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The new route to market as the German system starts to crack

By Tony Attwood

Imagine this scenario.

A big business takes over a little club – or even two little clubs which it merges (against the fans’ wishes).  Two clubs playing in leagues so far down the pyramid that 99.999% of football fans wouldn’t know the names of the leagues, let alone the names of clubs playing in them.

It owner money in, builds a new stadium and year by year the new club goes up the leagues.  Slowly some of the fans who were outraged and would never go to such a “plastic” club, return, and crowds go up.

This sort of thing has happened – although usually ( and here I think of Rushden and Diamonds, a team that was fairly local to me, and managed by Brian Talbot) something has gone pop before it has all come good.

But this model of football – and many variations of it can and does exist in many places.  It is after all just a variation on clubs like PSG, Monaco, Chelsea and Man City – clubs that were not doing very much, and historically had not always won a lot (one thinks of Chelsea’s wait for its second league championship for example).

Such clubs don’t even have to have big crowds – AS Monaco play in a stadium that holds 18000 and get crowds of 9000 and are second in the French league, but one from bottom in terms of crowds.

We have seen other clubs trying to emulate the big boys – Cardiff may have made themselves look silly through the owners lack of cultural awareness, but its the same approach.   Put the money in, look for success.

Indeed Cardiff is a good example, for of late the move in England has been not to buy another Premier League team but to buy a Championship team that could come up, given an injection of enough money.

Leicester City are a prime example.  In August 2010, Leicester were bought by Asian Football Investments.   The stadium is named after the King Power Group which is a major part of AFI. They are currently top of the Championship, look fairly certain to go up (what with being 15 points above the third placed side), and are on the edge of suing the Football League over its imposition of FFP regulations.

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OK – so buying up a Championship club and getting them up isn’t new, but it is what you might call Phase II of the takeover game (phase I being what happened to Man City and Chelsea).

But where there is a Phase II there is often a Phase III – and in that things really do start to change, for here the club starts to get involved in changing the organisation of the show, rather than being just another act.

The Emirates Cup has been one little step in this direction.  Man U has announced that if it doesn’t get into the Champions League it will set up games against top teams around the world under its own aegis, and it is only one step from there to creating a competition of its own which it can always play in.

It can happen when the owners of the organisation become sloppy, silly and outdated, so full of their own self-importance that they stop noticing that the world has changed.  It can happen when someone who is very bright sees a niche that others have not seen, and finds a way to exploit it, without reference to the powers that be.

If you want an example of an organisation that is allowing itself to be marginalised and will soon be ripe for a change in which the participants become the organisers, look no further than the FA Cup.  Pumped up and full of its own self-importance, the old traditions of the club have long since gone, crowds are down in many of the games, and yet the FA and the self-serving media that buy the rights, won’t allow any discussion of its demise.

Of course it still matters to me, and I’ll be at the semi-final (assuming I can get on the web site) but I still can’t help but think I’ll be watching the closing act of the old show.

But this is not the fault of the FA or the Premier League or anyone else.  The show moves on – and even in Germany, so often suggested as being part of the real way to do things – things change.   Look quite closely, for example, and it is hard to see any gap between RB Leipzig and its marketing focussed owned Red Bull.

Red Bull bought a totally down and out fifth division team, changed the kit, the name and everything else, brought in the coach from Schalke and handed over €100m for transfers.  They aim to be in the Bundesliga in about four years, and probably will be.

But can this happen in Germany?  What about the ownership of clubs by fans?  Actually those people who talk up German football don’t always give you the full picture.   The rule about members owning a club is very weak – Red Bull get round it by making membership very very expensive, and ensuring that their people are in the majority.     Although it doesn’t have to worry at all, because RB Leipzig isn’t a stock market company and only stock market clubs have to have memberships.

Besides Leverkusen, Wolfsburg (with VW), Hoffenheim (owned by SAP)  all walk through the membership rule with impunity, so the issue isn’t that important any more – if you want to, you can always get around the rules.

