Germany’s Bundesliga braces itself after bull run comes to an end

GERMANY’s Bundesliga is the envy of the world in many ways: affordable ticket prices, high levels of stakeholder engagement, big crowds and successful teams. Furthermore, the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 contribute around € 1.4 billion in taxes and duties to the German economy and employ 53,000 people. 

But like all major leagues, the Bundesliga felt the pinch in 2019-20 from the pandemic and they are facing the future aware that the financial consequences of covid-19 has only just started. “This is just the beginning,” said DFL executive committee speaker, Christian Seifert. “No one was prepared for the extent to which the crisis would affect all areas of life, and football is no exception…we know that the pandemic will continue to have a significant impact on society as a whole in 2021.”

In 2019-20, Bundesliga revenues declined by 5.4% to € 3.8 billion and the combined total of Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 was down by 5.7% to € 4.5 billion, the first time in 15 years that income had dropped. There were, of course, good reasons for that, but the likelihood is that 2020-21 will be even worse for all clubs given they may spend the entire campaign playing behind closed doors.

Of the 18 top flight clubs, 13 generated total revenues north of € 100 million, but only eight achieved a positive result, compared to 14 in 2018-19 and 13 in 2017-18. Bundesliga 2 had seven clubs in positive territory, half as many as 2018-19. 

The lack of spectators in the closing weeks of the season had a negative effect on the league’s finances. Matchday income in the Bundesliga fell by 21% to € 363.5 million and contributed 9.6% to the overall pot. In 2017-18 and 2018-19, matchday contributed 14% and 13% respectively with a recent annual average of € 536 million.

Media income managed to remain strong, partly attributable to successful negotiations by the league, and rose slightly to € 1.5 billion, contributing 39.2% to overall revenues. Advertising also increased marginally to € 889 million.  

The figures relating to Bundesliga 2 underline the huge gap between the two divisions. The Bundesliga earns around five times more than its poorer relation. However, among Europe’s second level competitions, Bundesliga 2 can attract an average gate of close to 20,000 in a normal season. Only England’s Championship has better attendances among second divisions.

For the first time in seven years, transfer activity declined in the Bundesliga, although buying and selling players still accounted for almost € 600 million of income. According to Transfermarkt, in 2019-20 Bundesliga clubs spent € 848 million, with the biggest spenders Borussia Dortmund (€ 134 million), Bayern Munich (€ 126 million) and Hertha Berlin (€ 100 million). The latter two clubs had the highest net outlay, both nursing a negative balance of more than € 75 million.

Despite lower revenues, player wages rose slightly in the Bundesliga, although administrative staff experienced a cut in salary. Given the downturn, it was no surprise that the overall wage-to-income ratio jumped to 44.8% which compared to many European leagues is still relatively low even though it was 2.5 percentage points higher than 2018-19.

The total assets of the Bundesliga for 2019-20 were € 3.95 billion (2019 € 3.8bn), with player values € 1.47 billion (€ 1.2 bn). The league’s equity ratio was 43%, lower than 2018-19 but the second highest in Bundesliga history. 

German clubs continued to fare well in European competition. Bayern Munich won the UEFA Champions League in 2019-20 and only Bayer Leverkusen failed to qualify for the knockout phase of the competition, moving over to the Europa where they reached the last eight. RB Leipzig fell at the Champions League semi-final stage, losing to Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are still involved in the Champions League in 2020-21, but all the German clubs have been eliminated from the Europa League. 

German football remains in good shape but there will be challenges in the near future. Seifert concluded in the league’s economic review: “Over the past 20 years, German professional football has established economic foundations on which the two leagues are able to build their future. At the same time, however, it is clear that the massive ramifications of the pandemic will require all of the clubs to continue to act with absolute financial discipline and considerable foresight.” 

Although Seifert’s caution is understandable, few would doubt that Germany’s football organisation is better equipped than most to withstand shocks to the system.


Photo: PA

Club of the Month: Holstein Kiel

Photo: PA

ALL over Europe, smaller clubs have been coming up through the ranks. In Italy, Spain and England, some of the less celebrated football institutions have achieved promotion not once but twice in a relatively small timeframe. In Germany, the Bundesliga has seen the rise of Ingolstadt, Hoffenheim and Darmstadt. Below the top flight, there are other clubs making their mark. In Bundesliga 2, Holstein Kiel are an example of rapid acceleration from the regional leagues to the second level of German football.

Holstein Kiel are not a new club by any means. Founded in 1900, they were German champions in 1912, thanks to a 1-0 win against Karlsruher in Hamburg in the final. The winning goal was scored by German international Ernst Möller, who four years later was a casualty of war, just like his team-mate Willi Fick. The Holstein team included a number of players who appeared in the German Olympic team of 1912.

For many years, though, Holstein Kiel disappeared from view, although in 1965, they almost gained entry to the Bundesliga. To quote the club’s press chief, Wolf Paarmann, the club made a lot of mistakes in the 1980s and 1990s and had a bad public image, playing in front of 200-odd people.

