Opinion: To fill the seats, the DFB needs to start taking match-going fans seriously | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 10.10.2019
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Opinion: To fill the seats, the DFB needs to start taking match-going fans seriously

Empty seats have become the norm whenever Germany plays at home. While there are several reasons for this, the crux of the issue is that the DFB has been neglecting stadium-goers for years, writes DW's Felix Tamsut.

More often than not, the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund is sold out. It's the world's most-attended ground with an average of more than 80,000 fans. On Borussia Dortmund matchdays, that is.

This was hardly the case as Germany hosted Argentina for a rematch of the 2014 World Cup final. Only 45,197 supporters were in attendance, meaning that just over 20,000 seats remained empty (parts of some stands are turned in to seats for internationals) –  and the stadium's top tier wasn't even open.

Granted, the fact that the game took place on a chilly Wednesday night certainly didn't help attendance, and it was a meaningless friendly game in which many of both national teams' biggest stars weren't present. But looking at Germany's attendance numbers over their last string of national team games shows that the number of fans who bought tickets to watch the Nationalmannschaft in action against Argentina was very much part of a trend rather than simply being a one-off.

The German FA's role

The reasons for the high number of empty seats at Germany home games are many. First, there's the issue of inconvenient kickoff times for match-going fans. The friendly against Argentina was set for 20:45, an ideal time for those watching on TV. But what about those wanting to attend the game, either alone or with children? Not so much. In a country

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild

DW's Felix Tamsut

where fan protests over kickoff times have led to Monday kickoffs being discontinued in both of Germany's top leagues, those responsible should have known better.

Sure, there are similar kickoff times for the Champions League or the Europa League – but it's hardly a secret that for most match-going supporters in Germany, European club football is far more attractive than a national-team friendly.

Then there are the ticket prices. While some tickets were priced at about €25 euros ($28), some were as high as €100 euros – hardly attractive for a meaningless friendly on a chilly night in midweek.

'Fan culture'

Either way, the responsibility lies with Germany's football association (DFB), which has done just about everything it could to alienate match-going supporters in recent years. The establishment of an official fan club for the German national team – and then the sale of its sponsorship rights to a soft-drink giant – has often been the subject of derision among match-going club supporters.

It may be symbolic, but the DFB's attempt to try to force its brand of official fan culture down supporters' throats, rather than allowing the fans to create their own space is telling – and so are choreographies seen on Germany matchdays, which are thought up by an agency rather than organized by the fans themselves.

Strong regional identity

But it's not all the DFB's fault. It also should be pointed out that the footballing identity of the average match-going fan in Germany has to do almost entirely with their club. Germany is a place where people's identities tend to be linked more to their hometowns and regions than to the country as a whole – which is part of the reason that football clubs here draw such massive crowds regardless of their sporting situation.

Fußball Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund - Werder Bremen (Reuters/L. Kuegeler)

Sellouts are the norm for Borussia Dortmund games at the Westfalenstadion.

In this environment, it will always be difficult for the national team to break the mold and draw large audiences, especially in a city so influenced by a big football club such as Borussia Dortmund.

Possible solutions

In order to try to overcome these issues, the DFB must start by taking match-going fans seriously. This it could do by making sure ticket prices are affordable for everyone, moving kickoff times to make it more convenient for children and families to attend games, and halting its efforts to force its own idea of supporter culture down fans' throats.

Some have called for Germany home games to be played in smaller stadiums, so that last night's debacle will be less likely to repeat itself. Such stadiums are often located in smaller cities, where the potential of creating a connection with local communities is higher, and where it's sometimes rare to see world-class stars in action.

In Fritz Keller, the DFB now has a new president.But given the organization's track record, I for one won't be holding my breath waiting for meaningful changes.

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