Red Bull, by placing itself at the very heart of its newly reformed club claims that it is there for the long term – to pull out of the club would be a marketing disaster and would throw away the money invested so laboriously over time.

So in short, it is Germany, the land that is supposed to have football protected for the better good of the supporters, that has seen the breakthrough into a new type of ownership and a new type of influence.

And by buying into a very low league club and showing patience Red Bull has shown the rest of the world a new model of growth.  You don’t have to spend a fraction of the money pushed into Man City to get the publicity – you just take it slowly, but use your name.

There’s nothing to stop any of this happening in England, and soon we’ll not be saying that the ownership of Leicester and their legal battles with the League are the way forward, but rather that was a blip.   Watch out for the really big companies buying into the little clubs in big cities.

And then watch them take over the whole show.


12 comments to The new route to market as the German system starts to crack

  • Terry

    Sounds a bit like Sir Henry Norris and Woolwich Arsenal -19th century style.

  • insideright

    You might remember that Bayer is a massive German pharma company.
    Does that name ring any bells football-wise?

  • Sammy The Snake

    Walter – can you please take a look at the ManC red card in the 10th minute of their game with Hull and let us have your views on it. It looked a definite red, but I think the Hull player fouled Kompany initially. If so, it could look like the ref was trying to give Chelsea a helping hand…

  • Sammy The Snake

    Another question:

    Will Kompany be banned for red card for 2 or 3 games? ManC next 3 fixtures are Fulham, ManU and then Arsenal.

  • mk

    Just the one game off for Kompany, not violent conduct.

  • Quincy

    All this talk about the tradition and history of the FA Cup and whatnot, but who even noticed this:

    “The cup is decorated with ribbons in the colours of the winning team, but during the game the cup actually has both teams’ sets of ribbons attached and the runners-up ribbons are removed before the presentation. This tradition was ended by the Football Association in 2013 at the behest of an American brewery which was sponsoring the competition that year, when the winners, Wigan Athletic, were presented with a trophy dressed in sky blue and red ribbons bearing the sponsor’s name and logo, rather than their club colours of royal blue and white.”

  • WalterBroeckx

    I haven’t seen the Kompany red card but from what my son who had seen it said that it was pulling a player back that could have gone in to goal and so denying a goal scoring opportunity. That usually is only a one match ban. I don’t know if he had previous red cards for this so the punishment could be doubled sometimes.

  • Micheal Ram

    Wow, Tony. Never stop learning new things from you. How do you see such things anyway?

    By the way, I feel that Cardiff City is also a marketing strategy. Owned by a Malaysian Chinese owner, marketed by a Malaysian Chinese gambling company, promoted by a Malaysian Chinese Tourism Minister, Chinese dragon logo, Chinese red colour, Chinese phrase and only Chinese supporters in Malaysia. And now offering money to players to play better even if people back in Malaysia are struggling economically. At least the Russians, Italians, Arabs and Indians dont change the culture of the respective clubs they owned (though they f**ked it up big time too) I cant really say about the Americans because the cultural similarities, or maybe im wrong. (Plz put me into my place if I did)

  • Quincy

    By the way, have you written an article on the passing of Wilf Dixon, former Arsenal coach:

  • has anyone ever head of the east india company , got in to a new land for trade, build a factory, ended up ruling the land.

    Take it on the chin when others do it to you.

  • blacksheep63

    @R.Iris I love that response!

    The EIC (and before them the Dutch EIC) attempted colonialism by trade rather than conquest (although the British EIC under Clive managed both). So, by your logic, this is payback. WE take India and large swathes of Africa, middle east, far east, Canada, America, Oz and now the likes of the Venkies, Kroenke, Glazers, Oli rich oligarchs and Malayasian businessmen et al take over football.

    Better than having Russian tanks on our lawn I suppose!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Many years ago when there was some sort of protest in the UK 9 after a riot,I think ) , I remembered a lady of South Asian origin holding up a poster saying ,”WE ARE HERE BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE.”
    For some reason , it has been imprinted in my mind all this while .