Fans, the Bundesliga and the Standing Room Debate. A study of the German Football Stadium Experience

Thesis (M.A.), 2013

78 Pages, Grade: B



1.1 Introduction
1.2 The Bundesliga
1.3 Fan Culture
1.4 Ticketing Philosophy
1.5 Pyrotechnics
1.6 European Leagues
1.7 This Study
1.8 Justification

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Football in Europe
2.3 Football Fans
2.4 Football Rivalries
2.5 Ultras
2.6 Football Disasters
2.7 Racism in German Football
2.8 Structure and Financial Analysis of German Football League
2.9 Conclusion

3.1 Research Protocol
3.2 Survey Distribution
3.3 Data Collection
3.4 Ethics Exemption
3.5 Test Session
3.6 Data Analysis

4.1 Introduction
4.2 Background Information on Participants
4.3 Participants’ preferenes
4.4 The public debate on Fan Behaviour
4.5 Opinion on Fan Behaviour in Stadiums
4.6 Stadium Safety
4.7 Pyrotechnics in Stadiums
4.8 Standing room
4.9 Respondents’ ideas about possible solutions

5.1 Conclusion
5.2 Recommendations
5.3 Further Research
5.4 Limitations




4.1 The number of times respondents attended games in a stadium during a season

4.2 Seating arrangements and total stadium capacity for teams in the first division of the Bundesliga


4.1 Percentage of respondents who watched a given number of games in a season

4.2 Percentage of respondents who have heard about the debate between the DFB and the Fans concerning the removal of standing room areas

4.3 Percentage of respondents who think something has to change in stadiums

4.4 Percentage of respondents who think pyrotechnics should be allowed in stadiums

4.5 Definition of responsibility for solution to problems with fan behaviour in the stadium as viewed by respondents


1.1 Introduction

An increasing number of incidents of aggressive behaviour among football fans have the German Football League, (DFL), the clubs and the German Football Federation, (DFB) worried. Politicians and the German government are now getting involved due to escalating cases and more tax money spent on policing the games. It is estimated that it costs around €100 million per season for police presence at football games (Schöbel 2011). The football clubs are coming together to try and improve the safety regulations despite opposition from some fans (John and Luetticke 2012). The problems occur not only in the stadium but also on arrival to and departure from the stadiums. According to an interview with Interior Minister Pistorius, around 16,500 people were responsible for violence in the 2011/2012 season (Bewarder and Lutz 2013). The government official explains that 787 people were injured during the season of which 242 were police officers. Another article reports how the football club HSV, in Hamburg had to pay 100,000€ in penalties due to their fans’ behaviour in home and away games (Pegelow 2012). Another harrowing account describes how a busload of Mönchengladbach supporters were attacked by Cologne supporters and forced off the freeway and then attacking the bus with baseball bats, iron rods and bricks causing €26,000 in damage (Wallrodt 2012).

Fan behaviour is not only an issue in Germany but also in other leagues around the world. “Ultras” or hard-core fan groups sometimes throw flares or Bengalos onto the pitch, into the stands or hold the flares in a packed surrounding (Ruf 2012). They are coordinated in their actions, testing the limits and public safety. Some of these groups are linked to hooliganism and racism and concerns are growing. Due to the increased number of incidents, the DFB in addition to politicians and the government have suggested changes since the talks with these fans have not come to any sustainable solution.

This study investigates current problems in German stadiums, possible solutions to the problems and the resulting impact on fan culture, and offers recommendations for next steps forward in order to preserve the special relationship between German football fans and their clubs.

1.2 The Bundesliga

The Bundesliga, or German Football League, consists of the top division and the second division. It is quickly becoming one of the top leagues in the world with efficient discretionary spending, providing a top quality product on the field (Conn 2013). Due to the recent success in the Champions League, there has been more attention paid to the league. Two German teams, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, played in the Champions League final on 26 May, 2013 in London which has created some added exposure for the Bundesliga and its business approach. The financial aspect plays a large role as strict attention is paid to the amount of money being spent and earned. This is in line with the UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations which restrict club spending to sixty per cent of their turnover (Herbert 2012). Currently, fourteen of the eighteen clubs in the first division of the Bundesliga are currently recording a profit (ESPN 2013).

The clubs in the Bundesliga, both the first and second division, are not owned by foreign investors as is the case in the English Premier League. German clubs are owned by their members and are governed by a rule that members have to have a majority vote of 51 shares in all decision making processes (Conn 2012). Journalist David Conn explains that this rule allows the clubs to have deep roots in their communities and nurtures the grassroots development of players rather than being a club funded by wealthy individuals. This system seems to be working well for the Bundesliga as in their fiftieth season the revenue of the League has surpassed two billion euros for the first time (dr/jr 2013). According to the article, the Bundesliga also has the highest attendance record in the world with second place going to the English Premier League.

