Germany’s football fans and the DFB are on a collision course. It’s about time for us, the media, to recognize our part in the escalating situation, and learn the lesson for the future, writes DW’s Felix Tamsut.
Many fan groups used the most recent Bundesliga matchday to voice their dismay at Germany's football association for their handling of the Dietmar Hopp protests from the previous weekend. From the Bundesliga to the lower leagues, supporters have shown their views on German football governing body, raising awareness to issues such as racism, corruption and human rights in the process.
One of the most mentioned points of criticism against the protests from the media's side of things involved the means supporter groups used to raise awareness to their cause. Ultra groups were criticized for putting Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp in crosshairs while calling him a "son of a whore". There is no problem with protests, the mainstream line in German media argued, as long as they do not include any threats or personal insults.
The protests against Hopp are just a symptom of a bigger discussion taking place in German football. Fan and ultra groups are worried about their game being taken further away from them through ever-increasing commercialization. They've been going on for years, with their intensity increasing whenever what the fans perceive as a red line is being crossed.
Despite the protests being an integral part of German football for more than a decade, it's hard to say the media coverage in Germany's biggest media outlets reflects that. Generally speaking, fan-related issues only become a story when the situation escalates. Then, German media has no other choice but to discuss the fans, mostly in critical fashion which lacks differentiation and ignores the bigger picture.
Sky Germany, the holder of the Bundesliga rights in Germany, exemplified this approach during their broadcast of Saturday's Bundesliga matchday. Just as the half time break started, the presenter said: "We've seen many fan protests, all within legitimate means, so we can talk about the football."
This was the pattern which was kept as Bayern Munich played away at Hoffenheim. Once the situation escalated, due to the referee applying the three-step plan and both sets of players refusing the play, there wasn't a mainstream outlet in Germany which did not report about it. The fans' legitimate protests against the DFB's application of collective punishments were hardly heard before the events in Sinsheim.
By going about fan protests in such manner, the media de-facto rewards fans for being provocative and crossing the line.
Lesson for the future
When it comes to media coverage, football associations and clubs have a built-in advantage over fan and ultra groups. Outlets often have reporters whose single job is making connections within the club's ranks. But there is one exception: 11Freunde magazine specializes in fan culture. Not many outlets in Germany employ reporters who specialize in fan culture, who know the fans and understand what worries them and what makes them tick, let alone journalists which happen to be active fans or ultras themselves.
One of the advantages of this is that whenever conflicts between fans and associations arise, many mainstream media outlets choose to prominently represent one side of the discussion. A quote by Bayern Munich's CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, would reach far more people of any ultra group statement, no matter how detailed and well phrased it is.
If we, as media, are to treat fans, their representatives and their genuine worries more seriously, and on a regular basis, it would result in a fairer representation of both sides of the discussion. This is how the groundwork for a constructive public discussion about the future of German football could be created. Most importantly, this would mean Germany's fans are more likely to play their part in the debate.
There will be no need to put anyone's face in crosshairs if fans and their legitimate worries were given the attention they deserve. Football without fans is nothing, and it's high time for us journalists to start treating them as an integral part of their own game.