When former Bayern Munich star David Alaba lifted his first piece of silverware with Real Madrid, the Supercopa over Athletic Bilbao, he wasn’t at the Bernabeu or another historic Spanish stadium, rather he was in the King Fiyad International Stadium in Riyad, Saudi Arabia.
While it has not hit the Bundesliga yet, recent years have seen a trend of cup finals being played outside of their home country. The Italian Super Cup has been played outside of Italy ten times, mainly in China or in Middle Eastern countries.
For La Liga it really is all about the money. The Spanish league and the participants received €30 million for this Copa in the desert event. While league and club executives suggest the event was a success for fans as well, claiming large numbers of travelling fans attending, the mini-tournament received little interest outside of Saudi. “The Classico” semifinal not being broadcast or streamed at all. Despite this the La Liga has signed a contract extending this format until 2029.
The only public figure who spoke out against the event was Bilbao midfielder Raul Garcia who said “That doesn’t make any sense. Football has changed. We don’t think about the fans anymore!” At age 35 he can afford to take those kinds of public risks.
Bild reports that a similar movement has been started in Germany. Former Bayern President Karl Heinz Rumminegge suggested exporting the DFL-Supercup as early as 2015. While the league has not adopted yet, the discussion has been kicking around and seems to have expanded to include potentially playing the Pokal final outside of Germany as well.
The idea poses a challenging question for German football executives and fans of the Bundesliga. In the current environment teams need to generate more income to remain competitive across Europe and at home. With the new version of Financial Fair Play not yet published or in force, it is very difficult for clubs to do long term economic planning. The need for cash is there, but how much tradition and fan engagement should be sacrificed in pursuit of operating funds?
There is also a qualitative difference based on where the event will be held. A cup final played in Riyad, Dubai or similar destinations would be a pure cash grab with no real chance of expanding the team’s fan base. On the other hand, if played in a big American, Chinese, Indian or even African city, the match and attending promotion could be used to expand the league’s and clubs’ fan base in those countries. Tough decisions lie ahead on just how the Bundesliga want to adapt to the current football market.
What do you think about the idea of meaningful Bundesliga games being played overseas? Let us know in the comments below.