Christian Seifert: “In the Bundesliga we never take it for granted that we will always earn as much money as we do from the media and that so many people will keep coming into the stadia. People can do many other things at 3.30pm on a Saturday afternoon.
We think that what makes the Bundesliga so successful is because the standard of competition is the most important thing. No matter how much we talk about media revenues and global markets, at the end of the day it’s all about the game.
What is very special about the Bundesliga is the competitive balance. An independent study of the Big Five leagues which has been given to us – we did not commission it – shows that the leagues in which the most interesting and unexpected things happen are France and Germany.
The English Premier League is one of the worst because, over the last years, mostly the same two or three teams are at the top. In Spain it’s the same: only a few times in in the last 50 years has it not been won by Real Madrid or Barcelona.
The Champions League race is less balanced in all the leagues. We think this is very important in creating competitive balance – which is the chance of the bottom club beating the top club.
I know it sounds weird in a season where Bayern Munich have been more than 20 points ahead of Borussia Dortmund but, if you look at the Bundesliga, we had four differentchampions in the last six years and five different cup winners – which is avery special thing.
At the end it’s all about what Sepp Herberger said once: “Why do people go to the stadium? It’s because they don’t know how it will end.”
We should never forget that going to the stadium, no matter how much it costs – and in Germany it’s not so expensive – but to go there and pay money just to watch your favourite team always lose 3-0 or 4-0 is too much. You want to go there because you don’t know how it will end.
Also, in the Bundesliga we do not have only one competition.
We regulate the distribution of money to drive competition all the way through the league, not only at the top.
So it’s about who will be champions; it’s about who will be the two clubs going direct to theChampions League group stage; it’s about which club will go into the play-off round; it’s about who will go to the Europa League; at the other end of thetable it’s about who will be in the relegation play-offs; and, of course, about who will be relegated.
So when we talk about the Bundesliga we are talking about six competition modes and we try to distribute the money in a way that motivates all the clubs to play right until the last matchday because that’s what the fans want to see.
Another issue is that the fans in the stadia and the ones who watch on television want to see a lot of goals. Our average is a steady three goals over the last few years which has been by far the highest number in the top leagues Europe.
Number of fans reflects success
We think our approach is justified by another very specific thing: the number of fans attending every game.
Last season in 306 games we had an average of nearly 45,000 people which meant a utilisation of 95pc of stadium capacity.
This season the number will go down a little because clubs like Hertha Berlin, who have a huge stadium, were relegated and some smaller clubs came up so this season we have seven teams whose stadia have a maximum capacity of 30,000 people. Still, nearly 45,000 for 95pc is huge.
This is something we are very proud of because it shows how people want to see the games. If shows people feel a certain security in the stadium no matter what the fan issues.
What is also important for me is these 45,000 are so mixed. When you go Munich for a Bundesliga game the cheapest ticket is around €12 and the highest is for the ‘big business suits’ who may pay €150,000 for a suite for 10 people.
The Bundesliga – and this is what we see in all the research – is one of the last things in Germany which really brings people together, no matter where they are in the social system.
No matter if you are poor or rich or young or old if you like the Bundesliga you can access it because a lot of clubs – including Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund and Schalke – limit their season tickets at around 50pc. This means that, in each game, 50pc of the tickets are available for sale to the general public.
This means more people can watch a game in the stadium which provides a completely different emotional experience to watching at home and, in each game, you never have all the same people there because not all of them have season tickets. This is also something very special.
Of course some of the smaller clubs only have between 20 and 30pc of season ticket-holders but even the big clubs hold it at around 50pc.
As for away games, each club has the right to ask for 10pc of the tickets – and we have a lot of travelling fans. If we have a special game the away fans number more than the 10pc because others can buy tickets on eBay or wherever.
Sometimes, for instance, Borussia Dortmund will have 10,000 fans at an away game in a stadium which holds only 40,000.
Another thing which is very special: not only do we have a lot of goals and a lot of people but around 25pc of fans in the stadia are female.
Everything comes back to our education concept.
The education concept
In 1990 the national team won the FIFA World Cup and then in 1996 the European Championship. In the middle Franz Beckenbauer said that, now the former East German players were coming over, that no one would beat us for years and – because what Franz says is, like, The Law – everyone in Germany believed it.
