Meeske warns professional clubs: ‘Football that only wants to be a show for purists will become a niche subject in the long run’

If the people in charge of Manchester City have their way, you will soon be able to experience a home game of the England champions in your living room. As if you live there. As the world’s first football club, City want to copy their stadium in a virtual world, the Metaverse.

After that, fans just have to wear special glasses to feel like they’re on the right field. The club can sell unlimited tickets in its virtual arena. Roughly speaking, that’s the plan.

Digitization has also changed a lot in football: technical possibilities and the use of media by young fans. Futurist Marcel Aberle of the Zukunftsinstitut in Frankfurt am Main and Vienna “doesn’t believe that the virtual stadium experience can replace the real stadium experience”.

However, he cautions German professional football in particular not to lose sight of these technical developments. Because the generation that grew up with smartphones and social media no longer want to passively watch a sports event for only 90 minutes.

“Football clubs compete with all other areas of expertise, not just other football clubs. I often get the feeling that not many people understand that yet,” said Eberl of the German news agency DPA.

In March, he attended a basketball game at the Brooklyn Nets in the United States. “What you’re doing there has been great in terms of engagement and loyalty to your viewers,” said the IT expert. “Each fan can display their video from their mobile phone on the big screen in the hall.” On the other hand, in football, he sees “too much leeway and no creativity” in this regard.

The German Football Association, the umbrella organization for the 36 professional clubs, has recognized the problem. “Incredibly great opportunities ahead of us,” said Managing Director Donata Hopfen at the “Sports Innovation 2022” technology trade fair in Düsseldorf.

VFL Wolfsburg sees itself as a ‘360° platform’

In the “Game of Innovation” between 1. FC Köln and AC Milan in July, the professionals are supposed to wear a camera on their bodies so that spectators can also follow the match from their perspective. Because Hopfen’s claim is: “We want to be the most digital football league in the world!”

The only question is who makes this claim in German football. Because modernization in general and digitization in particular is a topic that some curves of fans and clubs openly oppose. As if the question is: modernity or tradition? And not about: How do the two fit together? “Football goes offline” was the message on the stadium banner during the Eintracht Frankfurt-SC Freiburg match in April.

When it comes to the future of the sport, there is hardly a club in the Bundesliga as advanced as VfL Wolfsburg. VfL no longer considers itself just a classic club that it sticks to via membership application and membership fees. Rather, as a “360 degree platform” that connects with as many other institutions as possible.

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“There are 350 clubs within an hour’s drive of Wolfsburg, 200 of which have a partnership with us,” explained Michael Miski, general manager. “These clubs receive ticket units from us, purchase price discounts from our suppliers, coach training, departmental manager management training, webinars, and mini-tournaments with subsequent stadium visits.”

Meeske also knows that the fact that there is more money and shorter distances at VW’s Wolfsburg location makes things easier for VfL about it. But the former managing director of FC St. Pauli is primarily concerned with the question of how to keep children involved in the sport in the future.

“Football that just wants to be a show of fundamentalists will become a niche topic in the long run, and I think it will be less compatible with the fans,” he said. “There will always be a target audience for it. But it gets smaller and smaller.”

Young people often find three-hour baseball games boring

An example is found in the United States, which is not comparable to 1:1 with football, but nevertheless has a disturbing effect on Meeske. Baseball was the national sport of the 20th century in America – until, unlike American football and its successful professional league the NFL, it failed to open up to a targeted group of young adults.

Baseball games sometimes last up to three hours. Young people often find it boring. Thus, the decisive game of the last baseball season in the United States was watched by only 11.75 million television viewers, while 99 million watched the Super Bowl. The most famous baseball player, Mike Trout, has 1.9 million followers on Instagram. Football star Odell Beckham Jr. has 16 million.

But let’s go back to football. There, Munich graphic designer Mirko Porsche was commissioned to design a new logo for Italian club Inter Milan. His multi-award winning studio has previously worked at the Venice Biennale and the clothing label Supreme in New York. But not for a football client.

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“Inter president Stephen Zhang was only 27 years old at the time and thinking much more digitally,” Borsch told dpa. “The goal of the new coat of arms was to create quick differentiation. When looking at the schedules of sports sites or the offers of bookmakers on a mobile device, the club’s crest should be instantly recognizable. As more and more people watch matches on their phones, the logo should be visible. On the players’ chests as well.”

So the Porsche team changed the color blue and removed two of the four letters from the coat of arms. The response of many fans was highly critical (“I now know almost every Italian swear word”). But after this “rebranding”, not a year passed before Inter signed a contract with an Italian high-fashion brand, because the new brand identity is now very modern.

About the coat of arms of German clubs he says: “HSV, the second Bundesliga! Otherwise, hardly anyone can meet modern requirements on visual appearance.” Thus graphic designer Porsche, futurist Aberl and football director Miski looked at German professional football from three different points of view. , but they all came to a similar conclusion. “Football clubs are often in a very bad position at a strategic level,” Aberle said. (dpa)

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