By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Three of nine Bundesliga fixtures sell out in week eight

In terms of footballing attendance, one European League once always stood head and shoulders above the rest. Germany's Bundesliga reliably bested all other competitors for well over a decade before the onset of the global pandemic.

The weekly attendance feature does contain the lowest number of sell-outs of any of the eight editions of this particular column. Three matches did nevertheless come exceedingly close and overall attendance remains strong.

We'll continue a new feature introduced in the last installment of this column and preview the "plans for fans" in all nine fixtures this coming weekend as well.

Our new feature this week begins to look at the state of ultra return amongst the top-tier German clubs. Among the protest-heavy culture of German football fandom, more clear lines are being drawn.
Our weekly look at the state of fan re-entry in Germany's top footballing flight sees trends entirely foreseeable a few weeks back continue to develop. All German football clubs in the three professional tier continue to regulate the return of supporters through the turnstiles using the following four concepts:

I. "2G" ("Geimpft" (vaccinated), "Genesen" (recovered)

Only spectators demonstrating proof of vaccination and recovery may attend.

II.  "2G+" ("Geimpft" (vaccinated), "Genesen" (recovered)

A small amount of tested patrons may attend, but they must all sit in a separate, cordoned-off block.

III. "3G" ("Geimpft" (vaccinated), "Genesen" (recovered), "Getestet" (tested)

Fans vaccinated, recovered, or tested may attend. A smaller proportion of seats are reserved for the tested, but they may mix with the rest of the crowd.

IV. "3G*" ("Geimpft" (vaccinated), "Genesen" (recovered), "Getestet" (tested)

Fans vaccinated, recovered, or tested may attend. A smaller proportion of seats are reserved for the tested, but they may mix with the rest of the crowd. The tested must have proof of a negative rapid Antigen test from the same day as the match.

While these concepts from before the international break remain essentially unchanged, the soft-power "carrots" being issued by Germany's 16 federal states develop along the lines of what had previously been predicted. States such as Baden-Württemberg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and the three city states of Bremen, Hamburg, and Berlin give permission for outdoor venues to operate at full-capacity provided they switch to "2G".

As we shall see whilst exploring the details below, some clubs choose to take advantage of this whilst others don't. Neither side of the political divide on this issue looks likely to give any ground soon. Vaccination rates across the country have only increased incrementally courtesy of some private employer mandates. In football, which is as politically charged as anything else in Germany, ultra and supporter societies are digging in for a long fight.

We try to introduce new features into this column each week in order to (hopefully) enhance the reader's understanding of German football fan culture a tad more. In pursuit of that goal, we'll begin discussing in which direction each club's ultra societies are leaning on the issue. Based on the amount of organized protest exists out there, we'll talk about whether (by and large) a club's ultras are endorsing returns to the stadium or not.

Note that the issue of "Coordinated Ultra Return" remains far more nuanced than the simple "yes" and "no" answers we're giving in each section here. German football clubs literally have hundreds of local active ultra societies. Even the smaller and new clubs have dozens. This column can't possibly hope to incorporate all the voices here. It will continue to pay as close attention to them as possible, however, and be the best listener possible.

FC Köln (at) TSG Hoffenheim

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 30,150

Planned Capacity = 15,075

Attendance = 14,309 (94.9%)

Concept =  3G

A large traveling contingent helped the Sinsheimers in drawing by far their largest crowd of the season. The numbers also lifted Hoffenheim off of last-place in terms of average crowd size. As we reported in all relevant rounds prior, the TSG was averaging a little less than 8,500 live fans per match. This is naturally unsurprising, as the relatively young professional football club ordinarily draws the lowest numbers in the league.

The near sell-out crowd from the round eight fixture now gives Dietmar Hopp's club a rough average of 9,800 per match. This is good enough for 17th place, just above the Bundesliga's smallest club Fürth. Hoffenheim have clearance to fill their stadium. The German federal state of Baden-Württemberg now allows maximum capacity crowds under the "2G" concept. Stuttgart will take advantage of this. Hoffenheim, it appears, will not.