In fact, in 2000 the national team played a horrible European Championship and then reached the World Cup Final only really by accident in 2002 against Brazil in Yokohama.
The quality level was down and our technical and tactical education was nowhere near the top level.
That was when the DFB president, Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, established a youth education concept which changed everything.
Everything you see now on the pitch, no matter whether from the national team or in the Bundesliga, stems from this concept.
Over the years more than €700m has been invested in the education concept – including €100m alone in the last season – but this is only 5pc of the whole turnover so it is not so much, to be honest.
When we talk about an education concept we are talking about rules and everyone follows them because, in Germany, we love rules.
Each club who plays in the Bundesliga or Second Bundesliga – all 36 clubs – has to have an education camp. In these camps today 5,000 young people are educated and we have clear rules fixing for each club the number of pitches, the number of coaches, the quality of the coaches, the number of doctors dedicated to theyoung people and how they all have to work together with the schools: everything is fixed.
The basic structure is a junior level, under-nine and under-11, then the under-13 to under-14 teams – ‘development training’ we call it – then the under-17s to under-19s which we call ‘performance training.’
You have to have at least seven teams in each stage and the highest number permitted is nine teams.
The most important thing is that, from under-15 onwards, 50pc of the squad – that means at least 12 players – must be allowed to play for German national teams. This is why Joachim Low has a huge pool of young players who can play for Germany.
This is the structure: 5,000 young players are educated there and if you look at the results from our under-19s, under-17s, under-15s, you see a lot of talentedplayers and lot of good results.
This is why we see a relatively good future for German football because what you can see out on the right now is the first generation who went through all of this.
For instance, Mesut Ozil started in Schalke when he was 12, the same as Draxler, Manuel Neuer. They all went through this stage after it started in 2001 so a player who is now 20 or 21 was then 11 or 12 when this all started.
You can see the results in the average age of players in the Bundesliga.
We have 520 players in the 18 clubs and the average age is now two years younger after 10 years of the education concept. Not only that, but 60pc of the players now are German. In the Second Bundesliga it’s 74pc so, together in the two leagues, we have around 65pc German players.
This is why, if you are looking for an international job in the future, I would say that national coach of Germany is a very good job because you will have so many well-educated, talented, technically and tactically well-educated young players. It will be hard to lose
For instance, look at Borussia Dortmund against Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage. Eight players in the starting squad were German and six of them were educated in the youth system. To them you can add Ozil and Khedira on the other side.
Only two players who were over 30 did not come through the system because they were too old.
For instance the Netherlands, for years, have developed so many talented and world class players from a small population. This doesn’t meant their players are any more talented than players anywhere else, it’s all about the education, the structure and the coaches.
Therefore we think the next years are looking very good.
International quality is also very important for us because of the business and revenues.Whether we think we are strong or not, we think the UEFA ranking is very fair. If you win you get two points, if you draw you get one and this is divided by the number of matches.
After 10 years of the education concept we overtook Italy and went up to third place which was very important for us because that gave us three fixed clubs in the group stage of the Champions League and an extra club in the play-off round.
So this season we have had seven clubs playing internationally which, out of 18 clubs, meant nearly half the league.
Importance of financial health
One of the most important challenges in the future is to keep a balance between financial health and results. For instance, when Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich play against Real Madrid or Barcelona or whoever, at the final whistle no-one asks for the financial results and this puts a lot of teams under pressure.
I have followed the discussion in England and, for us, it sounds weird that people criticise Arsenal because, for us, they are doing everything right in terms of our concept that you have to have both a very good financial concept and a good performance on the pitch.
Out of the Big Five leagues, we are No2 after the Premier League in terms of turnover without transfer revenues. What is interesting is that Bayern and Dortmund together generate around 30pc of the whole turnover of the Bundesliga but, if you look at Spain, then Barcelona and Real make 60pc of the whole turnover.
This means that, in Spain, there is less money for the other clubs to invest in youth education and infrastructure.
We try to keep the financial balance because each club should have the money to invest in their stadia and in the education concept because this all goes to make the league itself better.
