“German professional football is at a crossroads.” declares 2.Bundesliga side Union Berlin. The perennial second-division club (Union Berlin is currently the longest active club in the 2.Bundesliga at nine years) is taking a step back to look at the sport as a whole and consider how power-brokers across the country can work together to find a better way forward.
German professional football is at a crossroads.— 1. FC Union Berlin (@fcunion_en) October 5, 2018
Here is the position paper from the Executive Committee of 1. FC Union Berlin.#fcunion
Union Berlin’s chairman Dirk Zingler doesn’t want the DFL to look only at the present problems facing the sport. “We shouldn’t limit the discussion on reforms in German football to personnel and structural aspects, but (rather) we should also consider the direction we want to take in the future.” The goal of the proposals is clearly to be proactive in preparing German soccer to be responsive to clubs, players, and fans as the sport moves forward into the next decade.
Also, Union Berlin believe these changes need to happen now. “Our position is very clear: we consider a change of direction to be urgently required, which promotes competition without barriers to entry between clubs in Germany and appreciates and takes into accounts the many different interest groups in German football.”
Let’s take a look at the proposals that they’ve laid out.
Thesis A: National competition without barriers for all German professional clubs maintains the popularity of football in Germany and strengthens its international competitiveness.
The first set of proposals involves opening the doors to all professional German clubs to allow more clubs a share of the spoils brought into the national system. From more clubs in the top flights to more money for training compensation, to a salary cap, Thesis A touches on all of these topics and more.
Proposal 1: Organisation and marketing of all three professional leagues (Bundesliga, 2.Bundesliga, 3.Liga) under the DFL umbrella.
It’s hard to argue with this proposal. The DFL currently oversees the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga, so it would make sense to move the 3.Liga under that umbrella as well. One question that would need to be answered is whether this restructuring would (or, should) entail banning reserve teams from playing in the 3.Liga, or whether they could continue playing in the 3.Liga. While it would certainly be beneficial to a club like Bayern Munich to have their reserve side playing in a national third division instead of the Regionalliga, is that what’s best for the game as a whole?
Proposal 2: Expansion of the three professional leagues to 20 teams each.
This is a great proposal to increase the number of professional teams with access to more money. An additional four games a season will bring in more revenue for Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga clubs without putting too heavy a burden on the “big” clubs who are playing in European competitions. The Bundesliga is currently the only league among the “big five” (England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain) with only 18 clubs in their two top divisions.
Proposal 3: 2.Bundesliga / 3.Liga / Regional: Direct promotion of all champions / promotion and relegation play-offs for several teams.
This proposal would move the DFL to a system where only the champions of the 2.Bundesliga and the 3.Liga earn automatic promotion while the other teams play in a playoff against teams from the division above in order to determine who plays in that division in the following season. This would be a change from the current system where the top two finishers are automatically promoted.
Proposal 4: Limitations to player salaries and number of players on loan.
This will certainly be one of the most controversial proposals, if not the most controversial proposal. Limiting the number of players that clubs can bring in and send out on loan is a far easier proposition than a salary cap. Union Berlin’s suggestion is to introduce a cap in Germany while “encouraging the introduction of these measures across Europe”. It’s very unlikely, though, that we’ll see a salary cap of any sort instituted anytime soon (ever?), but one can see why non-European giants want it.
Proposal 5: Changes in distribution model of marketing revenues.
For Bundesliga television contracts, money is distributed to teams based on how they finished in the previous season. The higher a team finishes in the table, the more money they make. While the desired changes are not explicitly expressed here, one can easily assume that Union Berlin is looking for a better distribution model than that in which already-rich teams are continually given much more money than other clubs, making the gap between the haves and the have-nots ever wider.
Proposal 6: Substantial increase in youth training compensation.
This is a change that would improve teams all across the world. The current training compensation rate is .25% of a transfer fee for every year a player spends at a club from the age of 12-23. Now, with big clubs taking players from their youth clubs at an even earlier age, increasing the amount of money given to smaller clubs as training compensation is more important than ever before. Increasing that fee to at least .5% or 1% would give small clubs the ability to improve their club/facilities by leaps and bounds.
Proposal 7: Professionalisation of refereeing and the sports court.
The fact that the DFL hasn’t already moved toward professional referees for the professional leagues is shocking. The DFL and the DFB should absolutely move toward establishing a professional referees association for the leagues under the DFL umbrella.
Thesis B: Many different players with different interests contribute to the fascination of football and give it social relevance. The participation and co-determination of all influencers in football ensure that the various positions are appropriately valued and taken into account.
The final set of proposals set forth from Union Berlin ask that the clubs, players, and fans work in concert with each other to ensure that the sport progresses in a way that’s best for all three parties.
Proposal 1: Representatives of all interest groups in the DFL committees.
The decision-making process for the DFL should be simple: What’s best for the clubs, players, and fans. In order to do that, all three should have representation on the committees making decisions at the highest level. Regardless of what some may have you believe, incorporating the three major shareholders of German soccer in every decision is best for the game.
Proposal 2: Focus on the stadium experience.
As everyone knows, stadium atmosphere in Germany is second to none. This proposal involves a few things: adapting kickoff times for visiting supporters, a “maximum distance” rule for all non-weekend games, and a ban on games played on Monday nights. These are all sensible rule changes that would allow the leagues to have the best support possible, home and away, at all matches.
Proposal 3: Maintenance of the 50+1 regulation.
The most discussed subject of German soccer over the last decade has been the nation’s adherence to the “50+1” rule (a majority of the club’s shares must be owned by the supporters). While the majority of fans and clubs prefer to keep the 50+1 policy in place, there are always murmurs that “some of the big clubs” want to do away with it. Reaffirming that the nation plans to stick with the 50+1 policy would go a long way to reassuring smaller clubs all across Germany that they won’t have to “throw away their club” (i.e. hand majority ownership to an outside entity) to compete.
What do you think of the proposals set forth by Union Berlin? While some (salary cap) are unlikely to take off across Europe, there are certainly others that might leave everyone saying, “Yeah, why not?” Of course, Union Berlin should be applauded for formulating these proposals that they intend to submit to the DFL for discussion and making them available to the public. As fans of the game, we should all have our say.