The club's website currently states that 15,075 tickets are available for next Tuesday's round two DFB-Pokal match against Holstein Kiel. Hoffenheim have another home league fixture next Friday night. No concrete crowd information is given about the round ten home game against Hertha BSC. In terms of the "ultra societies", Hoffenheim has approximately 40 or nascent "fan clubs" which are quite difficult to track.

Hoffenheim Maximum Stadium Capacity = 30,150

Planned capacity for next home game (October 26th) = 15,075

Coordinated Ultra Return = No

FSV Mainz 05 (at) Borussia Dortmund

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 67,028

Planned Capacity = 67,028

Attendance = 63,812 (95.2%)

Concept = 3G*

While the match ultimately didn't end up selling out, a crowd well over 60,000 easily set the record for the largest post-pandemic crowd in the Bundesrepublik. The atmosphere also didn't suffer at all for lack of a few extra thousand. It looks as if the current capacity cap will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The club is currently offering 67,028 seats for the home Pokal fixture against Ingolstadt next Tuesday.

The government of Nordrhein-Westfalen continues to permit 100 capacity for seated venues. Standing bleachers, on the other hand, may only be filled to 50 percent capacity. Signal Iduna features nearly 30,000 such places. It's possible that the state government will allow standing room spaces to be filled under "2G". Dortmund tried to implement "2G", but had to cancel the restriction after widespread protests.

The full return of BVB Ultras remains a thorny issue indeed. There are over 300 societies, projects, and groups at the local level. Many will not return until every last pandemic-related restriction has been lifted. As the club's failed flirtation with "2G" illustrates, the topic itself is anathema to many societies in the region.

Dortmund Maximum Stadium Capacity = 81,365

Planned capacity for next home game (October 26th) = 67,028

Coordinated Ultra Return = No

Hertha BSC (at) Eintracht Frankfurt

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 40,000

Planned Capacity = 40,000

Attendance = 32,000 (80%)

Concept = 2G+

Some confusion over the "2G+" regulations led to the SGE earning lots of criticism in the local Hessen press. Having tested individuals allowed in, but sitting in a cordoned off block--as we noted last week--, was an idea that practically invited negative attention. Eintracht also caught some flak for the masking regulation applied to the standing bleachers. All of this may have also played a role in the low attendance figures.

The club of Germany's commercial capital announced this week that it had received permission from the local health department to operate at full capacity against Leipzig in round ten. The masking requirement will also be scrapped, though "2G+" shall still apply. Only the vaccinated and recovered may be permitted in the standing areas.

The SGE ultras--whom many will recall were the fan societies who brought down the dreaded Bundesliga Monday matches--mostly remain united in their rejection of "2G". A strong spirit of protest is embedded in dozens of the local societies. Boycotts through the end of the season can thus be expected.

Frankfurt Maximum Stadium Capacity = 51,000

Planned capacity for next home game (October 30th) = 51,000

Coordinated Ultra Return = No

VfL Wolfsburg (at) 1. FC Union Berlin

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 11,006

Planned Capacity = 11,006

Attendance = 10,978

Concept = 3G

Union received clearance from the Berliner Senate for a higher capacity cap late last week. The club is now permitted to fill the Stadion An der Alten Försterei to full capacity, provided that they switch to a "2G" concept. Aware that this would alienate part of its fan-base, Union initially received approval for a compromise plan that would permit 18,000 through the turnstiles under "3G". This decision was then reversed, and Union lost an emergency appeal.

With all of this confusion, the match still came in just a few seats short of a sell-out. Some ultra societies are still sitting out in protest.There's naturally also the matter of Union's participation in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League. Many of this club's working class supporters wish to save both their time and money to cheer the team on at the Olympiastadion or travel to see them in the group stages.

Others may be planning a trip south for the cup tie in Mannheim or indeed any of the Bundesliga away fixtures. Die hard supporters in this club only got their first chance to see their lifelong team compete in Germany's top footballing flight two seasons ago. Given that last year shut them out entirely, the pent-up Wanderlust is huge among this fan base.

