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Bundesliga lessons for Nigerian football clubs

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By John Egbokhan, just back from Germany

Bundesliga clubs have continued to lay down the standards for the rest of the world, in terms of financing, structure, sponsorship and followership.

On a recent tour of two German cities, Munich and Mainz, on the Bundesliga Tour, organised by leading pay television operator and exclusive broadcast rights holder in Africa, StarTimes and Bundesliga International, a group of African sports journalists had the rare opportunity to see the dynamics that have made the clubs in the German top-flight the most profitable in world football.

It also brought to the fore the begging question of why Nigerian clubs were always begging from hand to mouth from self-serving State Governors, who see the clubs as mere pawns to be used in their hands to fester their selfish and inordinate desires. Established in 1962 in Dortmund by the German Football Association, the first season of the Bundesliga started in 1963 but its structure and organisation,  along with Germany’s other football leagues have undergone regular changes right up to today, with the Bundesliga now being operated by the German Football League, the Nigerian equivalent of the League Management Company, chaired by Shehu Dikko.

Unlike the Nigerian League, which is mired in financial troubles, the Bundesliga is financially strong, founded on a strong and sound business model, that mandates clubs to be majority-owned by German club members, to discourage control by a single entity, which accounts for great support that teams like Bayern Munich and Mainz enjoy from residents of Munich and Mainz, respectively.

This rule was evident during the match day 32 fixture between Mainz and RB Leipzig at the Opel Arena on April 29.

For the visiting African journalists, who arrived the 34,000 capacity stadium opened in 2011, what we saw in Mainz was akin to a family-like carnival, with family coming together to watch their local  team confront the visiting RB Leipzig from the eastern part of Germany.

Unlike the government ownership club structure in Nigeria, German clubs in the Bundesliga operate under the 50+1 rule structure that stipulates that teams are majority- owned by by German club members. Clubs like Bayern and Manz draw their supportership from locals in Munich and Mainz respectively, creating a sense of belonging for the fans, who see the club as their own and generally feel compelled to support them, through thick and thin.

This generally accounts for why a club like Bayern have sold  all their tickets for the 2018-2019 season since last February, irrespective of the fact that the Bundesliga has the lowest ticket prices and the highest average attendance out of Europe’s five major leagues. The cheapest ticket for the Bayern Muncih Allianz Arena is 17 euros.

Unlike other leagues in Europe, the Bundesliga operates under tight restrictions on the use of debt for acquisitions (a team only receives an operating license if it has solid financials), as a result 11 of the 18 clubs were profitable after the 2008–09 season. By contrast, in the other major European leagues, numerous high-profile teams like Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City have come under ownership of foreign billionaires, and a significant number of clubs have high levels of debt.

Unlike in Nigeria, where football clubs run without academies to mint the next youngsters that will take over from the  league stars, Bundesliga sides have world-class academies that regularly churn out players that go as far as playing in the country’s top-flight league.

A case in point is the Bayern Munich Academy, which, to their credit, has been a ready supply chain of  players for Bayern’s main team. A classic example is Thomas Muller, a true and true Bavarian, who grew from the academy team to become a top striker for the 27-time Bundesliga champions.

According to FC Bayern Campus media manager Dirk Hauser, “Our target is to produce at least three players a year who are good enough to train with the first team. But we don’t look at quantity, we look at quality.”  Again unlike in Nigeria, where clubs like Enyimba, Rangers, Shooting Stars, Kano Pillars run without their own academies, it  amounts to something of a taboo for Bundesliga teams to run without academies. The likes of Bode Baku, a graduate of the Mainz football academy, who made his Bundesliga debut in the match day 32 fixture with RB Leipzig at the Opel Arena on April 29 and scored in the 3-0 victory over the visitors is a classic case of how academy players get integrated into the Bundesliga.

Nigerian clubs can learn a lot from Bundesliga sides, who go into commercial partnership with local companies in their respective areas of base, drawing financial strength from such contracts, rather than go cap in hand to state governors, who in Nigeria, will starve them of funds.

Throwing more light on what makes the Bundesliga a success story for other leagues to learn from, Bundesliga International’s Manager, Sales, Europe and Africa, Audio Visual Rights, Henning Brinkmann said, ‘’the German  system is one that promotes effectiveness,  discipline and excellence and the bottomline is that the ownership of clubs is in the hands of the citizens and the people feel part of the system and collectively work hard to see the success of the team. “The fans are local and see it as one that must be protected, which also accounts for the high turnout of fans during matches because they own the clubs and have a stake in it.

It is a football tradition that starts with the family and that is why they come with the entire family on each match day’’, said Brinkmann, who was a nice tour guide for the African journalists during the short stay in Germany.

On the preponderance of football academies in Germany, Marco Beck, the Bundesliga International project manager for audiovisual rights. said, ‘’Youth development is the cornerstone of German football success’’.


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