As much fun as it was last year to produce long pieces on the German national team for this site…..okay. If I’m honest, that wasn’t all that much fun at all. Hell with that. Although there certainly exists a great deal more optimism about our beloved Nationalmannschaft moving forward under Hansi Flick, we Germans just aren’t prepared to invest all that much focus back on the Jungs.
We’re not averse to them by any means. We’ll just get there when we get there. At the moment, other matters occupy our attention.
Accordingly, this year’s “Exclusive SSF content” section will pull together some of the best articles on the Bundesliga fan scene written by your humble Shadow Scholar over the course of the week on Bulinews. A bit of a spruced up cull, but sure to be fun nonetheless.
The greatest football supporters on the planet slowly but surely make their way in the Bundesrepublik’s great footballing temples. In the event you happen to consider that last statement a piece of pandering hyperbolic fluff, just you wait and see. Once the stadiums are once again packed to the brim, you’ll think differently.
Two pieces merged this week in the first re-posts of a topic that has received coverage in literally hundreds of articles in the last twelve months. We’ll talk a bit about how the politics of fan re-entry are progressing and also report upon the last weekend’s attendance figures.
Bundesliga Fan-Scene Report–Week One
During 2021/22 German Bundesliga’s second round this weekend, the other nine clubs in the German top flight will get an opportunity to welcome live fans back through their turnstiles. VfL Bochum prepares to host its first home Bundesliga game in over 11 years on Saturday at the Castroper Sport Platz. The club confirmed it had obtained full authority from the city to disregard the local incidence rate at host a half-capacity crowd of 13,500 spectators. Meanwhile, another development concerning the local incidence rate aw 1. FC receive a similar dispensation.
In the debate over whether the so-called RKI stabilizer will be used to regulate large-scale open-air public events in Germany this autumn, two more dominoes officially fell on Wednesday. While there have been some hiccups along the way, it does appear as if reduced gatherings in Germany’s sports stadia will be allowed to take place even if the local incidence rate exceeds that of a weekly average of 35 per 100,000 individuals.
Despite the fact that infection rates are on the rise in some districts of the Bundesrepublik–including very high rates in the densely populated football mad state of Nordrhein-westfalen–clubs are asking for and receiving permission from their local municipalities to operate at the federally permitted 50-percent-capacity (capped at 25,000) level.
In Bochum, the VfL 1848 received permission to place 13,500 tickets on sale even though the incident rate currently sits at 79.6 and has been on the rise. The club confirmed this information at the request of German journalist Oliver Bitter of footballing magazine Kicker. The 1848ers host FSV Mainz 05 in one of the Saturday 15:30s.
There was also news out of Köln, where the incidence rate hovers around 90 per 100,000. Die Geißböcke were not allowed to plan for the full allotment of 25,000 fans when hosting Hertha last weekend because of the incidence rate. Instead, the club was only allow to sell 16,500 tickets. The match did sell out.
The handler of club mascot Hennes IX was also permitted to lead the local icon back into the stadium for the first time since March 2020.
Club manager Alexander Wehrle also confirmed to Kicker that 1. FC Köln had received approval for 25,000 fans during their next home fixture against Bochum on August 28th. Adminstrator Wehrle, second perhaps only to FC Union president Dirk Zingler in his vocal opposition to the use of the incidence rate, also reaffirmed that he wished to use his club’s strict entry regulations to lead the way to even larger crowds across the Bundesrepublik.
“With the ‘2G concept’, we want 50,000 fans,” Wehrle has reiterated many times in recent days.
To clarify, the current “3G concept” most Bundesliga clubs are using refers to three entry requirements.
“Geimpft” (vaccinated), “Genesen” (recovered), “Getestet” (tested)
The final “G” presently allows a small portion non-vaccinated-or-recovered fans to attend football matches if they are tested at the gate. Wehrle wishes to dispense with the final “G” and move towards only letting spectators with proof of vaccination or recovery in.
It remains to be seen at pace Europe’s historically best-attended football league will recover its live supporters. After 18 months of being excluded, some may be hesitant to return. This could prove critical to Germany’s fan-owned clubs, all of whom are operating under huge financial shortfalls at the moment. Hesitance may even have some possible ramifications for the future of German football’s 50+1 ownership model.
In terms of footballing attendance, one European League once always stood head and shoulders above the rest. Germany’s Bundesliga reliably bested all other competitors for well over a decade before the onset of the global pandemic.
As the Bundesrepublik slowly eases restrictions on its way out of the COVID thicket, the return of crowds the nation’s footballing temples proceeds gradually.