Union president Dirk Zingler actually held a press conference to announce the club's loss on appeal last Thursday. Zingler felt the need to make a public statement to quash some rumors about the club potentially switching to "2G". The once outspoken club President softened his tone from earlier statements and said he did not wish to discriminate against the un-vaccinated.

Zingler nevertheless reiterated that the club wanted to help its fans get vaccinated if they wished. Union are among several clubs who offer free inoculations to its supporters at the stadium.

Union Berlin Maximum Stadium Capacity = 22,012

Planned capacity for next home game (October 30th) = 11,002

Coordinated Ultra Return = No

RB Leipzig (at) SC Freiburg

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 20,000

Planned Capacity = 20,000

Attendance = 20,000 (sold out)

Concept = 3G

The Breigauer have actually sold two fixtures at their newly opened home. A test-match against FC. St. Pauli over the international break also drew a full capacity crowd before the official league opening of the Europa Park Stadion this past weekend. The Freiburg ultras--also among the more protest-minded in the Bundesrepublik--have already made their voices heard concerning the selling of the new venue's naming rights. They chose to do so inside the stadium.

In this part of Germany, the footballing ultra groups consider protests inside the stadium to be the most effective manner of getting their message through. Boycotts usually aren't the preferred tactic. With all of the emotion surrounding the retirement of the Schwarzwaldstadion and the pride in the recent performance of the senior, youth, and even women's teams, the fan groups are mostly back.

Note that this could all change in a heartbeat as the Baden-Württemberg statutes permitting full capacity under "2G" may compel the club to change course. The club's website continues to emphasize the inability to operate at full capacity yet and, as of this writing, 20,000 tickets are on sale for the next home fixture.

Freiburg Maximum Stadium Capacity = 34,700

Planned capacity for next home game (October 30th) = 20,000

Coordinated Ultra Return = Yes

VfL Bochum (at) SpVgg Greuther Fürth

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 16,626

Planned Capacity = 16,626

Attendance = 10,586 (63.7%)

Concept = 3G*

Fürth and the rest of Bavaria have clearance for full capacity. Still, the fans didn't turn out for this one. In a sense this is a bit sad as Bochum counted as one of the few opponents the Kleeblätter may have been capable of getting a win against. Some supporters may be losing heart already as it increasingly looks as if immediate relegation cannot be avoided for one of the worst teams the top flight has ever seen.

Fürth's start to the season remains a historically bad one. No team has had both as bad a point total and goal-differential this far into the season in nearly fifty years. Local groups seem to have no political axe to grind when it comes to stadium return. Their issue rather looks related to the team's performance.

Fürth Maximum Stadium Capacity = 16,626

Planned capacity for next home game (November 7th) = 16,626

Coordinated Ultra Return = Yes

VfB Stuttgart (at) Borussia Mönchengladbach

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 46,000

Planned Capacity = 46,000

Attendance = 41,608 (90.4%) 

Concept = 3G

Gladbach runs into precisely the same problem as rivals Dortmund when it comes to the number of standing-room-only bleachers in its large venue. The Foals are also bound by the same NRW statutes as the BVB. It thus looks as if 46,000 capacity shall serve as the norm over the coming months. In another similarity to Dortmund, this non-sell-out crowd surely deceived most onlookers with the amount of noise they generated.

It certainly felt like a sold-out stadium on Saturday night. Pretty much all of the BMG ultra groups are back. These supporters have had their fill of protest actions over the past year. Moreover, these societies don't tend toward boycott tactics. Gladbach fans groups even paved the way for the practice of placing cardboard cutouts of fans in empty stadiums during the pandemic times.

There has been some talk of the club seeking a special exemption on the current capacity cap for the monster second-round Pokal fixture against defending cup champions Dortmund next week. Nothing new about this initiative currently exists on the club's website. One assumes any potential plans for a push have been scrapped.

