The Bundesliga is losing popularity

Football BundesligaThe self-deception in viewer numbers

"We're seeing interesting, sometimes very good games in both leagues, with some outstanding individual players and impressive team performances. This is rewarded by the spectators in the stadiums and the screens alike. The stadiums continue to feel good, the odds of our partners are still high." Level ", says Christian Seifert full of confidence.

The championship is exciting, the millions are bubbling up, business is going well. In his outlook, however, the managing director of the German Football League also warned about a few problems. The increasing presence of international leagues on the domestic television market, for example. Thanks to streaming technology, access to other competitions and fictional entertainment offers has never been easier.

Competition from other leisure activities

"What we, like many German companies, have to adapt to is that people are weighing more and more in their free time what they invest their money and time for. Of course, the increasing competition for linear television plays a role, especially in the media sector," says Seif firmly.

In fact, after years of upturn, there are signs of a slight decline in the general Bundesliga euphoria. The average attendance has been falling steadily for the past three years, and the number of sold-out games is falling rapidly. From 146 games in the 2016/2017 season to 123 games the following year. And in the preliminary round of the current season only 52 of the 153 preliminary round matches were sold out. The utilization of the stadiums at the same time last year was 91.4 percent, now it is 88.5 percent. Although the level of competition is considerably better, and not just in Seifert's view. And even these numbers are deceiving, because the truth is, far fewer people come to the arenas. The sports economist Dominik Schreyer from the Beisheim School of Management in Düsseldorf found out in a large study that around ten percent of the owners of a valid ticket do not even come to the games.

"In the past few years the no-show rates in the Bundesliga averaged around 10 percent. Almost 44,000 tickets were sold, so you can say that on average there were a little less than 40,000 people in the stadiums", explains the Düsseldorf professor.

Are the club officials wrong when they keep decorating their speeches with the remarkable number of spectators? Are there really only 73,000 people in Dortmund's Westfalenstadion when the number 81,360 is given the attribute "sold out" again? No, says Schreyer, the problem is more complex.

"In our research results, we see that the no-show rate at the beginning and the end of the season is comparatively low, that the weather and temperature play a role and, in particular, the attractiveness of the opponent."

No-show rate for season ticket holders

Obviously there are viewers who purchase season tickets against the background of tight ticket contingents so as not to miss an important game. In phases of a season that are less interesting from a sporting perspective, they sometimes stay at home. This is a nuisance for the clubs because cheap tickets often go unused even though those are the most popular. FC Bayern Munich, VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund are now sanctioning season ticket holders who too often do not come. They withdraw their right of first refusal for the following season.

The effect of such measures is limited, however, overall it can be said "that the number of no-shows has increased slightly in the last few seasons, but these are not dramatic trends," says scientist Dominik Schreyer.

Nevertheless, the findings hit the league at a sensitive point: the audience is becoming more demanding and wants entertainment, spectacle and comfort. 16 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs either did not respond to a Deutschlandfunk request about the no-shows, or stated that the data was confidential. Only in 1899 Hoffenheim admitted that, depending on the game, five to 15 percent of ticket holders would forego visiting the stadium. At Hertha BSC it is five to ten percent. Everyone else is keeping a low profile, as if they were afraid of a painful insight: In the battle for the audience's favor, Bundesliga football has to assert itself against ever new leisure activities. DFL managing director Seifert has recognized this. The new competition could

"The best way to meet a sports league in the long term is through top-class sport, through first-class media preparation and time and again through positive individual experiences for every single spectator in the stadium or on the screen," says the successful football marketer.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to gauge how happy the officials are that there finally seems to be another exciting championship competition. But after years of steady growth, there may be a point where football has passed the zenith of its popularity.