Football: Premier League fans still look on enviously towards fan focused Bundesliga
Liam Happe visited Dortmund and found a model of fan engagement which leaves the Premier League far behind. £30 away tickets should be just be the start of a fan revolution.
It’s obvious to pretty much every English football fan of any age or allegiance just how expensive ‘the beautiful game’ is on these fair shores. The pricing scheme for everything from singular tickets to season tickets to a simple snack on the stadium concourse dwarfs that of pretty much every other pastime in the country.
As if it wasn’t obvious enough, fans and representatives of other leagues make sure to point out how much more reasonable their own business model is when a European fixture against a Premier League side is on the cards. Perhaps no example is more memorable than Bayern Munich’s multiple trips to face Arsenal in the Champions League over the last few years.
The decision to cap away ticket prices for Premier League games at £30 is a step in the right direction, but with Borussia Dortmund’s two-legged Europa League dominance over Tottenham the most recent example of German superiority over its English counterpart, the trendy Rhine club are perhaps the best role models for any Prem outfit looking to repair its relationship with jaded fans.
Dortmund themselves faced financial trouble in the mid-2000s but a combination of a more astute business model, the hiring of Jurgen Klopp as head coach and particularly an enhanced working relationship with its customer base took them to two straight Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012 as well as the Champions League final in 2013.
Marketing director Carsten Cramer told us that there are more important things than seeing just how far a business can push its customers with constant price hikes and a senseless barrage of opportunistic merchandise.
It’s fair to say that taking such a respectful stance with their fans hasn’t brought the ‘Yellow Wall’ to its knees, either.
"We never will increase our matchday revenues, because we are really concerned about maintaining low-level pricing,” Cramer said.
“That people of all social classes are able to come to the matches is very important for us, and so is having a sold-out stadium.
"The most expensive ticket is €74 (£58), which is the best seat, near halfway. The cheapest is still in the south stand: €11 or €12 (around £8-9). It is important. The atmosphere depends on the people.
"If it's just an upper-class audience – a golf people audience – you will have a different atmosphere. The guys in Munich need paper clappers to make noise in the stadium. That's not Dortmund.
"It's important that the tickets are cheap. Marco Reus' contract won't be extended just by increasing ticketing revenues by 10 per cent. So it doesn't make sense to increase prices.
"We still have the cheapest beer in Dortmund: you get a half litre for just €3.70. Of course we could increase the price to €4.20, but that 50 cents doesn't help you to hire a new player. For the people, those 50 cents are very important, and therefore we do not increase prices in the stadium."
Of course, the club’s return to prominence probably wouldn’t have been quite as tremendous if it wasn’t for the managerial tenure of current Liverpool boss Klopp.
However, every encounter with anyone at the club - be it at the very top of the totem pole, the museum staff or the coaches at their state-of-the-art training ground - gives off the same positive vibe that Klopp became renowned for sparking amidst his squad.
Speaking to Lars Ricken, a one-club player who represented Dortmund on the field for 15 years before joining their youth academy set-up, it was clear that consistency through every department of the club was at the heart of their revival.
However Ricken, who made his BVB debut aged 17 and scored an incredible long-distance goal in the club’s 1997 Champions League win over Juventus, admits that Klopp instilled one important factor which current coach Thomas Tuchel also employs with aplomb: persistent faith in youth talent.
"The development from 2005 to now has been marvellous," Ricken explained, "and maybe the most important point was Jurgen Klopp arriving. He made some good decisions.
"We had the oldest defence [in the league], but he brought in Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and suddenly we had the youngest defence. We got a lot of new, young players that he developed into stars, like Mario Gotze.”
Exciting youth policy, fair pricing structure, and yet Dortmund remain a popular superpower among the global football elite. Is there hope yet for more English clubs to yield the success they so badly crave without coming across as cold and ruthless businessmen?
If anything, the remarkable season Leicester City are currently enjoying could be a wake-up call to the country’s power teams on what it truly takes to sustain success beyond huge investment, afforded by shaking down fans for every penny.
Time will tell, of course. There’s a chance the Foxes will be footnoted by those after a quick buck after the 2015-16 campaign, even if they lift the Premier League trophy. Thankfully, either way, there remains clubs such as Borussia Dortmund highlighting how a sporting enterprise should be run.
BT Sport is your home of unmissable live football from the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Barclays Premier League, plus the Bundesliga and a host of other top European leagues.