Gladbach Maximum Stadium Capacity = 54,041

Planned capacity for next home game (October 27th) = 46,000

Coordinated Ultra Return = Yes

FC Bayern München (at) Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 30,210

Planned Capacity = 29,542

Attendance = 29,542 (sold out)

Concept = 2G

Germany's red company team are thus far the sole Westphalian team to take advantage of the state government's full-capacity allowance under "2G". Bayer still have to forfeit some of their standing-room-only capacity in the BayArena, which some tend to forget is a relatively small venue in what actually is a small town. Just as was the case with neighbor's Köln, the club was an early adopter of "2G". One reason for this stems from a recent outbreak in the municipality in August.

While there continues to be some pushback against "2G" by the Köln Ultras, organized resistance is practically non-existent at the smaller neighboring club. Werkself fan societies have gotten behind the team and even led vaccination drives. One could argue that they all deserve a full ticketing refund and a few pain-killing injections on the house after last weekend's debacle, but that's another story.

Leverkusen host a Pokal fixture next week. As of this writing, the same amount of tickets are on sale.

Leverkusen Maximum Stadium Capacity = 30,210

Planned capacity for next home game (October 27th) = 29,542

Coordinated Ultra Return = Yes

DSC Arminia Bielefeld (at) FC Augsburg

Maximum Spectator Allowance = 30,660

Planned Capacity = 17,500

Attendance = 17,500 (sold out)

Concept = 3G

The top-tier's third Bavarian club continues to state on its club website that state-level regulations limit its attendance cap, even though this is plainly not the case. There don't seem to be any near-term plans to take advantage of the loosened restrictions either. The club may have been slightly preoccupied with completed a pair of delayed stakeholder summits in the past few weeks. It could also just represent conservative actions from a conservative club in a conservative region.

The same number of tickets are being set on sale for the next home fixture; at least until further notice. Most of the fan-societies seem ambivalent about both the current caps and the present regulations. Pockets of Bavaria with high incident rates leave portions of the Germany's largest state somewhat apprehensive about quickly traveling "risk zones". The southern German press still reports on the rate daily and obviously considers it relevant.

Augsburg Maximum Stadium Capacity = 30,660

Planned capacity for next home game (October 30th) = 17,500

Coordinated Ultra Return = Yes

Just as we did last week, we'll report on the comprehensive "fan plans" across the Bundesrepublik. One could say that, although there have been some increases, the majority of clubs are standing pat until further notice. As always, data on the local incidence rate comes from Germany's Süddeutche Zeitung. The rare continues to exert some relevance both in Bavaria and Saxon proper.

Friday,  October 22nd

FC Augsburg (at) FSV Mainz 05

24,000 tickets (72.1% capacity) with 2G+

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 56.2 per 100,000

Saturday,  October 23rd

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (at) FC Bayern München

75,024 tickets (100% capacity) with 3G*

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 112.8 per 100,000

SpVgg Greuther Fürth (at) RasenBallSport Leipzig

24,758 tickets (50% capacity) with 3G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 75.1 per 100,000

SC Freiburg (at) VfL Wolfsburg

25,000 tickets (83.30% capacity) with 2G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 73.5 per 100,000

Borussia Dortmund (at) DSC Arminia Bielefeld

27,500 tickets (100% capacity) with 3G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 63 per 100,000

Borussia Mönchengladbach (at) Hertha BSC

37,238 tickets (50% capacity) with 3G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 108.6 per 100,000

Sunday,  October 24th

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (at) 1. FC Köln

50,000 tickets (100% capacity) with 2G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 72.3 per 100,000

FC Union Berlin (at) VfB Stuttgart

60,441 tickets (100% capacity) with 2G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 83.9 per 100,000

Eintracht Frankfurt (at) VfL Bochum

22,000 (79.7% capacity) with 3G

Local RKI Incidence Rate = 58.2 per 100,000

Thanks so much for reading!

You can occasionally catch Peter on twitter, @ViceytheSS.

Twitter DMs are open for football conversations, corrections, and (if you truly insist) general abuse. 

All columns debut on Bulinews before appearing on Peter's website later in the week.

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