Monday, June 28, 2010

Learning from the Germans

A thought experiment:

English football is run in the interests of very wealthy people. Ticket prices are extremely high and unaffordable for many families on middle or lower incomes. There are even regulations which tell football supporters that they are not allowed to stand and watch their team play. Fans of top teams pay huge sums of money to watch live football, money which goes to multi millionaire footballers and owners of football teams. Those who choose instead to watch football on the telly pay hundreds of pounds per year to Rupert Murdoch. Many clubs have seen their budgets for investment slashed, and their revenues spent on servicing the debts which their owners have run up. A tiny fraction of this money trickles down from the millionaires to grassroots football clubs, and clubs at all levels of the game have been caught in a financial crisis, with many threatened by closure.

German football is run in the interests of the supporters. Ticket prices are kept low so that supporters can go and watch, and can even stand if they want. Regulations mean that at least 51% of every football club is owned by the supporters, unless a company can show that it has invested in the club for at least twenty years. Those who choose to watch football on the telly have benefited from the most competitive free TV market in the world. German football clubs made a profit, rather than running up debts, thanks to lower spending on players' wages. In recent years, German clubs have massively increased their investment in youth academies, and the national team has benefited from the liberalisation of the immigration laws in 1999, to the point where they proudly talk about how they are the "multicultural" or "liberation" generation. The Bundesliga is more unpredictable and exciting than the Premier League, and we all know what happened on Sunday.

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English society is run in the interests of very wealthy people. The cost of housing, child care and social care is unaffordable for many families on middle or lower incomes. There are all sorts of petty regulations which tell ordinary people what they are and aren't allowed to do. People pay huge sums of money for basic services which goes to multi millionaires. The media is dominated by a small cartel of multi millionaires, most notably Rupert Murdoch. The government is slashing its budgets for investment, and our revenues are spent on servicing the debts which the bankers have run up. A tiny fraction of this money trickles down from the millionaires to grassroots community groups, and charities and small businesses have been caught in a financial crisis, with many threatened by closure.

If we want to improve our chances in the next World Cup and stop many of our clubs from going bankrupt, we could learn a lot from the Germans. We could organise the game around the convenience of fans, rather than the Glazers and other multi millionaire owners. We could slash ticket prices, and scrap petty regulations on supporters. At the same time, we could impose new regulations to stop rich people from buying football clubs in order to asset strip them and stop them from paying their debts by squeezing fans dry. We could break up media cartels and increase the amount we invest in our young people, as well as welcoming people from all around the world who have chosen to come to live and work here.

But it strikes me that these same principles which have made German football better than ours - putting ordinary people first, making sure it is affordable to go and watch a football game, regulating the anti-social activities of rich asset strippers, investing in developing young people and being proud of multiculturalism and tolerance - are also ones which are more generally applicable to how to improve our society.

7 Comments:

At 5:09 pm , Blogger Paulie said...

That's a good post Don.

One of the first posts that I did on my own site back-in-the-day had a half-baked means of making your plan work.

http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/2005/04/how-football-clubs-could-be-owned-by.html

WDYT?

 
At 5:18 pm , Blogger Will said...

I understand why these changes would make football more enjoyable, and would mean fewer bankrupt clubs (or fewer newly-bankrupt clubs), but I don't understand why this would make us more likely to win the World Cup. But then, I'm not quite sure why you think we lost...

 
At 9:36 pm , Blogger Vinny said...

Hmmm.

As somone who goes to matches regularly (still a very much minority pursuit - around 1% of the population) I agree about many of the unattractive aspects of English football today. But I wouldn't read to much into one result.


The German national team has been better than the England team for decades. It was a lot better back in the football's "good old days" of the '70s, when English football was a very different game, equality in the UK was at its highest and we had a social democratic Labour government for most of the decade.


As for:

"the national team has benefited from the liberalisation of the immigration laws in 1999, to the point where they proudly talk about how they are the "multicultural" or "liberation" generation"

It's not all sweetness and light.

Portsmouth's Kevin Prince Boateng was born in Germany his father was Ghanian. He played for the German junior and youth teams 41 times and impressed many Germans as someone with a good international future ahead of him.

Then he decided he wanted to play for Ghana.

To say the Germans were not best pleased is an understatment. He got terrible abuse.

The depth of negative feeling was such that German fans in South Africa wore T-shirts reading: “Wanted Dead or Alive – Kevin-Prince Boateng.”

Before the recent Germany v Ghana World Cup match the German's general manager Oliver Bierhoff had to say: “We are playing Ghana and not Kevin-Prince Boateng. Feelings about one person have to be set aside.”.

Kevin Prince's brother, Jerome still plays for Germany (they faced each other in the World Cup match). But the abuse even reached him, to such an extent the German manager had to speak up for him and say he would "protect" him.

There's a lot to be said for German football, but it is not the utopia some English fans believe.

(See also: "clubs owned by fans" in Spain like Barcelona and Real Madrid)

 
At 10:29 pm , Blogger Vinny said...

PS

Before some smart arse posts about Kevin Prince Boateng's tackle in the FA Cup Final on Germany's Michael Ballack (an irreplaceable player according to many German's -though they seem to be doing very well without him).

That was just the cherry on an already substantial cake.

 
At 7:23 am , Blogger Tim Worstall said...

"Fans of top teams pay huge sums of money to watch live football, money which goes to multi millionaire footballers and owners of football teams."

Most owners are making a loss....because most clubs are making a loss.

The money flows through to hte players (a well known outcome of these sorts of "tournament" markets").

So, what you're suggesting is that regulations should be changed in order that the returns to the workers by hand and foot be reduced in favour of the consumers.

Now, if I grant you the ability and right to do that, will you grant me the same ability and right to reduce the returns to hte workers in favour of consumers in, oooh, the public sector? The railways, mines, social services, NHS, local councils and the rest?

And if not, why not?

 
At 3:34 pm , Anonymous Nick said...

But the millionaire players at the top of the Premiership are a tiny fraction of the total workforce, which includes not only players at all other levels, but the vast army of staff that clubs employ to run every aspect of their operations other than what happens on the pitch for 90 minutes at three o'clock on a Saturday.

Many of the cleaners and stewards and the like are on agency contracts and the minimum wage.

No doubt the same applies in the public sector workforce, but I'm sure that Don is just as keen to see a better deal for the poorest staff AND consumers in both contexts. No contradiction.

Not that I think you can really compare "consumers" of football and public services in quite such a neat way, and I wouldn't call them consumers either.

I am a football fan and a citizen of Britain, not a "consumer of football and public services"...

 
At 2:37 am , Blogger james said...

Nick is correct - there are no frontline staff getting the kind of salaries that the top football players get. Most people value the work of police, firefighters, and medical staff over that of football players and think Premier League ticket prices and wages are a cruel joke.

And Tim - did you not hear, the mines and railways have been privatised.

 

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