In a special Bulinews report, we’ll take a look at the current state of affairs via examination of the attendance figures at all nine fixtures this weekend.
The Bundesliga is back. The fans, however, only begin to trickle back in.
Broadly speaking, Bundesliga clubs are permitted to operate at 50 percent stadium capacity (with a cap of 25,000) this autumn. That is the federal directive. The extent to which this is taken advantage of depends on the policies implemented by local authorities and the preference of the clubs themselves. Some organizations and municipalities seek to maximize their allotment of spectators whilst others show more restraint.
As the clubs themselves discovered this weekend, many of the actual supporters remain hesitant to buy tickets. Only five of the nine fixtures taking place on the 2021/22 Bundesliga’s opening weekend sold out. All clubs selling tickets still had many available on Friday afternoon. This despite the fact that most clubs offered entry at cut-rate prices. It’s customary for German football clubs to tie ticket prices to the year of the team’s founding (e.g. €18.99, €19.04, €19.23) when they wish to establish a special bond of solidarity with the locals.
Reasons for the hesitance to return to Germany’s footballing temples are myriad. Some fans have understandably developed a certain sense of fatigue at having bought tickets, only to have them snatched away after local circumstances shifted. Others don’t wish to hassle themselves with the entry requirements associated with the 3G concept. Still others find the atmospherics unappealing. A mostly empty stadium with strict masking requirements and no alcohol sales doesn’t necessarily feel like football to many.
“The Alte Försterei isn’t the same with 11,000 people as it is with 22,000,” FC Union Berlin commercial director Christian Arbeit explained at a recent press conference, “Those who come to see us wish to have contact with others, purchase beer, jump around, let loose and have a good time.”
“We have to start a dialogue with the fans,” FC St. Pauli President Oke Göttlich explained in a recent interview with the Süddetusche Zeitung, “in order to come up with ideas about how to make it a collective experience again. It’s no secret that clubs need money [in the form of gate receipts] in order to survive.”
A look at the attendance situation at all nine fixtures this weekend gives one an interesting look at how matters are proceeding around the country. Many different ideas are also inherent in the actions of the hosting Bundesliga clubs.
FC Bayern München (at) Borussia Mönchengladbach
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 25,000
Planned Capacity = 22,925
Attendance = 22,925 (sold out)
The opener of the 59th edition of the Bundesliga had no difficulties selling out. Moreover, Borussia Mönchengladbach took the initiative in coming up with a highly detailed seating concept. The BMG offered fewer tickets than the maximum allowance after devising what they called a “Checker-board seating plan”. Supporters were allowed to purchase tickets in groups, but the groups were strategically separated.
The ongoing debate as to whether the local COVID incidence rate–at which a weekly average of 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants shuts down events–is still relevant will rage nowhere harder than it shall in North Rhine-Westphalia. Rates are on the rise in this densely populated region of Germany, where many still work in close-quartered manufacturing jobs.
Gladbach Maximum Stadium Capacity = 54,041
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 92.3 per 100,000
Bayer 04 Leverkusen (at) 1. FC Union Berlin
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 11,006
Planned Capacity = 11,006
Attendance = 11,006 (sold out)
The club always leading the race to bring fans back had no problems selling out its opening day fixture. The recent comments of club spokesperson Arbeit at the presser notwithstanding, Union fans have demonstrated their willingness to adhere to regulations throughout the pandemic. Last October, the final Bundesliga crowd attending a match before November’s second lockdown actually refrained from singing, shouting, or chanting.
The Berliner Senate recently announced that it would not intervene in Union’s fan concept no matter what the incidence rate climbs to. This guarantee runs through the end of August. The question of how many tickets will be offered to Union supporters when their team faces Kuopion PS in the second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League Qualifying fixture next Thursday in Hertha’s Olympiastadion has not yet been addressed.
Union Berlin Maximum Stadium Capacity = 22,012
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 66.2 per 100,000
SpVgg Greuther Fürth (at) VfB Stuttgart
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 25,000
Planned Capacity = 22,500
Attendance = 18,109
Baden-Württemberg is one of two German states (Lower Saxony being the other) who has publicly declared the incident rate no longer valid. This South-West quadrant of Germany also happens to sport some of the lowest infection and highest vaccination rates. VfB Stuttgart nevertheless opted not to take full advantage of the allotment.
Sales were such at the beginning of the week that the club fully expected to reach its target audience. Once the turnstiles were counted, however, it became apparent that even many who purchased admission passes did not show up. Stuttgart plans to increase the allotment for their next home match.