1.3 Fan Culture

The Bundesliga teams pride themselves on offering a fan friendly environment by keeping the ticket prices low and encouraging a fan and terrace culture in their stadiums. Not only are the fans members of the organization but the clubs encourage the fans with these initiatives to fill the stadium. There is a feeling among the fans that they are participants in the actual organization rather than bystanders (Liew 2013). Their voice is heard, appreciated and valued by each of the clubs.

1.4 Ticketing Philosophy

Each of the stadiums in the first and second division of the Bundesliga offer a large section of standing room only areas. As thejournalist Conn writes in his article, the fans who make up the famous “yellow wall”, which is the standing area in Dortmund’s stadium, can buy tickets for as cheap as eleven euros (2012). Every team in the league has this philosophy of giving back to the fans.

Even the team which has the most money, Bayern Munich, has the same fan friendly policies. The president of the team, Uli Hoeness, recently explained his thought process behind the decision on ticket pricing. A season ticket in the standing areas can be purchased for as little as €120 (Shergold 2013). Shergold explains that the cheapest season ticket in the English Premier League, for Wigan, which was recently relegated to the second division, sells for close to €300. Hoeness rejects charging a larger amount for tickets as it would not create any significant difference for the club’s revenue stream while it would make a dent in the fans’ disposable income, “We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody”(Shergold 2013).

1.5 Pyrotechnics

Although the German Football League and the clubs have an inclusive and appreciative stance towards fans, there is a growing threat to this philosophy. There has been an increased use of pyrotechnics in the stadiums in Germany. Pyrotechnics are fireworks that are ignited by lighting the magnesium. They produce light effects and a lot of smoke (Zeus 2013). The fans use pyrotechnics called ‘bengalisches Feuer’ or Bengalos which is a type of flare. Fans smuggle them into the stadium as they are illegal. Since the flares can be as small as a lipstick, they are hard to detect by security personnel; women can smuggle them in easily (Fritz 2012).

Bengalos are normally used on boats for rescue missions on oceans or seas. Once the Bengalo is ignited, it cannot be extinguished by either sand or water and can burn at over 1000 degrees Centigrade even when the flame has finished burning (RPO 2012). This is what makes the flare so dangerous in an enclosed space with thousands of people in the immediate surroundings. Officials are worried because of fire safety issues and even the possibility of death in an area filled with people and no quick way to escape. In addition, the smoke from setting off the flare can cause an added health hazard when inhaling it. Fans sometimes use the smoke coming from these pyrotechnics to storm the field of play before the match is even over (Fritz 2012).

1.6 European Leagues

The Bundesliga is not the only League that is facing issues as other Leagues around the world and specifically in Europe are dealing with issues relating to fan behaviour and racism. The English Premier League and the Italian League is dealing with racist incidents on almost a weekly basis. UEFA, the governing body of European football has taken a stronger stance against fan behaviour issues especially racism. They are implementing a 10 match ban for any racist abuse on the field while threatening to close part of the stadium should abuse come from the fan sections (McGowan 2013).

1.7 This study

This study examines the German Football League’s history and its growth, its fan culture and potential, and how problems in fan behaviour can affect the German Football League’s future. Through a survey the study will determine both football and non­football fans’ views of the current stadium experience. Are fans aware of problems in the stadium, in particular in reference to the use of pyrotechnics, as reported in the media? Are fans aware of the controversial debate on removing the popular standing room areas due to negative fan behaviour and what impact will this have on the stadium experience? Do fans think that change is necessary in the stadiums to protect the safety of the spectators? And finally, if change is necessary for stronger control of fan behaviour, what is the best method to bring about a change which will be accepted by all to sustain the success of the German Football League? The study will address these questions and, based on survey results as well as current literature, offer recommendations for an approach to solving some of the negative fan atmosphere issues currently escalating in Germany.

1.8 Justification

This study is relevant and important because of the attention this topic has received both in the media and among government agencies in Germany. It is current because the decisions to be made on the elimination of the standing room areas in German football stadiums could have an impact on the future of the league. Football is a national past time in Germany and all parties affected are working to find a viable solution. The study is particularly interesting to the author because he is from Germany and has been following developments in these related areas of sports governance, business, racism and fan behaviour.


