So…Who’s the Best?
Since the end of the season, I’ve been enjoying a nice break, but I am very much looking forward to the August season openers. In the meantime, I figured I’d check once in a while to make sure the beautiful game got a little bit of space on the blog.
Back in October of 2010, ESPN’s Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote a very interesting article about theBundesliga that I wanted to discuss for some time, but I figured I’d wait until the end of the season to do it. In his article, Schaerlaeckens laid out some great arguments for why the Bundesliga, and not the Premier League, might just be the best domestic league in the world. A few of his points shouldn’t be ignored. The foremost is that it is the most profitable in Europe. According to the article, of the 36 professional German teams, 32 were profitable and the league as a whole (though its revenues were almost a billion dollars less than the EPL) made $100 million more in profits than the Premier League. Financial health, which has even escaped the super clubs like Man U and Liverpool, is thriving in the Bundesliga, and one has to agree that stability in the office leads to stability on the field. Second, I was surprised to learn that attendance in Germany is tops. From numbers at the end of the 2008-2009 season, the Bundesliga had an average of 41,900 in attendance, more than the Premier League (35,600), La Liga (28,500), Serie A (25,300) and Ligue 1 (21,000). The stability of the league’s finances (not to mention its fan ownership, which we’ll get to) means lower ticket prices and sold out stadiums. These sold out stadiums have made corporations more willing to sponsor the league, which they have done in record amounts, again topping the other leagues in this category with $800 million annually. Finally, Schaerlaeckens’ final point was that the Bundesliga, like the NFL, was thriving because of parity.
While Bayern Munich is the patriarch of the league, winning 5 of the decades 10 titles, 4 other teams have claimed the title. In a league designed to make everyone competitive, team’s table positions are sporadic from year to year and, argues the author, lead to the most exciting domestic football in the world. I found that of the 121 teams that have competed in the modern era of the Champions League, 10 have come from Germany (second only to Spain) while England has sent 8. The blend on the final table results also testify that the German League, like the English, goes wire to wire with only 22 points separating the teams that just missed the Champions League and the teams that just missed relegation in both leagues.
I have to say that I agreed with much of the piece. I make my living in finance, and greatly appreciate profitable, stable businesses. I love seeing full stadiums. I also always pull for the little guy, and like seeing teams and cities take turns in winning titles. Based on performance and these arguments, I was glad to see that UEFA ranked Germany ahead of the Italian league last year, giving credit where credit was due. But that being said, as far as domestic football is concerned, it’s still England’s game and it’s not even that close.
You first have to start with parity. In American college football, there is a debate that is as old as time and will continue until forever: which conference is better? While there are many great cases, the fact of the matter is that this will always be a debate because you can’t truly measure the parity of the different conferences. UEFA trumped such arguments when they introduced their Association Coefficient in order to accurately assign fair amounts of places in European tournaments to the most deserving leagues. England has maintained a significant margin over the next best since 2006, being either the highest or second highest scoring league since the early 2000’s, and has done so by continually beating up the other European competition. And this isn’t just Man U and Chelsea, this represents clubs like Tottenham and Fulham who reach these competitions and dominate them. This coefficient verifies things we already know. Spain for instance, has two giants that can dominate the finest clubs in Europe, but after them only Valencia, Villarreal, Seville, and (if they cared about winning) Atletico Madrid even approach competency on the international stage. The rest of La Liga is garbage that has proven to be a development league for the Spanish giants and other European power to harvest young talent. You can’t fake parity. Germany as well has a monster club with legit stars that usually have a good run in the Champions League, but outside of Bayern Munich, runs like the one we saw from Schalke 04 are very rare. (Bayer Leverkusen were the only other non-Bayern Germans in the past decade to even get out of the groups, losing the 2002 final, and getting blown out in the Round of 16 in 2005 by eventual winners, Liverpool – who finished 5th in England that year). Meanwhile, Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal have appeared in finals this decade, 7 in all including an all English Final in 2008. England is even sending Birmingham City, a relegated team, to the Europa League this coming year for winning the Carling Cup. That’s what I call parity.
The other thing keeping the Germans from the English is money. No, not the revenues and profits, but the actual money that is thrown around the league. In the German system, teams are still majority owned by their local associations in some respect, and there is no exception. This keeps the super wealthy from purchasing German clubs and dropping millions each year in the transfer periods, like we now see annually in the Premier League. And while we might find it despicable that teams like Chelsea and Man City throw their money around so recklessly, the fact is that soon, all of the clubs in the Premier League will become subsidiaries or pet projects of the world’s global corporations and elite. Clubs like Blackburn Rovers (purchased by Indian super food company Venky’s) will soon feel the influx of new cash, and it’s hard not to imagine that soon the league will be 20 super teams paying more money to players than any other teams outside of Spain’s super two can afford. This might be a stretch, but now, whenever players are interviewed, the recurring theme of wanting to be tested (and paid) in England comes up almost every time. The best will all be there, and the competition can only get fiercer. If the Germans think they have closed the gap between themselves and the Premier League(and they may have), they are about to see that gap blown wide open.