Stuttgart Maximum Stadium Capacity = 60,441
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 35.9 per 100,000
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (at) FC Augsburg
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 15,330
Planned Capacity = 10,700
Attendance = 9,124
The region that combines the more conservative elements of Bavaria with those of Swabia planned conservatively when opening up the WWK-Arena for its first home match. As was the case in Stuttgart, there were some no-shows. Augsburg also plans to increase their allotment for the next home fixture.
Augsburg Maximum Stadium Capacity = 30,660
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 43.8 per 100,000
SC Freiburg (at) DSC Arminia Bielefeld
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 13,750
Planned Capacity = 13,750
Attendance = 13,750 (sold out)
Eager Bielefeld fans quickly snatched up their allotment of tickets almost as soon as they became available. The pent-up demand associated with a club that achieved promotion back to the Bundesliga last year (when no fans were allowed to see them live) likely means that die Arminnen will sell out all of their home fixtures this year.
Bielefeld Maximum Stadium Capacity = 26,515
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 73.3 per 100,000
VfL Bochum (at) VfL Wolfsburg
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 15,000
Planned Capacity = 12,755
Attendance = 8,536
Match attendance in Germany’s “Autostadt” has always been notoriously low. The total population of the town barely exceeds 120,000 and many of those employed by Volkswagen commute from nearby Hannover or Berlin. The fact that VfL Wolfsburg attendance constitutes something of a running joke among the German footballing public remains telling. The club rarely sold out even before the pandemic.
Wolfsburg Maximum Stadium Capacity = 30,000
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 69.1 per 100,000
Eintracht Frankfurt (at) Borussia Dortmund
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 25,000
Planned Capacity = 25,000
Attendance = 25,000 (sold out)
The “Top-Spiel” did eventually sell out, but it came as a shock to many to discover that tickets were still available on Friday afternoon. The club began raffling off their full allotment of tickets earlier in the week, but there were many declines. One reason for this is that many BVB season ticket holders live in different parts of Nordrhein-westfalen. While traveling to Signal-Iduna Park in pre-pandemic times may have been done without thought, some may not be prepared to immediately return to the habit.
Dortmund Maximum Stadium Capacity = 81,365
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 71.6 per 100,000
RB Leipzig (at) 1. FSV Mainz 05
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 17,000
Planned Capacity = 13,500
Attendance = 10,500
Some uncertainty probably hampered the decisions made by potential match attendees in this case. Politics in the Palatinate remain somewhat sketchy, with many local municipalities still adhering to the incident rate. A little further south in the Pfalz, 1. FC Kaiserslautern fans were promised an allotment of 20,000 tickets for last Monday’s Pokal fixture against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Lautern officials then shut the process down, limiting the Betzenberg to 5,000 live spectators for the match.
The Pfalz’s top-tier Bundesliga side made an aggressive attempt to sell tickets for the Nullfünfter’s opening fixture. Seats were offered to anyone, regardless of any previous status as a season ticket holder. For reasons possibly related to fear of revocation–or maybe even local perception of the team–the club came up short of their target.
Mainz Maximum Stadium Capacity = 33,305
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 41.6 per 100,000
Hertha BSC (at) 1. FC Köln
Maximum Spectator Allowance = 25,000
Planned Capacity = 16,500
Attendance = 16,500 (sold out)
Köln has already announced that it will implement the strictest entry protocols for its next home match. If other German football clubs follow Köln’s lead, the so-called “3G concept”–“Geimpft” (vaccinated), “Genesen” (recovered), “Getestet” (tested)–will quickly become the “2G concept”, “Geimpft” (vaccinated), “Genesen” (recovered). No one who cannot demonstrate proof of either vaccination or recovery will be permitted into Bundesliga venues.
It should prove interesting to see how this affects match attendance in the Bundesliga. While the question as to whether the vaccinated should enjoy more privileges isn’t as divisive in the Bundesrepublik as it is in some other countries, it remains a hot-button-issue that divides portions of the citizenry.
The announcement last week that the federal government will stop paying for PCR tests in October counts as a signal that all resources (financial and otherwise) will be shifted into vaccinations. Köln is among dozens of German football clubs from all tiers who have turned their stadium into a hosting site for free vaccination drives.
Köln Maximum Stadium Capacity = 50,000
Local RKI COVID Incidence Rate = 81.5 per 100,000
Thanks so much for reading! You can occasionally catch Peter goofing off while watching the lower German football divisions on twitter, @ViceytheSS.
Twitter DMs are open for football conversations, corrections, and (if you truly insist) general abuse.
All columns debut on Bulinews before appearing on Peter’s website later in the week.