In deciding not to stand for re-election as DFL CEO, Christian Seifert is hoping to "open a new professional chapter" in 2022. Seifert leaves behind a legacy of unparalleled innovation in German football, but who is he?
In the midst of continuing to lead German football through its biggest crisis, German Football League Association (DFL) CEO Christian Seifert has announced his decision not to seek re-election in 2022.
"These are demanding times – and they call for clarity and reliability. That applies both to DFL as a whole and to my own professional ambitions. For this reason, I have informed the Chairman of the supervisory board of DFL GmbH of my intention to leave the company when my contract expires in June 2022," explained Seifert in a press release on the DFL’s official website.
"In my position at the top of the DFL, I have been able to play an active role in steering the development of what is simultaneously one of the world’s biggest sports leagues and a crucial social institution, and in establishing one of Germany’s most innovative media enterprises. It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to do so. In two years I would like to open a new professional chapter."
Seifert became the face of German football when he played a significant role in successfully navigating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but was by no means a household name to football fans beforehand. Until this point, a constant media presence hadn't been his thing. The 51-year-old prefers, where possible, to pull the strings in the background. He's done so with great success, particularly in the marketing of the Bundesliga.
Seifert has earned a reputation as a 'billion-dollar dealer' who represents the interests of the clubs, whether big or small. Since he arrived in 2005, the DFL has raised €10 billion ($10.8 billion) in TV rights sales. The current contract (valid until summer 2021) brings the league €1.4 billion a season.
This brought Seifert recognition in the form of job offers from the Premier League and from US sports companies but it also came with harsh criticism. Fan groups charged him with pushing commercialization at the expense of fan interests.Seifert would not be bowed.
"Professional football has great economic success and it must stop justifying itself," he retorted. Some found his response to be arrogant.
Career next to the field
His versatility on the pitch — he both played striker and sweeper — has shone through in his later life as a negotiator and boardroom puppeteer. Those qualities likely served him well during recent crisis talks, though those defensive skills may have proved more important.
With a notable degree of humility, the DFL boss made it clear to politicians and the public that, while football as a product makes a handful of young footballers rich, it also guarantees jobs and a livelihood for at least 56,000 people. In order to persuade, he may also have called on another skill. His interest in physics and technology enabled him to "think very strongly in processes and structures," he explained years ago. This helps him "to keep the overview in complex situations."
'Football must change'
The current hiatus has served to highlight the once-unstoppable rise of professional football in financial terms. This is something that's obviously made Seifert think. He wants to set up a task force named "Future Professional Football" to sound out experts about the path forward. The free flow of vast sums of money has long been an issue both within his organization and the public eye.
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the hyper-capitalization of Germany's favorite sport has once again come in to the spotlight. Seifert knows his responsibility is not just financial, but social.
"If it is possible to cap manager salaries, then it must also be possible to cap the salaries of consultants and players," he said recently in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Seifert also floated the idea of a salary cap, like the one used in various US professional leagues. A few years ago an attempt by former UEFA President Michel Platini to impose a salary cap and limit agents' fees failed because of European Union law. It is possible that those in positions of political responsibility could now change their minds. "Then I will give you a promise that if (current) UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin is going to the EU, I will be the first to accompany him." Seifert is both a supporter and a critic of capitalism.
The closing chapter
To initiate such a discussion in an industry that was booming before coronavirus and one in which many players are striving to return to the old status quo as quickly as possible is risky. But Seifert is judged by his statements. In the coronavirus crisis he fulfilled his role; he explained, lobbied and acted.
He also recognized the opportunity inherent in the situation: "If we now have the courage and perseverance... then something positive can come out of this crisis."
Everything hangs on the silk thread of the players' health and only in time will we know whether Seifert's mission was successful. If it is, the legacy of innovation, progress and crisis management he will leave behind in 2022 may never be matched.