As the 2021/22 German Bundesliga season draws nearer, so too do the diverse plans to welcome back live spectators into the sporting venues of the Bundesrepublik.
On Thursday, FC Bayern München CEO Oliver Kahn made it clear that his would challenge the Bavarian ordinance limiting the Allianz to 20,000 live spectators when the season begins in just over a month.
This being an issue that we've devoted much attention here at Bulinews, we'll also provide brief updates on the plans some other German footballing clubs are making ahead of the new campaign.
Just as was the case last autumn, federal officials in the Bundesrepublik have issued nation-wide guidelines for the re-admittance of live spectators through the turnstiles in Germany's footballing venues. In principle, all venues are allowed to operate at 50-percent-capacity in the coming months. A hard cap of 25,000 fans is in place for stadiums with a capacity exceeding 50,000.
The actual implementation of these plans is left to local officials. Germany remains a federal constitutional republic, meaning that states and municipalities are free to decide to what extent they wish to operate at or below these levels. Bavaria being perhaps Germany's most conservative state, it surprised few to learn that governor Markus Söder (CSU) and Munich mayor Dieter Reiter (SPD) imposed a hard cap of 20,000 fans per match.
On Thursday, new Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn made clear that the FCB were not necessarily prepared to accept this special restriction. According to the latest data from Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bavarian incidence rates are not higher than those in the rest of the country. Keenly aware of this information, Kahn noted that his club would at the very least seek further clarification.
"We are in contact with the local authorities," Kahn confirmed on Thursday, "We wish to understand why there is unequal treatment. I believe we have a first-class hygiene concept."
Public events in Germany remain primarily regulated by metrics supplied by its main public health research agency, the Robert Koch Institute. This has been the case since the onset of the global pandemic in the Winter of 2020. Germans have grown accustomed to living by the so-called "RKI Stabilizer" set by the institute.
Last fall, limited public events were not permitted unless the local COVID incidence rate did not exceed a daily average of 35 per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day-period. As public frustration mounted during the third wave of the pandemic last Spring, German health minister Jens Spahn permitted this number to be increased to 100 per 100,000 inhabitants. It was under such auspices that several Bundesliga clubs allowed in limited numbers of fans for their season finales.
For the time being, it appears as if the number of 35 returns to function as the standard stabilizer. Most German districts currently operate well below that number. In point of fact--as reported in the Süddeutsche--over 90 percent of the country currently has daily infection averages in the single digits. Part of this is obviously seasonal. Increases, some resulting from variants, can certainly be expected come September and October.
Judging by opinion surveys and editorial pages, it looks as if the German public is consigned to operating under restrictions through the end of the calendar year. The type of crowds observed most recently at Wembley stadium in the ongoing European Championship do not appear feasible within the German political context.
This notwithstanding, protestations on behalf of executives at Bundesliga clubs were very common last year. As Hans-Joachim Watzke's recent comments at a presser suggest, they will be quite common again this year.
Whether or not the fight to allow fans into footballing stadiums shall drag on through the Winter depends less on public jawboning and more on hard data. Germany's current rate of inoculation continues to lag far behind the developed world. Under 60 percent of the population has received both vaccine does and just over 40 percent of the populace has received one.
This leaves the country behind in the race to ensure that a critical number of citizens are protected against the worst-case-scenario consequences posed by the new variants.
With prolonged restrictions likely to be the norm, many Bundesliga clubs have actually been quite proactive in setting up systems. A few examples from around the world of German football shed some light on what 50-percent-capacity attendance will look like through the end of 2021.
The SGE has actually developed a smart phone app that will allow fans to upload proof of either inoculation or recovery onto their mobile devices and then enter the stadium without problems. The app is named "Main-Aquila" after the Rhein-Main locale and the Latin word for "Eagle", the club's mascot.
At present, the city of Frankfurt actually has the highest infection rates in the Bundesrepublik with a daily average of 20. The city itself keeps a tight focus on the location of infection clusters. A home fixture against Hoffenheim last October was allowed to proceed despite a city-wide spike.
The BVB may suddenly resemble and EPL club next year in that there are no longer plans to offer tickets on public sale. Some 55,000 season ticket holders shall retain the first right of refusal on all 25,000 matchday tickets for the foreseeable future. Many other Bundesliga clubs are, according to Sport Bild, prepared to adopt the same model.
This development proves highly interesting as the fact that anyone can purchase tickets to a Bundesliga match always rendered the issue of ticket scalping (or "touting") to be comparatively low outside Bundesliga stadiums. Clubs may attempt to set-up their own online re-sale portals in an attempt to minimize this issue.
The very last Bundesliga clubs to exclude fans from its stadium and the very first to allow them back in will, once again, operate at the forefront of the debate. Union President Dirk Zingler went so far as to call for, with the use of rapid COVID tests, a full capacity crowd at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei last October.
All throughout Germany's second lockdown during the second and third waves, Union kept pressing for the use of its testing concept. It's entirely foreseeable that, with the logistics in place, Zingler and club administrators will constantly lobby the Berliner Senate for a capacity crowd throughout the season.
Over in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Germany's "alte Dame" have the approval of the Berlin Senate for what many consider to be one of the country's best hygiene concepts. Access to large venues such as the Olympiastadion enable the stadium to be divided into separate sectors, where crowd flow can be easily managed by allowing only several hundred fans into each block.
Such effective traffic management will surely be used by Oliver Kahn to argue that Bayern can safely regulate the flow of spectators at the Allianz. A very interesting point on the Olympiastadion concerns the fact that Union Berlin will play its Europa Conference League qualifying fixture there on either August 19th or 26th. This is because the Stadion An der Alten Försterei does not conform to UEFA tournament standards.
True to form, Union President Zingler has called for the use of Hertha's concept if Union is play the match at Hertha's ground. Zingler has already threatened to refuse to play in the Olympiastadion if Union are not permitted to have maximum spectators during the 2021/22 Conference League.