Ghost games in the Bundesliga - an interview with Wolfgang Holzhäuser

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Interview with Wolfgang Holzhäuser, conducted by Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (authorized version).

The German Soccer League wants to organize ghost matches and has presented a concept for this. To make the plan a reality, all participants will be systematically tested for possible coronavirus infection. There are now three cases at 1. FC Köln. Should there still be ghost games?

My view is similar to that of 1. FC Köln. Namely, that ultimately the three cases were discovered because area-wide tests were used at short intervals. And if you test across the board, that is, subject those involved to tests every three days, then the chance of discovering an infected person and isolating them is greater. So I think it's a confirmation of the concept.

Nevertheless, the risks of the ghost games concept cannot be assessed. Is it still right to continue the season?

Yes, but what does right mean? It's just a question of which angle you look at it from. From the perspective of the Bundesliga and the second Bundesliga, it's economically necessary. That is indisputable. I am somewhat concerned about reactions from people who say that the Bundesliga is only doing it for economic reasons. Surely the Bundesliga has the same right to think along these lines as, for example, corporations like Lufthansa or Adidas do. They, too, say we have to get ahead, and if we can't, then the taxpayer will have to "pay for it. The first and second Bundesliga are going through the crisis without tax payments and have to recover economically under their own steam. That's why they have to play again. That's just the way it is.

Soccer is also entertainment and the favorite sport of the Germans...

I personally say quite openly: From the point of view of people interested in soccer, there should be soccer games again. After all, Sky usually has up to one million viewers watching a live match on TV on Saturdays, plus the popular conference on Saturdays, and Sportschau has three to five million viewers. I think it's important that people who are interested in soccer, in sports in general, are offered a program. All the efforts of ARD, ZDF and Sky to show canned soccer and sports simply get on your nerves at some point.

In the wake of the Corona crisis and the ghost games debate, fundamental criticism of the Bundesliga, with a turnover of four billion euros per season, and of professional soccer, with its immense salaries and transfer sums, has also arisen. Is the criticism justified?

Yes! I am one of the people who warned many years ago about this kind of presentation of soccer in public. It goes down when soccer works the way it has worked in recent years. And one more thing about the revenue numbers: I'm always careful when they're mentioned without bringing in other numbers, but just putting them in relation to Italy, England and Italy. I always have the same saying. If I charge 90 euros for 100-euro bills, I make a killing and eventually go broke. Turnover doesn't matter there at all.

What is going wrong in the Bundesliga in this respect?

What is critical is the ratio of expenditures to revenues and what appears to be a very short-term financial structure. That's critical when you need a large part of the revenues for expenses and the revenues are fluctuating. That means if I'm dependent on transfer income, which is fluctuating anyway, and the other pillar, television income, also goes away for a period of time, I have liquidity problems. This is a problem that has accompanied the Bundesliga and the second Bundesliga, as well as soccer throughout Europe, for many years. It is high time that the horrendous increases in salaries and transfer fees were limited. It is high time to do something.

Professional soccer doesn't cut a good figure in other ways either?

The way soccer is presented to the outside world is sometimes catastrophic. Key words: golden schnitzel or having a hairdresser flown in from London. This has not been good for soccer. The public presentation of soccer and its financing must be put to the test.

The exorbitant transfer sums and the rates of increase that can no longer be explained to anyone are not a problem for the Bundesliga.

I have nothing against high salaries being agreed for absolute top players, but for players who are certainly not in this category, the rates of increase can no longer be communicated to anyone. The horrendous payments for consultants should also be put to the test. We urgently need a Europe-wide solution to limit them. In discussions with soccer protagonists, I keep hearing that this is not enforceable and not compatible with European law. I can't think of anything else to say, because no one has seriously wanted and examined this to date.  I am very glad that the DFL chairman Christian Seifert has now articulated this. The nice thing is that when he speaks out, everyone listens now.

Do you have any suggestions for reforming the Bundesliga?

Specifically, financing will have to be addressed if revenues are sometimes not there in the necessary volume and clubs run into payment difficulties as a result. It starts with the licensing procedure, which is only aimed at twelve months' liquidity. That's just an internal thing, which is also legally conditioned. The important thing is to tackle the issue of salary caps across Europe. For this, the DFL task force mentioned by Seifert is certainly needed, which should be made up of specialists with legal and economic expertise and seriously address the problems, detached from the surface of soccer.  Ultimately, this is a matter for European soccer as a whole, which is why it will also be a task for UEFA, in close consultation with the EU Commission, to find solutions. The DFL task force can do some constructive preliminary work in this regard.

And how to make footballers behave more civilly?

I won't sign a player who can't behave accordingly. That's it! I once rejected a player who later became a German national player, is still a professional and has sometimes played world-class games. As an 18-year-old, he attacked the coach of his club in the Bild newspaper because he was not selected. At the time, we ultimately refused to sign him for this reason.

Would abolishing the 50+1 rule be a conceivable reform to stabilize the finances of Bundesliga clubs with investors?

I have never understood why there is the discussion about 50+1 - to abolish it or not. 50+1 has done a lot of good for soccer in Germany. Has the time come now to rethink 50+1? I can't understand why I control 51 percent and let 49 percent run uncontrolled. If I don't want that, financing via investors can also be done within the framework of 50+1 if certain criteria are taken into account: An investment with long-term commitment of the capital and a right of first refusal of the shares for the club. I'd rather have long-term investors than the bank that cancels the loan after twelve months when I no longer have any collateral. That's why I think the abolition of 50+1 is wrong. But if I want to keep it that way, then I can also change the financing of the clubs within the legal framework of the statutes to long-term equity financing.

Is it still possible to increase TV revenues for the Bundesliga after the Corona crisis?

I don't really know. To achieve the same numbers, you need a competitive situation. Whether this will be present, I cannot judge. But I think you shouldn't look at the rates of increase of the past, but rather be happy if you get the same amounts back.

Soccer has the biggest TV presence, the biggest revenues, and is the envy of athletes in other sports who aren't swimming in money. Wouldn't it be good for the image of professional soccer to cede a few million a year to these sports?

That's where my heart is pretty big. Of course, soccer has achieved a presence in the media that makes it hard for other sports to breathe. There are always individual campaigns, but not a general one where people say: We're already in a good situation and now we'll just help. Generally speaking, that would be a good thing, although the DFL in particular does make significant contributions through Sporthilfe.