German and English football fans have long had a grudging respect for one another. On the pitch, ’66 aside, you Germans have been able to look down on us like the Saxe-Coburgs do from Buckingham Palace. Fair’s fair, we appreciate skill when we see it.
So, news of the effects of the monstrous Premier League TV deal on German football has caused concern on English shores from old enemies, turned friends. To put it bluntly, you guys cannot let what has happened in English football happen to you. It’s easy to get blinded by the science fiction figures of the Premier League TV deal but replicating or competing with the Premier League model is something to avoid at all costs.
We heard similar rhetoric coming from the upper echelons of the DFL of “unpopular options” and “traditions” needing to change in the pursuit of market forces in football back in the early 1990’s here. What we got was the sale of English football from underneath the working people that built it in a premeditated con-trick that amounts to cultural theft.
Take this line from the English Football Association’s 1991 Blueprint for the Future of Football when creating the Premier League and foreseeing its first television deal.
‘The implication is that hard choices have to be made as to the consumer segment to which the offer is to be targeted and hence the ingredients of that offer. As implied above, the response of most sectors has been to move upmarket so as to follow the affluent middle class consumer in his or her pursuits and aspirations. We strongly suggest that there is a message in this for football’. FA The Blueprint for the Future of Football 1991. Pgs 8-9
So there you have it, an explicit plan to gentrify English football during the process of creating the Premier League, which the F.A then quickly lost control of.
Worse was this nod to the post-Thatcher Homeownerist cult which has seen English football fans, with no ownership rights, merely renting overpriced seats in reflection of the toxic rentier economy which has overtaken British industrial capitalism.
‘Firstly, we expect the economy to continue to grow at a sustained if not spectacular rate. The average consumer will continue to become more affluent in real terms. Secondly, despite short-term falls, the appreciation of house prices has provided a basic wealth holding for a significant section of the population, which will continue to bolster confidence in spending’. FA The Blueprint for the Future of Football 1991. Pg7
What we get are broader gentrification schemes looming over a succession of “inevitable” concessions to football’s economic “growth”. Once the genie of laissez faire is released it is impossible to contain. The casualties are always the fans and the sport itself.
Take the move in Germany away from Saturday matches towards Sunday afternoon kick-offs and Monday night fixtures for instance. One would be incredibly naive to think that it will stop there.
The Premier League brought in Sunday matches, then Monday and now Friday games will be the norm in 2016. If the DFL want to compete with the Premier League, it’ will have to replicate the insane kick-off times which make it very difficult for travelling supporters to attend matches in any comfort or safety. Maybe Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s assertion that “More kick-off times won’t bring big money, but competition will” rings true on face value but independently negotiated deals are a dead end of greed. Moreover, from a consumer’s perspective, competition for the English TV deal hasn’t seen prices fall as you’d expect.
Sky increased fees by an average of £2.50 per month just weeks after the TV carve-up was announced, while BT Sports have introduced a £5.00 charge for those that already pay for telephone calls and broadband internet through the company. It’s the punters who are footing the bill not the suits at the Premier League who, by their own admission, are ‘not a charity’.
“If there is one thing we’ve learned it is that sponsors don’t like being shamed over the toxicity of their relationship with football (see Barclays Bank pulling out of sponsorship of the Premier League)”
Be warned too about pay TV pulling football away from communities and into the private screening rooms of the affluent. Take the Community Shield in England between the winners of the Premier League and F.A Cup held every year at Wembley screened “exclusively live” on BT Sports 2, not available on terrestrial TV and therefore cutting out the communities it claims to represent.
What we’re seeing in Germany is a conscious erosion of the 50+1 ownership rule and German fans must hit back quick and hard. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile as we say over here. That means stepping up protests and targeting sponsors. If there is one thing we’ve learned it is that sponsors don’t like being shamed over the toxicity of their relationship with football (see Barclays Bank pulling out of sponsorship of the Premier League). A boycott of pay TV is something we should have considered long ago.
It won’t be long before German executives engaged in a money-grabbing game of Hungry Hungry Hippos with Richard Scudamore and co from the Premier League, stand up and declare that fan-ownership is the biggest thing “holding back” German football.
In reality 50+1 is German football’s greatest asset and must be kept sacrosanct. Without it, ticket prices will rise as in England where the £1000 Arsenal season ticket is considered acceptable in a country living through austerity and where Sheffield Wednesday (in the Championship) think £17 is a reasonable price for a baby to attend a match.
And that’s without discussing the system in England which allows convicted criminals (see Hereford United) and hedge funds (Coventry City) to buy controlling stakes in clubs.
Again the question is what features of the Premier League German football elites wish to adopt in order to compete with their English counterpart, an entity that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. A division that has ruined the England national side by hoarding the youth talent of the country under the Elite Player Performance plan and then not playing them. A competition that is rolling in cash with grass-roots football terminally underfunded. A league where stadiums are full of happy-clappy tourists blinking at matches like WWE wrestling where the big hitters are pre-ordained to prevail. The Premier League is the most predictable league in Europedespite what its spin machine and bosom buddy tabloid press like to make out.
Have you heard about the £1billion debt mountain of clubs in the division below the Premier League made up of those making suicidal lurches towards the big money handouts? They don’t like talking about that.
Of course, the argument is that players like Schweinsteiger, Firmino, Baba and now De Bruyne who is reportedly off to Man City for upwards of £50 million, will continue to leave for the Premier League under 50+1. That, unfortunately, is inevitable in the short term. The German FA should, in response, ban any players from representing Germany that take the the Premier League cash, much like the salary-capped English Rugby Football Union prevents players going to France for the money from playing International Rugby.
After that, the Bundesliga’s greatest weapon should be about being for, and on behalf of supporters, and instigating a fan-ownership education programme. The DFL could subsidise match tickets and travel to Germany for the army of English fans marginalised by the Premier League and give the Premier League a taste of its own medicine by pushing the ‘German system” (including affordable property), in our country.
‘We cannot run blindly after the carrot England is dangling in front of us’ said DFL boss Christian Seifurt recently.
Forget the carrot, German football and its fans must pick up the stick in their cold war with the Premier League and fight back against those pushing the malignant English model.