Boring Bundesliga: what to do about Bayern's dominance?
March 2, 2018
Bayern Munich are 19 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and could wrap up a sixth consecutive title as early as this March. DW asks what can be done to make Germany's top division more competitive?
Bayern Munich could wrap up a sixth consecutive title as early as March and, while the battle for the European places and the scrap to avoid relegation are as exciting as ever, German fans haven't witnessed a genuine title fight since the 2011-12 campaign.
So what can be done? From the abolition of the 50+1 rule to an American-style draft system and everything in between, everyone has an opinion. DW looks at some of the options.
A brand new Bundesliga system
Writing in his column for t-mobile online last month, former Bayern Munich captain Stefan Effenberg presented his idea for a revamped Bundesliga format, which looks something like this:
Effenberg would split the league into two random groups of nine (Group A and Group B), in which teams play against each other home and away across 16 matchdays before Christmas.
After Christmas, two new groups are formed (Group 1 and Group 2). The top four from Groups A and B plus the best fifth place team would go into Group 1 and, starting again on zero points, They would compete for the title and the European places in the second half of the season. The rest would go into Group 2 and fight against relegation.
When advocating his system, Effenberg said that the title wouldn't be decided so early and that even teams from a weak Group A or B could end up with a shot at the title. He also said that the format wouldn't involve too much change in terms of scheduling and organization, and argued that the initial preseason draw could become an exciting event.
However, Frank Hellmann, a journalist at the Frankfurter Rundschau daily, dismissed Effenberg's idea as "nonsense." He said that there would be a risk of certain marquis match-ups never taking place (an extreme example being a season with no Revierderby between Dortmund and Schalke) and argued that the format would still do little to address Bayern Munich's superiority. Hellmann went on to jokingly suggest that a better solution might be to award Bayern just two points for a win.
Abolition of the 50+1 rule
The 50+1 rule stipulates that 50% of the shares in a Bundesliga's professional football team, plus one share, must belong to the sports club behind the team, thus preventing any outside entity from acquiring majority control.
Opponents of 50+1 such as Hannover 96 investor Martin Kind argue that the unique ruling discourages investment which would otherwise make Bundesliga clubs better able to compete — both domestically with Bayern Munich and internationally with top European sides.
However, a simple glance around Europe's other top leagues, where no such rule exists and where clubs belong to American businessmen, Russian oligarchs or Middle eastern states, reveals that this is no quick fix.
In France, Qatari-owned Paris St Germain are 14 points clear at the top of Ligue 1. Even in England this season, where the majority of Premier League clubs are foreign-owned and where the competition should therefore theoretically be more balanced, Manchester City are 16 points clear with backing from the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich were ranked the fourth-richest club in the world in 2018 by Deloitte while still adhering to the 50+1 rule. Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona are also controlled by their members.
"Without 50+1, local factors and organically developed structures will play a less important role," said Jochen Spaier, SC Freiburg's sporting director. "The deciding factor in sporting competition will then simply be the financial power of each new owner."
Bayern Munich didn't just top the Bundesliga last season, they topped Germany's TV money rankings too.
The Bavarians received total of €150.6m from domestic and international TV rights – including €95.84 million ($117.81m) from the German Football League (DFL), just under 10% of the total pot, and €54.76m from the Champions League. They also earned €32.2m in prize money for reaching for quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Their closest rivals in financial terms, Borussia Dortmund, received a total of €139.3m from TV money while Borussia Mönchengladbach received €98.5m. Non-Champions League clubs in the bottom half of the Bundesliga such as Freiburg and Hamburg only received around €40m from TV rights. But if you think the situation in Germany is slightly unbalanced in this respect, it could be worse.
As the New York Times reported in February, Greek side Olympiacos have won their league in 19 of the last 21 seasons, including every year since 2010. Over the past five years, they have received more than $125 million from their Champions League appearances, an amount none of their domestic rivals can hope to compete with, perpetuating Olympiacos' cycle of dominance.
The Bundesliga's current TV deal will see €4.64 billion ($5.7bn) distributed to clubs across Germany's top two divisions between 2017/18 and 2020/21.
The rest simply have to do better!
"Reforms? No, they'll have to think of something else," said Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes. "The others just need to get stronger."
Rather than pointing the finger at the Bavarians' financial advantage, an unfair league format or rich newcomers such as Red Bull-backed RB Leipzig, perhaps it's time some of the Bundesliga's other big clubs looked a little closer to home.
In recent years, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach have all spent various lengths of time in the Champions League but have failed to invest and build wisely.
Off the pitch, Borussia Dortmund have made move to mimic Bayern in terms of their global marketing by opening offices in Singapore and Shanghai and embarking on preseason tours of the Far East. In 2018's off-season, BVB will twice travel to the United States.
But on the pitch, they have still been unable to keep hold of their best players while personal disputes led to a premature end to Thomas Tuchel's reign as coach. Schalke have faired equally poorly, with Leon Goretzka set to join Julian Draxler, Mesut Özil, Leroy Sané and Manuel Neuer on the list of top German talents to leave the Royal Blues.
A European Super League
With the Champions League increasingly becoming something of a closed shop, ensuring that Europe's elite teams play against each other more and more often, perhaps the time has come to create the "European Super League" that many suspect UEFA and the top clubs want.
With Bayern Munich – and perhaps Borussia Dortmund – joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and the Manchester clubs in a new elite competition, the rest of the Bundesliga could get back to playing in a competitive league. Although their status as B-list clubs would also be cemented forever.