2.1 Introduction

Using the literature available on this topic, this chapter will give some background information on football in Germany and its history, the financial aspect of the game in Europe as well as fan behaviour and racism. This will allow the reader to understand the changes the sport has gone through and how some of the decisions, especially concerning fan issues are made today. Understanding this history as discussed in current literature is important when looking at the survey results and the resulting discussion of fan behaviour in German football stadiums.

2.2 Football in Europe

Football in Europe is growing into a big business. Money is being spent in order for the clubs and the owners to win illustrious national and European titles. In the UK most of the clubs are owned by billionaires, and this has crossed over into some of the other Leagues as well, for example, in France. Martin describes that in 12 years in the Bundesliga there was an increase in turnover of 75 million Deutsch Mark (2005). Frick outlines the increase in the average player’s salary from €550k in 1996 to over €1million in 2006 in the Bundesliga (2007). Martin points out that international competition has not only increased earnings but has also broadcast images of the different European Leagues across borders, making the European Leagues more international. This spread of the game has led to an increase in movement from fans who travel all over Europe to support their team (King 2000).

This movement of players among different European Leagues was first made possible by the Bosman ruling as Frick recognized (2009). He describes this progress as initiated by a Belgian footballer in 1995, Jean-Marc-Bosman, who sued his old club because of a restriction on trade. Bosman won the case based on violation ofhis rights of freedom to move for labour. This changed the movement of players because the restrictions for foreigners to play for a club were lifted (Frick 2009). This has definitely affected the number of local players for a club from the same country; however, the movement across borders cannot be linked solely to the Bosman ruling but can be attributed to the change in society and the change in European football in general. This is especially interesting when looking at fans’ racist reactions because the globalization of the Leagues should be a defining factor in subduing racist behaviour.

The movement of players and the revenues earned are not the only areas which have changed in football. This has had an impact on the way the clubs are governed as indicated by Holt (2007). Holt points out that the commercialization of the sport and the Bosman ruling has increased the power stakeholders have gained because of the need to protect their investments. As Holt explains, everyone from the elite clubs to the national associations and the government have different interests in the football competitions with a majority of these interests based on economics.

2.3 Football Fans

The survey in this research focuses on fan behaviour; therefore it is important to examine the fans’ involvement in the sport. Merkel praises the German football League for showing its appreciation to its fans through reasonable ticket prices in addition to preserving a standing room culture (2012). He states that in the Bundesliga the fans and the clubs have a friendly relationship which was not always the case. The clubs learned the hard way in relation to TV viewership when it tried to change the broadcasting times and scheduling of the games to try to get fans to pay for the pay TV station Premiere. The fan communities showed their strength in numbers when they abandoned these changes and made the League and TV station regret their decision.

Through fan groups and fan liaison officers, the Bundesliga has developed into a fan friendly League (Merkel 2012). Merkel reiterates this idea in another paper and describes how clubs have tickets geared toward special sectors of society such as students and pensioners (Merkel 2007). Fan culture started off by copying some of the English songs and later looked to the Italian Ultras to form their own Ultra groups.

Brown and Walsh report that fans used to come together to fight against the modernization and commercialization of the game (2000). They outline how fandom is in some cases more than just supporting a club and involves political agendas. Most of the fan groups have been fighting against the commercialization of modern football but in Germany the associations have been working hard to not alienate the fans through this change to a profit-making sport. The German Football Federation has tried to keep the club structure more traditional to protect the fans’ interest. This shows how involved and respected fans are amongst the clubs which makes the whole debate that much more interesting because the League has to be careful not to disgruntle these loyal fans.

In the UK, supporters have had different roles such as raising money to keep local clubs alive by trying to go against the modernization of football (Nash 2001).

However, they were not able to go up against the powerful stakeholders and prevent the change in club structure. Some of the problems the fans in the UK came across were the change in demographic of the customers due to the rise in ticket prices. As Nash explains, a reason for this was the behaviour of the fans and the tendency to hooliganism ofBritish supporters.

2.4 Football rivalries

While football fans are integral to the experience and atmosphere in the stadium, there are instances when their behaviour goes beyond the sport. This is especially true for football rivalries between football clubs. The meaning of the match gets overblown and spills over into the stands where it becomes a serious matter and can lead to hooliganism. Benkwitz and Molnar note how these fan rivalries create new communities which can affect the surrounding environment (2012). Rivalries can be positive however, the majority of the time it comes with a negative impact and ends in conflict, particular when fans react with racist insult (Benkwitz and Molnar 2012). This conflict stems from the difference in geographical background and has become increasingly apparent when looking at international fixtures. Fans use the different backgrounds of opponents to insult and discriminate against them despite football being a sport that does not discriminate based on race, religion or origin (1995). As Evans and Rowe explain, these issues arise largely due to nationalism (2002).