Look at the distribution of the money: From our national revenues Bayern and Dortmund get around 11pc each but in Spain those top two clubs get 50pc. When so much is focused on only two clubs then the No13 cannot have a modern stadia and good youth education system because they do not have the money.
What is also interesting about our structure is that out football revenue was around 2bn euro last year and it was more or less equal between sponsorship, advertising, media rights, matchday revenues and other factors.
The biggest cost factor is always player wages which, in Germany, is 38pc. The average in Europe is 65pc and much more at Paris Saint-Germain or Chelsea or Manchester City. One time I think, at Manchester City, it reached 109pc. That’s what makes it tough for a club like even Arsenal to compete.
Of course, with 38pc, that means we pay €790m in wages to 520 players so it’s easy to see that what the average player earns in the Bundesliga is far lower than in some other leagues.
This is also a feature in the education concept because though, once a player is superstar he earns a hell of a lot of money, when he starts he earns relatively little – certainly compared with a Ribery or a Robben. But we think 38pc overall us a really good ratio.
The Bundesliga, in the last 10 years, has produced very positive results. We have seen €170mprofit overall. Last season we had a €55m profit. We have also had some seasons with losses.
When we talk about professional football we are not usually talking about financial results but we always need to remember that, if we want to invest in infrastructure and stadia, it’s important to have the money available.
Also, you have to have a sense of financial responsibility. There may come a point – and we don’t know when that will happen – when it becomes hard to explain, when 40pc of people under-25 are jobless, why a football player earns €20m.
So we are also responsible for people who work in this industry and for their families. This is why we must have a sustainable business model which can work now and in the future . . . not just one guy signing another cheque all the time.
Looking to the future
That’s why we keep a balance on the pitch and in the balance sheet. Then both should work. So we have our club licensing system. The clubs must submit their documents twice a year: in March and in October.
So, what come next?
We need to maintain and encourage the sense of solidarity we have now. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund could ask for 50pc of the TV money, saying they want to win the Champions League and don’t care about the club at No18. But the fact that they do not supports the belief that we need to work together and develop together.
It’s important everyone understands it because the media is always asking why a German team have not won the Champions League for so long. You can only say: Well, look at the four clubs in the Champions League semi-finals last season when there was €2bn of debt on the pitch – apart from Bayern, of course.
So this kind of solidarity between the big clubs and small ones is not only important for the league but for society.
This is why we think we have a fair distribution system for money. The champions receive 5.8pc of all TV money and No18 gets 0.5pc. The Bundesliga receives 80pc and the Second Bundesliga receives 20pc.
In cash terms this means €120m for the second league alone because we think we need a vital and alive second division because clubs are relegated and others want to come up. Also, young German players play there and need a competitive environment.
We need to ensure an unpredictable competition as best we can but maintain the ‘rule’ that we don’t know how it ends.
We need to keep our focus on educating excellent young players and it’s important that we don’tlose track here because our clubs cannot expect in future to be able to buyonly older and experienced international players.
We will still need some of those stars – a Ribery, a Robben – but we need to keep the balance between sports business and society.
We are deeply convinced that a league keeps its roots in society, whatever we say about player wages or ticket prices.
It’s also important we have a strong national team whereas your owner in Abu Dhabi orwherever will not be so much interested in the national team because his investment is in a global brand.
This is our own next challenge.
We want to establish the Bundesliga as a global brand because we have seen how, at only No4, there is more focus on other leagues’ stars and teams.
We think now is the time to roll out the Bundesliga a little bit more. For instance, last year when I looked at the top 40 players for the European Footballer award there was no sign of Mario Gomez even though he had scored 12 goals in the Champions League which was more than any other player apart from Lionel Messi.
You couldn’t see Huntelaar, either, who had scored 29 goals for Schalke.
So we have to keep a focus on the Bundesliga as a competition not only with great stadia and many people but also good football players. That is one reason why it’s so very good to see Bayern and Dortmund in the semi-finals of the Champions League.”
Christian Seifert was talking to Keir Radnedge
This feature is a companion piece to an interview conducted with Bundesliga chief Christian Seifert (published in the June 2013 issue of World Soccer) and forms part of our Champions League preview.