Should the 3rd division be reformed or even abolished?

The third division was planned as a league for young players. Promising talent should gain match practice at a level between the regional leagues and the 2nd Bundesliga. Originally planned as a training league, the league developed into a commercial test for the clubs. Many clubs operate in a very dubious manner and the controls from the DFB are insufficient. The result: ten bankruptcies within ten years – and the reputation of a “league of bankruptcies”. Now voices are being raised that even call for the abolition of the third-highest division.

Is Kaiserslautern’s rise fair?

In the relegation games against Dynamo Dresden, 1. FC Kaiserlautern was able to complete promotion to the 2nd Bundesliga. A club has risen that had to file for bankruptcy two years ago with a considerable mountain of debt of 24 million euros. This circumstance again triggers discussions about the structures of the league, as Dr. Gregor Reiter explains to the WDR magazine “Sport inside”.

The lawyer and insolvency administrator has gained a certain notoriety within the football industry and points out that Kaiserslautern, who has just been promoted, has benefited from a Corona exception that suspends a deduction of nine points. This fact is viewed critically by the league competitors, since the insolvency of the “Red Devils” cannot be attributed to Corona.

Reiter advocates a division into four regions

The DFB seems to be fundamentally overwhelmed, as Dr. Rider explained further. Ten different clubs have had to file for bankruptcy in the past ten years. As a reminder: Türkgücü Munich could not even finish the season, which is why all games with their participation had to be removed from the ranking.

According to the lawyer, this is due to structural problems that have existed since the third division was founded. The current form of the third division is not sustainable. Therefore, Reiter questions whether the DFB has any supervisory control bodies at all and why there is no intervention.

The insolvency administrator even goes one step further: “I would abolish the third division,” he says. “From my point of view, the division into four regions makes more sense because I have lower costs and because I have more attractive games.” For example, in the west there is a new derby every week. That is more interesting for viewers and television.

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Third division clubs spend more than they earn

Even if the 3rd division is declared by the DFB as “a fundamentally healthy product”, the balance sheets speak a different language. According to a recently published DFB report on the 2020/21 season, clubs spent an average of 11.8 million euros per season, which exceeds the income of 11.4 million euros. Many clubs were dependent on state subsidies during the corona pandemic. And this development is nothing new and cannot be attributed to a lack of income due to Corona alone.

The fact that 13 out of a total of 20 clubs in the third division made a deficit in the 2020/21 season and that this is not an exceptional situation is dramatic. Especially since the DFB states in its report that the income “cannot be increased significantly in the short term”. Furthermore, the DFB Vice President Peter Frymuth explains that the DFB has little influence on the commercial work on site and that the “responsibility lies with the clubs”.

First comes the license, then the verification

The “DFB Taskforce Economic Stability 3rd League” has initiated some tightening of the approval process, which should take effect from 2023/24 and provide for tougher fines and point deductions for mismanagement. But that’s not enough, explains Andreas Rettig to WDR. Each club must submit budget documents for the coming season.

The clubs send their budget plans to the DFB in March so that they receive the license for the next season in good time. However, the consistency of the documents will only be checked after the transfer period in November, long after the season has started and the most important plans have already been carried out, the former DFL managing director told “Sport inside”.

Salary planning at Türkgücü obviously not consistent

Poor planning was one of the decisive factors in the decline of Türkgücü Munich. Originally, three million euros were earmarked for personnel costs, which ultimately turned into five million euros. It probably wasn’t a big surprise across the league. The squad was filled with well-known first and second division players. Nobody believed that such professionals would play for so little money – except for the DFB.

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The former Türkgücü goalkeeper René Vollath tells “Sport inside” that some players have received monthly salaries in excess of 20,000 euros. So each of these professionals earned almost a quarter of a million euros a year. Andreas Rettig, who only left the management of Viktoria Köln in May, is therefore calling on the DFB to act with greater determination, to sanction more promptly and to issue conditions during the year.

3rd league not a training league as planned

And otherwise there is not much left of the planned training league for young players. Last season, the average age in the third division was 25.2 years – only the second team of SC Freiburg was able to stand out at 21.3 years. Only the second team of FC Bayern, which became third division champions in the 19/20 season, was even younger at an average of 21 years.

The President of the Unterhaching Association, Manfred Schwabl, is therefore demanding 30 million euros for the youth funding pot, which financially rewards clubs with good talent work. Currently there are just three million.

Schwabl also sees the high personnel costs as the “basic evil”. The player salaries in particular, which even rose during the Corona crisis, are a thorn in the side of the former task force member. “And that has to do with the fact that established employees are preferred, while young Germans are left behind. That went in the completely wrong direction,” explains Unterhaching’s President. The 56-year-old also demands that the whole league must become more sustainable, while at the same time fearing another 15 bankruptcies before “something changes”.

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