2.5 Ultras

Ultra fan groups have become an increasing problem in German football. They are seen as the main culprits behind the current fan problems; they have, however, existed for a long time in Germany as well as in other Leagues. The German fans first adapted the concept from the Italian Ultra groups (Merkel 2007). In Italy the Ultras developed as a fan culture defined by their geographical location and the bitterness which certain regions feel towards each other (Kassimeris 2011). Kassimeris explains how these groups were spurred on by racism either towards different parts of Italy or people of different races. This racism comes from the history of Italian politics as well as from the fear of migration, and it was present in fan terraces in the stadiums at almost every match especially in the Italian North. Kassiermis notes how Ultras, while mostly right wing, could also have a left wing persuasion which is how they first started in Germany (Merkel 2007).

Ultra’s fan activity and hooliganism usually has a cultural and historical background according to Spaaij and Viñas (2005). Although the Ultra movement started in Italy, fans in other countries have adapted it including in Spain. The Spanish fans combined the Italian Ultra concept with English hooliganism to form their own movement. The movement in Spain went beyond the stadium and the club and became a way of life. Although hooligans are more prone to violence and ultras more interested in creating an atmosphere, the ultra-movement in Spain became strongly linked to right wing behaviour. Spaaij and Viñas note that this behaviour always appears in the terraces and that it is linked to social and national identity.

While the predominant Leagues in Europe are in the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain, this negative fan behaviour has spread into other Leagues such as those in the Netherlands. According to Spaaij, hooliganism in the Netherlands has developed from the culture in the UK (2007). He explains how this culture started in terraces where the low cost tickets were sold. The Dutch League removed all standing areas and implemented tighter security. However, the problem still exists since the hooligan groups take their violence outside of the stadium. While the sanctions forced the hooligans to change their ways, they have certainly not disappeared. In this instance removing standing room only moved the problems outside of the stadium which can certainly happen in Germany. This section gives a background ofUltras and their history which will be helpful when examining the reports of fan problems with Ultra groups in Germany.

2.6 Football disasters

Looking at fans and stadiums, it is certainly important to examine the safety of the fans. Throughout the years there have been incidents during football matches which have caused a change in regulation. These were not necessarily inflicted through hooliganism or the ultra-movement but rather the inability to cope with crowds. One of those incidents was the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 where ninety-six people died (Scraton 2004). The security stewards, police and emergency services were not able to handle the situation which led to the deaths which was later blamed on the fans. The people were crushed because of poor planning and movement inside and outside of the stadium.

Parties responsible for organization of football matches and regulation were more interested in the match than in the safety of the spectators. Although the stadium might have been filled, people still tried to enter the stadium at any cost (Johnes 2004). Johnes explains that one club removed fire extinguishers from the grounds because they were worried they would be used by hooligans. The stadium actually caught fire and fifty-six people were killed during the match. The UK government had a perception that fans were hooligans and that it was more important to control them rather than to worry about crowd safety (Johnes 2004).

Another incident occurred in 1971 in Glasgow at Ibrox Stadium where 66 people died and 145 were injured because the terraces collapsed under the weight of the crowds (Walker 2004). The feeling of getting crushed in crowds during football matches was normal. Walker explains how after this incident a new act was imposed to control crowd safety. After all of the events, legislation was reviewed and renewed based on the knowledge from each disaster. While these incidents were not a direct result of fan behaviour but rather poor planning and negligence, these articles give an overview of what can happen when many people are in a small space. These articles also describe how regulations were written after the fact, which is something to consider when looking at today’s fan behaviour issue and a need to deal with the issue at hand.

2.7 Racism in German Football

Football in Germany was underfunded and went through many changes not only during the post WWII Era but also during the Nazi Regime (Kassimeris 2009). The German Football League or Bundesliga did not form until 1963. Politicians and local authorities used the sport to promote their own nationalistic views which at times were racist in nature. Kassimeris explains how even in the 1990’s after the reunification of Germany there was a development to expel Jewish people from football and how some teams had supporters who were strongly linked to the old Nazi regime. This was related to the division of the country despite the effort to eliminate racism in sports.

Kassimeris reports that racism in German football increased especially after the reintegration of East and West despite there being a number of foreign players after the start of the Bundesliga in 1963 (2009). Racist behaviour was especially present in the lower Leagues of German football.

