Borussia Dortmund fan groups announced plans to boycott their club’s DFL match—15 January home to Augsburg—in protest. The aim of which was to highlight increasing “commercialization” of the game particularly as that has affected the setting of matches for Monday nights. Do these protests signal a movement to withdraw the Bundesliga from the world stage?
Bayern started it
In this regard, BVB faithful may simply be taking a cue from their most heated rivals: FC Bayern Munich. Bayern’s home fans (in-)famously threw fake euro notes at Paris Saint-Germain star, Neymar Jr., during last month’s Champions League match at Allianz Arena.
The counterfeits were adorned with the Brazilian’s likeness and accompanied by taunts referencing the player’s “greed-inspired” move from Barcelona last summer for a world record transfer fee.
That incident itself followed on public protests from fans of the German powerhouse club over ticket prices for UCL matches. Similarly, protests in other Bundesliga cities have been aimed at the loosening of rules covering local and non-corporate ownership of German association clubs.
In sum, there seems to be growing backlash to increasing commercialization and external influence on the game in Germany.
Sins of the Austrians
Football fans in Germany seem to be of at least two stripes with regard to “increasing commercialization” and attendant influence of non-German money on their league. The protestors seem to be those who view even the slightest deviation from the strictest interpretation of the “50 + 1 rule” as complete heresy.
And then there are the Leipzig fans.
The latter seem ready to accept the commercial edicts of the worldwide popularity of the game of football. If investment is necessary to maintain entertainment and sustain competition then this latter group seems willing to accept that.
But there remains controversy over clubs such as Austrian-owned RB Leipzig. And that discontent now seems joined with resentment towards profit-taking by players and federations alike.
But is it all only about money?
“Keita go home”?
There is an argument to be made that that is not at all the case.
After all, Neymar plays alongside Julian Draxler; would Bayern fans fault their club for writing a big check to acquire his services? Would they post signage questioning his club loyalty? It seems doubtful.
Further, would Bundesliga fans prefer to no longer welcome the likes of Naby Keita? Without the fluidity engendered by the worldwide status of the game—including the “vulgar” nature of commercialization that pays for that—they might have to.
England’s Premier League—Keita’s future home—has led the way in opening its doors to the footballing world outside of Europe. The Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A have been much more resistant. (Something obvious to observers even as simple-minded as myself.)
There is much to be said in defense of the more cautious approach. Parochialism tends to favor local businesses and the working people at home. All well and good, but isn’t sports different from say a business like auto manufacturing?
A long time ago a well-known U.S. science fiction writer, Michael Crichton, wrote a non-fiction book about the then-emerging world of 20th Century digital technology. Somewhere in that book he pointed out that from the moment the USSR launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in the 1950’s the commercialization of outer space had become inevitable.
It is now the second decade of the 21st Century. A quick check of the dashboard of any late model car seems to confirm Mr. Crichton’s prescience. Most of those offer at least the option of navigation and entertainment systems (including worldwide sports coverage) enabled by the satellite descendants of that first Sputnik.
Those services, like all subscriptions of course, are commercial.
So it is with a game as popular as football. Bayern faithful are pleased to count many in nations other than Germany amongst the number; BVB as well. The only way that kind of worldwide following may be developed and sustained is through “commercialization”; the same sort of which is capable of moving the start time of league matches. And it also invites those resources to fund enormous transfer fees for the world’s most talented players. The positives for fans are undeniable, but are the negatives for the game equally inevitable? It is likely too early to say.
Yet, either way, as fans we must accept that if we are in for a pfennig, then like Neymar, Keita and all of the others we are in for a Euro as well.