Germany reboots football behind closed doors

Top three: The English, Spanish, and German elite leagues dominate Europe.

Could English football lose its top spot? The Bundesliga is the first European league to resume matches under strict social distancing rules – stealing the Premier League’s global audience.

A packed stadium. The roar of the crowd, drums beating, nerves breaking, and 90 nail-biting minutes of high drama in which anything can happen. That is what football is all about.

That was until Covid-19 brought an abrupt end to all sporting events. When Germany’s elite football league, the Bundesliga, resumed play this weekend, the game looked and felt very different. They are calling them “Geisterspiele” (ghost games).

To prevent infection, only 350 people were allowed into a 42,000 seat stadium. Playing in eerie silence, the players wore face masks and elbow-bumped their teammates. Goal celebrations were subdued, the ball was thoroughly disinfected and the whole event was a rather serious affair.

But it was, at least, football. And record numbers of viewers tuned in to watch, desperate for entertainment after two months starved of the nation’s favourite sport.

More than half the world’s population follows football, with big games attracting almost a billion viewers. For many, it is much more than a game. It fires the imagination, brings friends and communities together, and turns footballers into superstars and household names.

It is also big business, worth $600 billion globally. And at the top of this industry is the English Premier League, watched by a staggering 4.7 billion people. The rights to air matches are sold across 200 different countries for eye-watering amounts of money.

And that’s creating a big problem for English football. No matches have been played since 11 March and broadcasters want their money back.

If clubs go insolvent and begin to fail, the effects could be disastrous. At least 100,000 jobs in the UK depend on football and it contributes £7.6 billion to the UK economy. The Football Association desperately needs the Premier League to resume play.

Meanwhile, the German league is filling the vacuum. Over half a million UK viewers watched Borussia Dortmund beat Schalke 4-0 on Saturday, putting them a step closer to ending Bayern Munich’s seven-year winning streak.

Supporters of the German game say it is much more about the fans than English football. And right now, they have a unique opportunity to capture a wider audience and steal the crown from the Premier League.

So, could English football lose its top spot?

Extra time

No, for many fans, the Premier League will always be number one. It has a huge global following that will stay loyal even through hard times. Other leagues are dominated by one or two top teams, but there are seven or eight teams in the Premier League, with a chance at winning the title. This open, competitive, and unpredictable English game is what makes it the most exciting and most-watched league on the planet.

Other say, yes, this is the opportunity for the Germans to shine. In recent years, the Premier League has become all about money and the clubs are run like multi-national companies, ignoring their loyal fans. The current crisis will cut them down to size and, in the meantime, fans will get a chance to sample and enjoy a different – even better – kind of football.

You Decide

  1. What’s the biggest crowd you’ve been in?
  2. Do footballers play differently without a crowd watching them?

Activities

  1. Design a game where players must remain two metres apart. Write down the rules and draw a picture to show how it is played.
  2. Write a page describing what it would be like to play for your favourite team at Wembley Stadium.

Some People Say...

“In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.”

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), French philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Yesterday, the Premier League agreed to allow its players to begin training in small groups, as a first step towards restarting the league and playing this season’s remaining matches. Whether those games get played depends on what happens with Covid-19 cases in the next few weeks. Germany has brought daily new cases below 1,000, but it is much higher in the UK – suggesting it may still be some time before it is safe for matches to take place.
What do we not know?
Money may be a big deal in top-flight football, but it isn’t everything. To understand why the Premier League is so loved around the world, we need to think about everything that makes a great game of football. Teams need great facilities, venues, players, and loyal, enthusiastic fans to cheer them on. But what is more important? Football fans are also notoriously loyal to their clubs. How likely are they to switch allegiances to other teams or follow a different league?

Word Watch

Bundesliga
Germany’s top tier football league is comprised of 18 teams and is ranked third in Europe behind Spain and England. It has the highest attendance levels of any football league in the world.
Elbow-bumped
This alternative to the traditional handshake first appeared during the 2006 avian flu outbreak and is now back to fight Covid-19. It now even has its own emoji.
Record numbers
652,000 people watched the main game on Saturday afternoon, more than five times the usual Bundesliga audience and similar to normal Premier League viewing figures.
English Premier League
The EPL was founded in 1992 to take advantage of highly-profitable TV broadcasting rights. The revenue from these rights allows the 20 clubs to buy the world’s best footballers.
Insolvent
Many players have agreed to take pay cuts to help their clubs stay afloat. But, with no money coming in from ticket sales, experts believe most Premier League clubs have already effectively run out of money.
Football Association
The governing body that oversees English football is currently negotiating “Project Restart” to agree the safest way for players to train and teams to play the season’s remaining fixtures.
Bayern Munich
The biggest complaint made about German football is that it is dominated by one club. Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga 28 times and has arguably the best striker in the world, Robert Lewandowski.

Subjects

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