Sunday, 3 April 2016

Monday Night Football: The next phase in the battle between tradition and commerce in the Bundesliga

The writing has been on the wall since at least July 2016 when the Bundesliga announced plans to hold first division games on Monday night. In the last fortnight is was announce that the first Monday night game in the 1. Bundesliga will be on 2nd May between Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart.

Part of the justification from the Deutsche Fussball Liga is that the usual Sunday games cannot go ahead by Police advice. The 1st May, being Labour Day, is a very important one for the German Labour movement and their are numerous rallies and protest scheduled all over the country. This tends to keep the Polizei busy. In order to accommodate the authorities desire the DFL have seen this as a perfect opportunity to move a game to Monday at 19:15 CET.

By holding the game under the auspices of Police advice rather than for the benefit of their broader commercial interests, the DFL can establish a precedent. Once it happens once it can happen again.

The reason why Monday night games or unpopular among supporters in Germany is fairly obvious. It's a big country and it takes an age to travel to away games. Moreover, while it's easier for them to attend matches on a Monday evening there are bound to be objections raised by home fans with other commitments. Indeed, Germany is much like any other western capitalist society that starts its working week on a Monday in that most people stay at home. That's why Monday Night Football is popular with broadcasters because lots of people stay at home watching the telly.

Beyond the appeal to domestic broadcasters of being able to stretch the Bundesliga Matchday weekend out a little longer, the DFL like the idea of Monday night games as it creates an extra TV slot with which they can compete with foreign football leagues for  revenue. The Bundesliga's TV rights are currently out to tender and by establishing a principle of Monday night games, the DFL has another slot with which to appeal to foreign broadcasters.

The rescheduling of the Werder v VfL game could not have come at a better time as it acts as a perfect showcase to potential rights holders in the the Americas, Asia and the rest of Europe. The match is likely to be a genuine six pointer between two traditional clubs with big support. Any temptation of the part of the supporters to boycott some or part of the game will tempered by the importance of supporting the team. Of course that dilemma will not apply to a significant number of Stuttgart fans unable to make the 639 kilometer journey north to Bremen.

So a while a full house is unlikely there is bound to be an intense and noisy traditional atmosphere as both sets of fans go about the business of supporting their team. I imagine that while there will be protests they will be secondary to the business of the day and not included in the international feed beamed into the TV sets around the world.

Proponents of accommodating fixtures to meet TV schedules may argue that many big European clubs are anxious to reach out to international fans and allow them to watch games at times better suited to their timezones. An increasing number of clubs have implemented digital engagement strategies to make foreign supporters as included as this that attend games. By that reasoning if a number of regular fans are inconvenienced so that others can support their team from afar then this is a small price to pay.

Opponents may argue that clubs see this as nothing more than an opportunity to make more money for themselves and see all fans, both foreign or domestic as units to be monetised. Monday night football is the latest concession to football's commercial departments and represents another step further away from football clubs traditional role as a leisure activity and community centre, playing an active part in the social fabric of its neighbourhood.

In any event, if you're a 1. Bundesliga football club supporter then this will almost certainly be the thin end of the wedge. Football on Monday evenings has been a regular fixture for second division clubs for some years now and it remains an unpopular move for fans who would ordinarily be able to attend.

There are of course fans who are excluded from games for other reasons which I have written about here and elsewhere. For the disabled or the exiled or for those who work in retail or other shift work and normally can't get to games, Monday nights could be a good time to watch your team play. However, I suspect that very few people are thinking about them.

In any event, it is difficult to escape the whiff of lucre in the air behind the decision and not to see this as another step towards the total commodification of the game in Germany.

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