OPINION | What Borussia Dortmund’s financial model means for German football

Let’s begin in 1776 with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. No, scrap that. Let’s go back even further, to the paleolithic era of human history, a time when people moved around like a loud, drug trafficking tenant in central Detroit. When these people realized that huh, we can grow stuff, it all changed for good. Now, instead of having to rely on berries and deer hunting, they could grow their own crops and could even choose what to eat and what to grow. If one clan liked corn and another liked wheat and they needed both, they could trade. Corn for wheat. This was the first version of economics, something that would eventually develop into a GDP-stressed greed-machine, always demanding more growth, whatever the expense. In our material world, profit is the persona grata. If a religion were created today, profit would be the deity, and we are reminded of this every time we set foot outside our own home. Sometimes at night too when we wake up, panting, realizing that this month’s profit is negative.

The current state of humanity, known as an offspring to the Homo Sapiens, identified among scholars as Homo Economicus, has managed to integrate the deity of profit into all new sectors. One of these is football. Football and profit have been good and steady pals for some time now, but in the last five-six years, the mutual love has been made into a powerful gospel of this new religion and the fans have lost touch with their clubs as a direct consequence of it. It is all natural for football to go down this road, it really is, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or neat. Nature can be quite damning at times.


“This is our philosophy, our brand. It helps us create new players,” Sebastian Kehl told Norwegian football expert and former Eintracht Frankfurt-striker Jan Aage Fjörtoft before the Champions League game against Lazio in the middle of October. This interview was obviously not meant to be picked apart like this, but Kehl points a few interesting things out.

He seems to lay the verbal groundwork for BVB’s whole systemic philosophy, one being dominated by the idea of buying young players from every country in the world, but Germany, developing them and then selling them for a profit, probably without any silverware to show for their success.

Look, I’m all for globalization. Using countries with minor laws on minimal salaries as outsourced puppets, treating the environment as your own little pet as you travel through time and space to flog your product to naive and hungry consumers. Purchasing items created by an underpaid infant from the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, so that you might be able to get the chance to brag to your pals about your newest acquisition. Ah, globalism. It is terrific.

Football is drowning in the globalist sea. Truly. 20 years ago, Arsenal FC loaned Junichi Inamoto from Gamba Osaka. One could argue that this was the first real sign of things to come. Inamoto didn’t play a minute of importance for the Gunners, but Arsene Wenger kept on claiming that he might play in the upcoming game, creating a hype abroad for a player that wasn’t even close to getting anything. This was a transfer being dictated by the idea of selling shirts on a lucrative market. And they did just that. Nakata sold thousands of shirts in his native Japan, without really doing anything.

Using this, it becomes a tad simpler to understand some of the decisions Bundesliga teams have made in the last few years. However, it also makes for a potent business model. So how is it, really? Is it just a potent business model or does this model spell the end for Bundesliga competition?

Borussia Dortmund’s profit-based philosophy is better than the absolute alternative. No one would like to see the club fail financially as it almost did in the early 2000s. However, are definitive profit and bankruptcy the only two alternatives? Is there no idealistic pluralism in football economics? It seems obvious that the financial strategy Borussia Dortmund are utilizing is good for their finances. They buy players on the cheap and sell them for a huge profit. They often buy their talents from other countries than Borussia’s own Germany, thus stimulating the global economy and sustaining their own presence in different target areas of the world. It is a marketing strategy as much as a financial strategy, but it might just create a status quo in German football that is impossible to go back from. Here’s why:

Ask yourself this: What is the most profitable, reaching the quarter finals in Champions League or winning the Bundesliga? Let’s do some very simple math. Reaching the group stage of the Champions League gives you 15,25 million and each win gives in the group stage gives you a further 2,7 million. A draw equals 900k. If a team were to reach the round of 16, having won four and drawn one, that means 26,95 million has been accumulated before even playing in the finals. Just participating in the round of 16 gives you 9 500 000 and the quarter final gives you 10,5 million. This means that, reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League, 46,9 million has been earned.

Add advertisements to this as well as a share of the TV-revenue and the income of Champions League becomes truly inflated. The Bundesliga winners, under the new system, get about 67 million from all sources of income regarding prize money in Bundesliga and this accounts for TV-revenue, sustainability and the actual prize money. It seems reasonable that Champions League quarter finals and Bundesliga fame equals more or less the same amount of money. It would also be reasonable to assume that the other surrounding profits of the Champions League, such as the marketability of players on this lucrative market, will therefore make Champions League more lucrative than Bundesliga.

While winning the Bundesliga also means Champions League partition, aiming for the Bundesliga title might mean not reaching the higher echelons of Champions League. It’s only natural. Bayern tended to do just that, they won the Bundesliga, but missed out on the most lucrative stages of European competition. Another aspect is, as stated before, the openness and rewarding nature of the European market for players. Playing well and showing your class in a Champions League quarter final means a higher eventual profit than sparkling in the Bundesliga. So, if reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League probably gives you a higher accumulated profit than winning the Bundesliga, why should Bundesliga even be a goal? Why should that not be a post-CL goal for those that have any energy left? And if Bundesliga is but a second goal of the biggest clubs, what makes it interesting to watch, as a supporter of the big clubs?

When die Bundesliga Schale becomes the goal of a post-CL society, the league will lose its ultimate legitimacy and the fans will lose all they have once fought so long and hard for. And signing players that are mainly supposed to shine in the Champions League to warrant a higher fee, when the summer so invigoratingly arrives, must be a sign of these teams slowly becoming detached with the idea of German domestic fame and success. Germany’s football scene has just become a pawn in the grand macro perspective. All the world’s a stage, and all the smaller clubs and fans merely players.

Is there a way back? Perhaps. But it would take a renovation and restauration of all our economical institutions. Profit would need to be discarded as the deity of the Homo Economicus and football would need to be returned to those who created it- the people.

By Axel Falk.


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