Just 18 teams and regarded a one-club league but Bundesliga might be the best division in Europe

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 20.2.2020.

Just 18 teams and regarded a one-club league but Bundesliga might be the best division in Europe

Out of the top five European football leagues, Bundesliga is the clear odd one. With its 18 teams and a season of 34 matchdays, it’s clear that the Germans aren’t scared of doing things differently. While pointing to it being dominated by a single club is something used to easily and lazily to discredit Germany’s top division, a deeper look shows its charm, potential, and strength.

Its mantra is simple: More fans, more goals, more passion. Beautifully put in its truthful slogan - "Football as it's meant to be."

Bundesliga origins

Starting in the 1963/1964 season, Bundesliga and German football, in general, have a complex past due to the country's history. But also due to the strong regionalism. Prior to the start in 1963 German football resided on semi-amateurish level yet the people in charge realized the country won't continue to be competitive without going pro.

As the country was divided into the capitalist West and East under the rule of USSR and communism, Bundesliga was representing the west side of the country. But also Berlin which itself was divided into the left and right side, despite being clearly in East Germany territory.

Upon German reunification in 1990 East Germany's league merged with the Bundesliga with two teams - Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock joining their competitors. The underrepresentation of clubs from East Germany remains one of the burning problems of Bundesliga. Only RB Leipzig, Union Berlin, and Hertha Berlin coming from that part of the country.

Overall, 56 clubs have competed in the Bundesliga since its founding

Bundesliga’s biggest advantages

While clearly being the most dominant European national team, with four World Cups and three Euro wins, Germans' league has never been at the top of the pack.

Comparing leagues in itself is an impossible task as it is downright subjective. One of the things that make football beautiful. Its diversity. Some might enjoy the slower, tactical style employed in Serie A, others the technical beauty of La Liga. Yet, there are metrics which all must recognize. People. Goals.

On average, Bundesliga games see incredible 3.98 goals! Towering over Serie A which has 2.89 goals per game, but also La Liga (2.54), and Ligue 1 (2.52). England's Premier League might be perceived as the Bundesliga's biggest rival on this front but the most popular league in the world has 2.76 goals per game.

But Bundesliga earns its plaudits in a different metric. Possibly the only one more important than goals and that is the audience. Bundesliga consistently boasts the best average attendances in Europe, seeing over 43,300 fans stream through the gates in Germany on a weekly basis. In Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the league possesses two of Europe’s best-supported clubs and highest attendances.

13,300,905 is the total number of people who watched Bundesliga games live in the 2018/2019 season. The Premier League has more at €14,511,485 but with four matchdays fewer it is another moral victory for the German league.

Beyond numbers alone, Bundesliga has the roar of the fans unrivalled on the Old Continent. Italian fans still have the charm but not the numbers. Only rare stadiums in Spain echo through its cities, and England is losing its essence with the rise of ticket prices and draconian rules for conduct. 

Football culture is strong in Germany and the fans successfully fight against the sport's sterilization.

Even the executives are staying true to the roots. Compared to the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, the DFL is the only league that manages data, production, content and sales internally.

The growth is undeniable. The revenue generated by the 18 Bundesliga clubs in the past season exceeded €4 billion for the first time. Football is an important economic factor in the strongest European country with 56,081 people are employed directly or indirectly in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.

Debunking Bundesliga myths

While there is no doubt that Bayern Munich is the country's greatest club with 28 Bundesliga titles. The seven last won consecutively. But Bundesliga is not the only league that is dominated by a single club. Juventus won even more, eight leagues consecutively. In France, Paris Saint-Germain has won six of the last seven titles. At the start of the century, Lyon won seven titles in Ligue 1 one after the other.

Furthermore, is Bayern's hegemony too different from the duopoly in Spain where a title won by Atletico Madrid still seems like a fairy tale.

Only Ligue 1 has had more different league winners in the 21st century than Bundesliga as Bayern, BVB, Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg, and Stuttgart have all raised the silver shield in the last 230 years.

Since the 2014/2015 season, eight different teams have finished in the top four. Borussia's and especially RB Leipzig's appetites have grown and both teams won't be satisfied with just being title challengers, only winners.

Bundesliga's problems

Bundesliga is ranked third in Europe according to UEFA's league coefficient ranking for the 2019/2020 season based on performances in European competitions over the past five seasons. Yet teams from Germany lack the silverware and finals appearances to back the ranking.

German teams have been in the Europa League/UEFA Cup finals twice this century, both times on the losing end. First BVB against Feyenoord in 2002 and then Werder against Shakthar Donetsk.

Bayern has two losses and one win in the Champions League finals. The triumph coming in the now long gone all-German final against Dortmund. Since 2001 only Bayer Leverkusen found a place in the final match of the tournament, losing to Real.

Christian Seifert, Speaker of the DFL (German Football League) Executive Committee explained where the focus of the organisation will lay in the future.

"The Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 in total enjoy solid economic stability. Additional future growth prospects will result in particular from digital innovations and on the international front," said Seifer.

Truly, Bundesliga has been one of the early adopters of the internet and its power. Distributing content freely online knowing that's the way to compete in today's fast-paced world.

The future of Bundesliga?

But there are still open problems Bundesliga needs to face in order to close the gap on the three leagues which are ahead of her. If not on UEFA's standards, then on unofficial rankings of the neutral fans.

When the question of why Bundesliga isn't nearer to the global popularity of the Premiership, La Liga or Serie A is poised, one of the answers is surely narrative. Knowledge of club origins, specificity, and tradition all play a role in providing emotional value needed to glue the viewers to the TV. Week in, week out. Bundesliga simply doesn’t have it enough.

While the English have done a tremendous job of providing context and backstories of their clubs to the world, intentionally or not, Bundesliga sides haven't. Even the ones who are known like Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen aren't as emotion-striking due to them being founded by companies. Organisational entities standing opposite of club in eyes of the many.

Which Bundesliga team has a known anthem in the world? Beside BVB's "borrowed" one? But Lazio's, West Ham's or Southampton's can be recognized in a heartbeat. Crests which can be made by an eleven-year-old in MS Paint don't help either. HSV, the 132-yeas-old Dinousour of German football has the blandest image representation. Incomparable to the distinctive and awe-worthy one of Atalanta for example.

Money is an almost closed loop in football. The revenue will rise when the clubs and the league rise in stature and for that to happen the teams need more money to invest. Most likely, Bundesliga will never catch up to the Premier League's lion.

But focusing on making Bundesliga teams’ peculiarities known, their passion seen, and their dedication felt, can be an effective way of closing the gap on the three other leagues in front of it.


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