Lower leagues across the globe #9: Germany
It gives me great pleasure to welcome James Challinor to these pages. James is the brains behind the brilliant Die Bundesliga UK blog. James is here to tell us all about the lower leagues in Germany. After you’ve read this piece, make sure you check out his blog. It’s fantastic.
I’d be willing to wager a fair wedge that there is no other league system in the world that has chopped and changed as much as the Deutscher Fußball Bund’s pyramid (see foot of this page).
The top two (18-team) leagues – the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga – head a now nine-tier (tier IX has approximately 800 leagues) system that has undergone more cosmetic surgery than you can shake a stick at. Only three seasons ago, the third tier, now named the 3.Liga, became national for the first time.
Stalled by two World Wars and eras of National Socialism, professionalism in Germany, subsequently West Germany, was finally introduced following a 1962 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Yugoslavia with the establishment of the nationwide Bundesliga in 1963.
The second tier remained a five-league regional affair until in 1974, when it became apparent that the step, between the fully professional Bundesliga and semi-pro/amateur Regionalligas, became more of a chasm. The gulf left several relegated clubs on the verge of bankruptcy and was finally brought to the fore by the Bundesligaskandal of 1971 where a number of teams, including Schalke, colluded to help Kickers Offenbach avoid relegation.
To help combat this, the DFB launched the 2.Bundesliga which began as a north-south split but became countrywide in 1981. Ten years of relative stability followed before the reunification of Germany in 1990 complicated things with East German teams competing in the same league structure as those from the West for the first time since 1949 in the 1991/2 season.
Germany now has three nationwide leagues with the fourth tier the first region-based league. Currently each of the three regions (North, West, South) have a league consisting of 18 teams with only one promotion spot per division. From the 2012/13 season the fourth flight will be split to form five regions – a further indication of the instability within the German football league structure.
With an ever changing scenario with regard to league constitutions, relegation spots and promotion play-offs, some leagues can provide an excruciating climate for fans. A division of the eleven-league 5th tier, the Niedersachsenliga, has only one promotion spot but has an unfathomable SIX relegation places. Imagine that, Cambridge United fans.
The league system has certainly seen its fair share of fairytales. Whether you like them or not, tiny village side Hoffenheim’s meteoric, some say bought, rise to the 2008 Bundesliga Herbstmeister (Autumn-Champion) title just about qualifies. Playing in the 8th tier in the early 1990s, Hoffenheim’s two-decade transformation can almost entirely be attributed to the financial support of software mogul, and former youth player, Dietmar Hopp. Tagged TSG €18.99 Hoppenheim by rival fans and members of the German press, the Sinsheim-based side haven’t made too many friends along the way – callously trying to merge with SV Sandhausen and Astoria Walldorf in 2005 to create a Heidelberg-based superclub.
“A sustainable business model”
Many envious English eyes glance at the way German football has been ran over the last decade. Germany’s on-field progression since the debacle of Euro 2000 is a true antithesis to the English FA’s continuous pandering to the Premier League. Then there’s the ‘50+1 Rule’ preventing any single entity from taking complete control, saving any potential for Portsmouth-esque malaise. Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert often talks of the league’s sustainability and stability, despite the league’s television income being less than a third of that of the Premier League. As a result of having the most competitive free TV market in the world, the growth of pay-TV dictated that all 612 games in the top two tiers must be shown live. Most of these games are shown in ‘Simulcast’ where the broadcast is switched to the game in which there’s been a goal.
But it’s not all sweetness and light lower down. This year in the 2.Bundesliga, 1860 Munich came within hours of oblivion before a rescue package was found, and already relegated Arminia Bielefeld have an estimated debt of around €27m.
In the fourth tier, two Regionalliga Süd sides – SpVgg Weiden and SSV Ulm 1846 – have hit bankruptcy and with their licence removed, have had their games stricken from the record books. The latter, Ulm, had a fairytale trip to the Bundesliga themselves just eleven years back but were relegated on the last day of their first ever top-tier season. Since being declared insolvent in January, Ulm have agreed to play out the remainder of the season in the form of friendlies – a gesture towards their fans from the squad – and even beat 2nd placed Stuttgarter Kickers just three weeks ago.
Most football fans know that no league has higher gates than the Bundesliga, but how do German attendances compare outside the top flight?
The 2.Bundesliga average through 32 games stands at 14,430. Not too shabby at a glance, but Hertha Berlin’s 44,000 distorts this somewhat. The fact that a third of the division play home games in front of gates lower than 10,000 paints a more accurate picture.
League One and Germany’s 3.Liga (minus the reserve teams) draw relatively similar crowds, but it is the German fourth tier at which real disparities begin to emerge:
Although crowds can pass 8000 at clubs like Preuβen Münster (newly-crowned Regionalliga West champions), 10000 at Hessen Kassel (3rd in the Süd) and even 12000 at Rot-Weiss Essen in the 5th tier, other clubs can draw miserable crowds.
When once famous-ish Türkiyemspor Berlin played host to Energie Cottbus II in February, the official attendance was announced as 40. Suddenly there’s a lot to be said for Macclesfield’s 1067 against Lincoln in March.