Kassimeris indicates that this problem spilled over to the World Cup in 2006 although there were no major incidents during the tournament (Kassimeris 2009). The organizational committee tried to immediately squash any type of racist activity before and during the event. He clearly illustrates that the problem of racism in German football stemmed from the early Nazi Regime to the division of East and West and the divide in cultural and social background between the two parts of Germany. This is interesting as it relates to how fan behaviour has been described in the media and how some of the Ultra groups are being linked to right wing aggression. This is an indication of where the problem originates and how far back the issue of racism in Germany goes.

2.8 Structure and Financial Analysis of German Football League

The financial situation in football is an important issue since clubs spend millions and accrue large debt. Lago et al. look at this subject closely and analyse the financial situation across the Leagues in Europe (2006). This article is interesting since Lago et al. looked at the situation in 2004 but nothing was done to curb the mounting debt and enormous spending.

Only now UEFA has introduced an agreement to counteract these actions which was already discussed by the governing body in 2004 (Lago et al. 2006). There are three areas which lead to these financial problems. These are loose government regulation, poor club structure and the backing of the government of some teams which can cause difficulties for the government itself in the long run.

Frick and Prinz explain that the Bundesliga teams generate their revenue from TV rights, merchandising and sponsorship and that players in Germany are not paid as much as in other Leagues (2006). They explain that commercialization, tight licensing procedures, and financial controls are the main factors contributing to the success of the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is unable to match the other leagues in TV money so it has to ensure that its business proceedings are efficiently managed. This section gives an overview of how the revenue of the Bundesliga is generated and the objectives the Bundesliga fulfils under financial fair play guidelines to have a sustainable model for continuous improvement.

To understand the financial model under which the clubs in the Bundesliga operate gives an opportunity to look at their membership model and structure to gain a better overall picture. In spite of being a business, it is less of a hierarchy and more of a democracy when it comes to the decision making process as Wilkesmann and Blutner explain (2002). While clubs in the English Premier League, for example, are predominantly owned by private people who are bankrolling the club’s investment, German clubs are made up of members who are part of the association with few exceptions.

Dietl and Franck identify the 50+1 rule as the structure of the club in Germany (2007). The clubs have to hold 50 plus one votes in the club to protect the sport and to avoid any one person buying and controlling the entire team. Even if one person buys up the remaining shares, the control is still with the club or association and its members. This is one of the main reasons why there is a large difference between the leagues in terms of discretionary spending because of the non-existence of private investors financing the clubs.

The involvement of the clubs’ members in the decision making process can cause problems as there is an organizational issue accommodating everyone’s wishes. It can therefore be harder to focus on the goals and the process of achieving them (Wilkesmann and Blutner 2002). However, German football clubs continue to use this inclusive approach of involving members and officials to try to reach a common goal. These articles emphasize fan involvement rather than exclusion.

2.9 Conclusion

This literature review has given background information on the history of football in Germany and described the structure of the game in Europe. In addition, it looked at fan behaviour, racism and Ultra fan groups and their motives as well as the problems that can occur in a stadium when problems escalate. This information will be helpful when looking at the results of the survey research from the standpoint of both football and non-football fans. Comparing the survey results to the information in this review will give an interesting perspective on the issues currently faced in the German Football League.


3.1 Research Protocol

This study researches the fan atmosphere in German football stadiums. It looks at the perception and feeling among the public while taking into consideration each of the participant’s relationship to the game. It also investigates the awareness of the participants of the discussions in the media between the Bundesliga, the fans and the government on the problems which each of these entities believes exist or do not exist. Finally, the study looks at whether a change needs to be implemented in the stadiums and what the solution, if any, should be.

Quantitative research methods were used for this study on fan atmosphere in the stadiums and the issues around this current topic. In order to collect the information about this topic, online surveys were used and distributed. Other types of quantitative research, such as paper surveys, were considered. However, for this study online surveys proved to be beneficial in collecting the data in a short time period. Van Selm and Jankowski explain that online surveys are a useful tool in reaching a broad number of participants in a short amount of time while being cost effective (2006).

Looking at an efficient way to research and portray the type of data required for this research, qualitative research was considered. Using data collection techniques such as interviews would not have been efficient due to the time constraints and the small sample size in relation to surveys. It would have not given representative information on the perception of the population.


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Fans, the Bundesliga and the Standing Room Debate. A study of the German Football Stadium Experience
University College Dublin
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Sport, Sport Management, Football, Soccer, Fans, Fan Atmosphere, Bundesliga, German Football, Fussball, Standing Room, Football Stadiums, Stadium
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Pascal Adams (Author), 2013, Fans, the Bundesliga and the Standing Room Debate. A study of the German Football Stadium Experience, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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