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Viktoria Berlin have sights set on the Bundesliga

October 10, 2022

An all-women team of investors have ambitious plans to steer a small Berlin side to glory. They've generated a buzz in German football circles, though similar attempts in the men's game serve as cautionary tales.

Viktoria Berlin player
After relaunching in 2022 with new investors and leadership, Viktoria Berlin have their sights set on making waves in women's footballImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

300 fans fill out the Stadion Lichterfelde's stands, beers and bratwursts are served with smiles from two makeshift tents, while a three-person fan group, armed only with a drum and boundless energy, provide much of the atmosphere.

This is Viktoria Berlin, this week hosting FSV Babelsberg 74. And while the third-tier side might not feel like the future of women's football in Germany, it is if you believe the hype. 

"The status quo is not where we want it to be. We decided that now is the time to actually do something. To not just talk about change, but to really do it," Lisa Währer told DW.

Währer is Managing Director and one of six 'founders' of Viktoria's women's team, which relaunched in summer 2022. While their plan to reach the Bundesliga in five years is ambitious enough, Währer emphasized that Viktoria's investors have the bigger picture in mind.

"The whole project is kind of a women's movement as well, to bring more visibility and a stronger spotlight to women in sports. Because it's really been neglected," she said.

Die Fußballerinnen von Viktoria Berlin
Image: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Hoping to 'change the game'

Women's football has garnered flashes of attention at the highest level, with this summer's European Championships capturing imaginations and top-flight attendance records toppling at the club level around the continent. Still, Viktoria Berlin see plenty of room for growth.

"The whole idea kind of came from the fact that Berlin doesn't have a Bundesliga team, which is strange and I think also sad for a city that calls itself the sports capital of Germany," said Währer.

While Turbine Potsdam, located just outside of the capital, used to be a dominant force in German women's football and remain Bundesliga regulars, Tennis Borussia were the last club from Berlin proper to play in Germany's top flight, over a decade ago.

Inspired by NWSL side Angel City FC's approach, Währer and five other 'co-founders', an all-women group drawing from business, marketing and sports – including former Germany international Ariane Hingst – invested in Viktoria, spinning the existing women's team off from the men's side to enable independent management and wider investment.

This process, called Ausgliederung, is common among Germany's men's clubs as a means to bring in investors without overstepping the 50+1 rule, but Viktoria is the first example of a club with men's and women's teams breaking off their women's side to foster growth through extra investment.

Viktoria's mini-rebirth has brought widespread attention to their sleepy southwest-Berlin neighborhood of Lichterfelde. This has translated into comparatively-high attendances. 700 fans took in a league match against Union Berlin, who also boast long-term Bundesliga aspirations, while Viktoria were narrowly eliminated from the DFB Pokal by Turbine Potsdam in front of a crowd 1,200. These attendances are higher than some Women's Bundesliga teams. 

Unsurprisingly, the players are just as excited as the fans and owners. "You want to be part of it, you know? A couple years ago, everything was for fun. It was a hobby. Now, we have concrete goals," midfielder Stephanie Gerken told DW.

"The fans are here, you have a feeling that people want to be here. They're celebrating women's football. That's a great feeling, but we also have to get used to it," she continued.

An ambitious, if familiar dream

While the buzz around Viktoria is hard to ignore, for many football fans, the story of promised renewal through cash-flush investors is nothing new, and it's one that often ends in tears.

While the Viktoria Women investors are aware of the myriad of cautionary tales from the men's game, they argue the drastically different environment of women's football makes their plan more realistic.

"There's a lot more competition with men's clubs. That's the good thing about women's football, there’s still so much potential to grow, and even with relatively small steps you can reach another level," said Währer.

And while Viktoria's investors might not be quite as star-studded as Angel City's (it's not easy to compete with an ownership group that includes Natalie Portman, Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, and Mia Hamm), they have helped cast a wide net for financial support.

"The idea from the start was not to rely on one to three big investors, but to build a broader base of private investors. So that everyone who invests are individuals who believe in this project and want to make a change," Währer told DW.

This broad approach makes the Viktoria project less reliant on the whims of an individual investor, which has doomed a fair share of men's teams. It's also working so far. According to Deutschlandfunk, Viktoria amassed over €1 million from more then 80 investors in the first three months since their relaunch.

Die Fußballerinnen von Viktoria Berlin
Image: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Getting it done where it really counts

Regardless of how well-crafted a plan might be from management, it has to be executed on the pitch. The ambitious approach helped attract coach Alejandro Prieto, who joined at the start of this season.

"The plan is to go up this season, and to go up next season, and to go up, and up, and up," he told DW: That's the total focus of every player, and everyone at the club. But it's one step at a time."

For Stephanie Gerken, the squad's longest tenured player, it's clear that if the plan does come to fruition, the benefits might not be reaped by every player on the current squad. That doesn't stop her from being excited to be a part of it, though.

"Every player deals with it in her way. I know I will be part of it for now, and will do everything I can to get this team to the second division. But I know I won't be playing in the Bundesliga. So it's my job to push the young ones and help develop their skills," she said.

For now, Viktoria's players will have to worry about getting promoted to the second tier before they have to start worrying who might stick around in the first. Whether or not they can deliver will dictate if Viktoria are all buzz, or if they really can shift the landscape of women's football - and its ownership structures - in Germany. 

The two faces of Borussia Dortmund

Edited by: James Thorogood