Their current trajectory saw them rise from the Oberliga Nord in 2008 to the Regionalliga Nord into 3.Liga and back to the region in 2010. In 2013, they were promoted from the Regionalliga Nord and then won a place in 2.Bundesliga at the end of 2016-17.

Kiel is the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The city has a population of just under 250,000 and is closely linked with sailing and handball. Compared to some of the league’s bigger clubs, such as Union Berlin, St. Pauli, Nürnberg and Dynamo Dresden, the media profile is quite low, which Paarmann says suits Kiel. “People are very relaxed and we can concentrate on the sport and build a strong team spirit at the club,” he says.

Paarmann credits the club’s coach with driving the Holstein Kiel to its current position near the top of 2.Bundesliga. Cologne-born Markus Anfang arrived in 2016 after his predecessor started the 2016-17 season badly. Anfang had previously been a youth coach at Bayer Leverkusen. “He was relatively unknown at the time,” recalls Paarmann. “But his system worked for our team. He likes an offensive style with lots of running and pressing.”

Holstein Kiel won promotion in 2016-17, finishing runners-up to MSV Duisberg. “Suddenly, we realised that the city was behind us, with 10,000 people attending a party at the town hall to celebrate promotion and since then our crowds have almost doubled at our games,” says Paarmann.

The attraction of second tier football has meant that Holstein Kiel’s homely stadium is packed for every home game. The ground, the Holstein-Stadion, has a capacity of around 10,500 but will be expanded in the near future. “Our stadium is not big enough for 2.Bundesliga, but in time we hope to have a 25,000 ground with the facilities that enable us to generate income. The stadium belongs to the city, but our training facilities, which are excellent, are ours.” 

The Holstein Kiel squad

Goalkeeper Defence Midfield Attack
Kenneth Kronholm

32 year-old German-American. Ex-Elversberg.

Patrick Herrmann (29)

Formerly with Osnabrück.

Kingsley Schindler (24), Hamburg-born, signed from Hoffenheim. Marvin Ducksch (23), German youth international, on loan from St.Pauli.
  Niklas Hoheneder (31) Austrian u-21 international signed from Paderborn. Tom Weilandt (25), on loan from Bochum. Aaron Seydel (21), joined from Mainz in the summer.
  Rafael Czichos (27), captain. Saudi-born who was previouslty with Rott-Weiss Erfurt. Dominick Drexler (27), former Aalen midfielder from Bonn.  
  David Kinsombi (22) signed on a free from Karlsruher. Steven Lewerenz (26). Hamburg-born, signed from Würzburger Kickers.  
  Johannes van den Bergh

(31) – ex-Borussia Mönchengladbach, but signed from Getafe.

Alexander Mühling (25), right-sided midfielder, ex-Sandhausen.  
  Dominik Schmidt (30) Berliner signed from Münster. Dominic Peitz (33), Versatile midfielder, ex-Karlsruher.  

Holstein Kiel, nicknamed Die Störche (the storks), have surprised many teams this season, but the prospect of winning a second successive promotion and gaining entry to the Bundesliga, is not something people are thinking too much about. “It is a very big step,” insists Paarmann. “It is not our immediate target as our stadium isn’t good enough and clubs like Bayern Munich, Schalke and Dortmund are so far away from where we are. If it happens, we will deal with it, but it is not our priority.”

Perhaps the immediate concern is keeping together a group of players who have outperformed this season. “Many of our players were too good for 3.Liga and have adapted well in the second league. Some had found themselves playing in a lower level than their ability and had not had the chance to show what they could do. Now we are in the second league, they have that chance and our system is working well for them,” says Paarmann.

Their star player so far this season is arguably Dominick Drexler, a 27 year-old from Bonn who was previously with VFR Aalen.  Up front, a young striker on loan from St. Pauli, Marvin Duksch, and a former German youth international, is their leading scorer with 10 goals. And at the back, Holstein Kiel rely on their skipper, Saudi-born Rafael Czichos. Despite regular interest being shown from English scouts, the club aims to retain its best assets. “We don’t want to sell as we want to keep this team together for as long as possible. We’ve been on an interesting journey and we want that to continue,” says Paarmann.

Holstein Kiel’s 2017-18 season

Home                                                                                        Away

1 Sandhausen D2-2   2 Union Berlin L3-4
3 Greuther Fuerth W3-1   4 Regensburg W2-1
5 Kaiserslautern W2-1   6 Erzgebirge W3-0
7 St.Pauli L0-1   8 Duisberg W3-1
9 Bochum W3-0   10 Heidenheim W5-3
11 Arminia Bielefeld W2-1   12 Darmstadt D1-1
13 Dynamo Dresden W3-0   14 Nürnberg D2-2
15 Ingolstadt D0-0   17 Braunschweig D0-0
16 Fortuna Düssel. D2-2   18 Sandhausen L1-3
19 Union Berlin D2-2   20 Greuther Fürth D0-0


Many thanks to Wolf Paarmann for his time.