The Fan Is Always Right…If He/She Is German

Sports only exist because there are fans to watch. There is a reason that cricket has not taken off in America for the same reason arena lacrosse players have side jobs, not enough fans to support the league. Those leagues that are bereft of fans understand the importance of fan satisfaction because every fan they lose is one less fan that they have. The influx of fans to lower level sports leagues is so minuscule that there are no guarantees that a lost fan will ever be replaced. This emphasis on fan satisfaction is refreshing but it is a misnomer. The demand is low for these leagues so their business strategy has to reflect that but that is not a reflection of how much they care for their fans because they are forced to care.

For the most popular sports leagues the fans flock to them in droves. As a result, the teams and the league can start to charge more and cater to a more expensive clientele because they have no worries of losing fans. Of course they could lose some casual fans but casual fans are a dime a dozen. The avid fans are too committed to the team to walk away and the average fan will always return when the team is successful. Therefore, teams can risk raising ticket and concession prices because they know that at the end of the day fans will pay these prices. Of course they will cry and complain about the prices but when push comes to shove they will pay those prices. Their commitment to the team is too entrenched.

Fans must accept part of the blame. Capitalism is nothing new to society and fans have been around long enough to see why they are the ones who continue to encourage this greedy behavior. We could just walk away but the problem with sports is that walking away is easier said than done. Nick Hornby phrased it well in his book Fever Pitch when he said

Loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with. Marriages are nowhere near as rigid—you won’t catch any Arsenal fans slipping off to Tottenham for a bit of extra-marital slap and tickle, and though divorce is a possibility (you can just stop going if things get too bad), getting hitched again is out of the question. There have been many times over the last twenty-three years when I have pored over the small print of my contract looking for a way out, but there isn’t one.Each humiliating defeat (Swindon, Tranmere, York, Walsall, Rotherham, Wrexham) must be borne with patience, fortitude and forbearance; there is simply nothing that can be done, and that is a realisation that can make you simply squirm with frustration.

In essence this phrase says that we could walk away from the team but we can never be a fan of another team. It is all or nothing for most fans.

The power wielded by these leagues has led to ever rising ticket and concession prices. With each passing year, more and more fans are priced out in favor or richer fans. The Premier League has recently taken a lot of flak because they are pricing out the lower working class fans on which the league was built on. No matter how loyal a fan is, team owners very rarely reciprocate that loyalty. It is a sad day when a sports fan realizes they only matter as much to their team as the money they pay.

The recent popularity of the Bundesliga may seem out of the blue for casual football fans. However, for those who study and love the game it has been storm on the horizon that we have been waiting to finally arrive. The Premier League remains dominant but the Seria A has lost international popularity and the La Liga has become too top-heavy. The German Fotball Federation has spent a considerable amount on increasing the quality of their football and that progress has been demonstrated by the increased skill level of the German national team and the Bundesliga. On the heels of this success the Bundesliga has begun to expand it’s international profile, first by focusing on Asia and then they will start to expand elsewhere. The mountain they had to climb to catch up with the Premier League may have looked insurmountable a few months ago but the upcoming Champions League final proves that the Bundesliga may be further along than most had previously believed.

All of this success would bring one to believe that the German football fans are paying the price. Bayern Munich, even before the Bundesliga’s international success, has been a perennial powerhouse. If any German team was going to over-charge their fans in the Bundesliga then all signs would point to Bayern being the perpetrators. Instead, Bayern Munich have the cheapest season tickets in the world with a standing room adult season ticket package only costing 104 Euro. Why is Bundesliga ignoring the basic tenets of capitalism? Is it because they skipped their economics lesson in school? No it is because they are following an ideal that is so rare in the sports business world. The ideal that the fan should never be taken for granted.

When asked about there cheap prices, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness remarked,”We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.” This quote sums up the sports business world and why the Bundesliga is such a pariah when it comes to ticket pricing. The fan can always be easily be exploited because the owners have everything to gain and nothing to lose in a financial sense as long as they increase the prices they charge incrementally. However, when considered as a moral question the fan should not be abused because of their loyalty, they should be celebrated  because of their loyalty. No other brand enjoys that type of unconditional loyalty and for that very reason it should be appreciated by sports owners. Bundesliga owners are the part of the rare few who abide by that ideal.

They are not the only club in the Bundesliga either who do follow this ideal. Borussia Dortmund, the other team in the Champions League Final also charges an exceptionally low price for their tickets. In fact, their prices are so low that they have priced out their young fans. Oddly enough the tickets are so cheap that all the season tickets are consumed by the existing fans and young fans have no opportunities to buy tickets because they are already purchased. As a result, Borussia Dortmund has had to come up with initiatives to get tickets for younger fans so that they can maintain an influx of new fans. It has worked because Borussia Dortmund has been inundated with half a million ticket requests for the champions League final for just the 24,000 that are up for grabs. Suffice it to say Borussia Dortmund has developed a loyal and rabid fan base.

The rest of the Bundesliga follows a similar pricing strategy, and although their international popularity may not be as high as Borussia or Bayern, they are still excelling at keeping their fans loyal. These German teams are helping to prove wrong an idea that sports teams must charge more money to excel. Thanks to the Bundesliga sports teams around the world should learning that catering to the fan may reduce the profit margin but the result will be a much more loyal and rabid fan base. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are helping to prove that this sports marketing strategy could very well pay off in the long run. Hopefully it does because most fans around the world can agree that the prices they pay to watch the game they love are getting out of control.



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