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German clubs return to training; hoping to resume play in May

Germany Prepares for Soccer’s Return – Fußball scheint zurückzukehren

MIAMI, Fla. (10 April 2020) —

Amid all the discussion and arguments in other European soccer leagues over pay cuts, furloughs, layoffs and player contracts, things are different in Germany. There is order and a carefully considered strategy to have football return.

The Bundesliga has been suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak since March 13. Some teams briefly resumed training the following week, before being forced to find new solutions when Germany banned gatherings of more than two people on March 22. Bayern Munich and other clubs mandatory cyber training sessions in an effort to keep players focussed and in shape.

In a sign of hope, German leagues are hoping to be the first in Europe to resume play, eying a return to action in May with the hope of completing the season prior to June 30th. While virologists in Germany have said this could be possible, they warned the plan required a lot of testing amid the coronavirus outbreak. It is likely all games for the remainder of the season will be played without fans in attendance.

The Bundesliga’s chief executive, Christian Seifert, said in an interview that plans were being put in place for games to return at all 36 stadiums in the 1. and 2. Bundesliga by the beginning of May, with the remaining nine games of the schedule to be completed by the end of June. The benefit, besides giving football starved fans some action on the pitch, is that it avoids the need to be concerned about those players’ whose contracts expire on June 30.

We are part of the culture in the country, people long to get back a short piece of normal life, and that could mean the Bundesliga plays again.”

The German Football League (DFL) had banned all games through the end of April. To avoid unfair competition, the DFL advised its clubs to not restart training before April 6, but still a few clubs such as Borussia Dortmund returned to training in groups of two last week. This week, more clubs have begun to train again, with restrictions on contact and maintaining small groups, though expanded to more than two people, all in accordance with government policy, several clubs said.

Fifteen of the eighteen Bundesliga teams returned to training this week. However, Werder Bremen haven’t been cleared to return to training with the city state of Bremen demanding that all federal states continue to follow official government coronavirus guidelines over gatherings. Borussia Monchengladbach and Freiburg have yet to announce a date.

“The FC Bayern Munich first team will return to training at Sabener Strasse in small groups from Monday, April 6. This will be done in coordination with government policy and the relevant authorities. It goes without saying that all hygiene regulations will be strictly observed,”  German champions Bayern said in a statement. The club asked fans to abstain from travelling to the training ground to follow the session.

Dortmund will also no longer restrict their group size to just two players but will continue to train in small groups. However, the players will not be able to use the dressing room and will have to shower at home, Kicker reported.

“We are part of the culture in the country, people long to get back a short piece of normal life, and that could mean the Bundesliga plays again,” Seifert said. “This is why we have to play our role here, and that means to support the government and to talk with the government about when we will be able to play again.”

VfL Wolfsburg – Eintracht Frankfurt
Uniformly Agreed To Pay Cuts

In stark contrast to countries like England, where an ugly dispute among players, their union and teams has entered a second week, German clubs successfully navigated the tricky issue of negotiating cuts to player salaries in a calm manner. Players and clubs negotiated directly, resulting in an agreed to reduction in player salaries ranging between 20 percent to 30 percent (depending on club size) and 10 percent at smaller clubs.

A Carefully Laid Out Plan

Merely playing the games in empty stadiums is not enough for the Bundesliga. Every step of the process is being considered. In working out a plan, the Bundesliga has estimated that 240 people, counting the players, coaching and medical staff, match officials and production staff, are required for each game. Two working groups have been set up to deal with the logistics of staging the game: one group to set up uniform game day regulations and the other, to devise a hygiene plan for training and games and to work out what measures to take if a player tests positive. Siefert was clear to point out that in no event does the Bundesliga want to increase the burden on health care professionals.

The need to return to play is of course also a financial necessity as much as a cultural one.

While Germany has some of the financially healthiest clubs in Europe, and the Bundesliga enjoys the highest average attendance of the top league in Europe, not finishing the season would have a gigantic impact. Seifert put the figure at as much as 750 million euros, or about $816.5 million, a figure that compares to forecasts of one billion euros of losses in Spain’s top division, La Liga, and a minimum of one billion pounds, or about $1.24 billion, for the Premier League.

Some Clubs Are Endangered

Seifert said that as many as half of the second-division teams were “very much in danger to file for bankruptcy,” if the season were cancelled, and said as many as five top-division teams would face serious problems, too.

Being forced to play without fans and supporters will also have an economic impact. Top-tier teams are certain to lose nearly 100 million euros from the absence of supporters. Moreover, the final, 300-million euro installment has yet to be paid by domestic broadcast rights holders, the biggest of which is Comcast-owned Sky.

The Bundesliga has made plans that could be implemented if there ends up being a shortfall in broadcast revenue, including borrowing money from private equity firms KKR and Apollo Global Management. The Bundesliga has retained an international bank that will negotiate terms if it becomes necessary.

Despite the possibility that there are German clubs that might be in danger, Siefert, when asked about the possibility of altering Germany’s famous 50+1 rule, he was adamant, “As long as I’m C.E.O. of Bundesliga, no one would discuss the 50+1 rule right in the middle of the coronavirus.” The question is whether it will be revisited at some point in the near future.

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By Ken Russo

While my background is in the legal industry, the skills acquired and fine-tuned in law practice are now applied to focus on the sport of football. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.