it was down to a series of conscious decisions both on and off the playing field.

'Why should you care?'

The roots are based in a decision taken in 2000 to bring club teams, including giants such as Bayern Munich, and the German football association DFB together "to make the national team the strongest in the country".

Off the field, it was decided not to take club football down the commercial route to the same extent as seen in England's Premier League, but to still keep a sporting focus at the fore.

Long-term planning was considered more important than short-term commercial or on-field gain.

"If you see a club merely as a marketing tool, why should you care about the national team?" queries Christian Seifert, chief executive of the Bundesliga.

Common goal

Image caption Christian Seifert says the Bundesliga gets fans to come back season after season

According to Mr Seifert, the English Premier League had created "the greatest football brand on earth", so other leagues, such as Germany, had to create their own structural model to stand out.

The general manager of the national team, former star player Oliver Bierhoff, agrees. He believes the focus on a strong national team benefits the German clubs.

"It was very important to have a common goal, common interest," he says, appearing at the Soccerex football finance seminar in Manchester.

"Clubs came together to see what they could do for the good of German football."

Long-term outlook

Clubs then benefited in turn because the Bundesliga was able to obtain improved overseas TV deals, thanks to the stirring performance of the national team at the World Cup, Mr Bierhoff reasons.

As another part of the long-term German outlook, clubs have spent 2bn euros on new stadiums, adds Mr Seifert.

"If you have spent all that money you have to focus on how you can get everyone - media, fans, sponsors - to come again next year," he says.

"The investment has been done with the view that in 10 years time sponsors are still there and people are still paying the entrance fee."

Image caption Germany believes it has come up with a plan that benefits both its national team and clubs

'Good move by Uefa'

Meanwhile, a total of 1,800 players aged 12 to 14 train at Bundesliga club education centres, with the hope that perhaps five of them will be in the national team in coming years.

Education centres are mandatory, not only at top-flight Bundesliga clubs, but also for teams in the second tier, with some clubs spending up to 10% of their turnover on their education centres.

With money spent on youth football development being exempt from the forthcoming financial fair play (FFP) rules, German clubs look set to benefit from those new Uefa guidelines, which require clubs to balance their books.

Also, German clubs have been traditionally better run than many of their English counterparts, with rules in place there to prevent - except in exceptional circumstances - a business person or investor acquiring more than 49% of the club.

"It is a very good move by Uefa," says Mr Seifert. "It may increase the chances of German clubs in Europe.

Financial sustainability

More than 100,000 people are employed in professional football in Germany, and Mr Seifert says those running club football have to weigh up a number of considerations when deciding the best way for their industry.

Image caption National team manager Oliver Bierhoff believes the free market alone cannot dictate how football is run

"The [ownership] rule in Germany is the rule that secures the whole football culture in the country," he explains.

Football in Germany is not there merely to make money, though there has to be some aspect of financial sustainability too, he reasons.

Mr Bierhoff agrees.

"I studied economics and I believe that things should be run by the market," he says.

"But sport is different. I hope that they follow through [with FFP]. Everyone will get used to it."

Investors welcome

Meanwhile, despite enjoying lesser-value TV deals than their English counterparts, admission prices have remained affordable at German clubs, with Mr Bierhoff saying that season tickets can be obtained for as little as 160 euros.

There are some challenges, though.

The German ownership rules are being challenged by a group lead by Hannover 96 and are currently before the European courts.

But Mr Seifert is adamant that the Bundesliga is doing things the right way.

"Overall, the ownership rule works and the Bundesliga works. It is a very unpredictable competition and the stadiums are packed," he says.

"Outside investors are welcome as long as they agree by our rules."

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