The Würzburg professor Harald Lange disagrees with the television commentary Marcel Reif and believes that the ghost games will still cause problems for the Bundesliga clubs.
Harald Lange heads the sports science department at the Julius Maximilians University in Würzburg. He has long been concerned with football fans, their special love affair with the game with the round leather and the social connections around the kicker industry. He believes that football in this country has never experienced such a headwind.
Question: The Bundesliga continues with ghost games. What happens to football without fans?
Harald Lange: It will be exciting to see. In any case, football in Germany is in a difficult situation. The mood has flipped noticeably against football in recent weeks. The image damage has been enormous after the discussion of the past few days and there is actually a risk that football will break the fan base.
Indeed? Only because of the ghost games? After all, there will be football on TV soon, you won’t see any other sports.
Long: Right. And other athletes sometimes express themselves very clearly about it. This also promotes the negative image of football. The mood towards the Bundesliga has rarely been as negative as it is currently. The issue of ghost games was and remains obviously controversial among politicians. The protest against this, which initially came from Ultras and other active fan groups, has been heard. According to serious surveys, around half of the citizens are against continuing the Bundesliga. It doesn’t cost people anything and there are even free to watch games. But the politicians suddenly realize that they can also fight for voters by positioning themselves against football. And some do that too. This has never been done before. Not after the betting scandal, not after the World Cup award to Qatar and not after the revelations about the summer fairy tale. Something is crumbling tremendously. And that is an alarm signal for the German Football League.
The head of the soccer league Christian Seifert was very humble in his public appearances …
Long: Right. He also spoke of the need to change football. I’m curious! The first thing that came to mind was apparently a player cap. This is of course not possible under EU law.
Isn’t that all forgotten once the ball rolls again?
Long: Of course, some things will be put into perspective. Then technical topics are discussed again. But the social headwind that football has now experienced has changed something. And it is far from normal: the fact that the fans in the stadium are now missing also changes the character of the game. Mr. Seifert should hope that under the new conditions, one or two completely surprising things may happen, because, for example, the Bayern players or the Dortmund players don’t get along so well with the situation without an audience. Then maybe these ghost games will still be a success. The sponsors will take a closer look in the next few months: is it really still an image win to advertise at a Bundesliga club?
Do we take the Ultras too much? TV presenter Marcel Reif has just said this in an interview with our editorial team.
Long: I don’t think he’s right. It is true: the Ultras are only part of the football audience. But they have a particularly close connection to their club. They give this business a social meaning. And it is precisely this importance that football has always lived as the number one popular sport. Of course, many others are also involved. But the Ultras keep asking important questions: What kind of football do we actually want? Popular sport or an entertainment industry?
Reif says that there will soon be a super league of the super rich …
Long: Yes, and I also read that he believes that nobody wants to see Paderborn play against Bayern. I think that’s what makes football. That Bayern may have to play against Würzburg in a few years. Football lives from this permeability. And that it has a social relevance, that it stands for certain values, that people identify with their clubs and teams. That is why it is so interesting for sponsors. That’s why so much money goes into football. In the entertainment industry, content is interchangeable. There are no emotional ties. At some point the audience turns away. Even “Wetten, dass …” was canceled at some point. This could also be the case with football if it is not careful.
Do you really believe that the trend towards more and more commerce could be reversed?
Long: Yes. Because a lot is changing socially. Football will have to find an answer to this. The key factor is money. If that no longer flows because the sponsors are moving to other areas, then something will change in football.
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