Dortmund-Real Madrid: did you say romantic football?

Dortmund-Real Madrid: did you say romantic football?
Borussia Dortmund's fans

Football purists will be delighted with the line-up for the 2024 Champions League final: two popular clubs where the fans play a key role in the decisions. But behind this idyllic image, the two clubs are much more intertwined in modern football than we would like to believe.

The 2024 UEFA Champions League final could be described as the perfect match for football purists, with fan-owned Real Madrid against Borussia Dortmund, where supporters have a majority ownership stake. Unlike last year’s event, neither side is owned by a Gulf state or massive foreign corporation.

Instead we have a Spanish team which boasts nearly 100,000 “socios” – fan owners who pay an annual fee which entitles them to vote on who runs the club, and the decisions it makes. And while Real Madrid doesn’t trumpet its ownership model quite so much as its Spanish rivals Barcelona, fans continue to play an important role in its governance.

Meanwhile in Germany, the football association’s “50+1” rule from 1998 ensures that at least 50% plus one share of a club is owned by members’ associations. Borussia Dortmund has almost 1,000 officially registered fan clubs, representing some 60,000 fans.

Real modern football

Football fans of clubs in other countries may envy this kind of involvement and ownership. But in the expensive world of modern football, this apparent showcase for sporting social democracy cannot hide what are rather less idealistic financial and political realities.

Real Madrid’s complicated history embraces everything from associations with Franco’s fascist government (the club’s stadium, Santiago Bernabéu, is even named after a Franco loyalist) to receiving illegal state aid.

More recently, the club has become a commercial behemoth drawing revenues from all manner of commercial contracts. Its shirt sponsorship deal with state-owned Dubai airline Emirates has been in place since 2011 and is now estimated to be worth €70 million (£60 million) per season.

Alongside this sponsorship is another deal supporting tourism to Dubai, which cements increasingly strong links between the club and the Gulf region. This is despite continued and serious human rights concerns about the emirate.

Back in Spain, Real Madrid recently inaugurated its redeveloped Bernabéu stadium, with Taylor Swift one of the first to perform there. This state-of-the-art, 85,000-seat venue was funded via a series of loans from lenders including JP Morgan, one of the biggest financial institutions in the world.

Fan fair

So what of Borussia Dortmund, located in the Ruhrgebiet region, with its working-class links to Germany’s powerful industrial past?

Less famous and less wealthy than Real Madrid, Borussia is famed for its “yellow wall”, a name given to the mass of fans who attend home matches at the Signal Iduna Park. Earlier this season, these fans staged protests against the potential sale of Bundesliga television rights to a US private equity company and the ongoing commercialisation of football.

However, the fact that Borussia Dortmund’s stadium carries the name of a financial services corporation (even if most fans still refer to it as the Westfalenstadion) provides yet further evidence of the heavyweight economic input many European clubs now depend upon.

While the German club may appear to many to be a symbol of democracy and equality, among its owners are British, French and Spanish private equity investment funds. These are businesses designed to make money rather than preserve romantic notions of European football.

Alongside these investors is German sports apparel brand Puma, a long-time co-owner and partner of Borussia Dortmund. Although the company recently terminated a deal with the Israel Football Association, for several years it was targeted by pro-Palestinian campaigners.

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And while the club isn’t overtly engaged in pursuing commercial opportunities in the Gulf region, it does count China among its most important overseas markets. Recently it opened an office in Shanghai and an academy in Xiamen.

Concerns about human rights violations in China haven’t deterred Borussia Dortmund from this potentially large market – although the rising political temperature between the China and the US, where the club also has strong ties, might start to make things awkward.

But geopolitical harmony is not the goal here. As with any other team in Europe’s top leagues, aside from winning trophies, the mission is to sell replica shirts and football boots and make money wherever it’s possible to do so. It’s not about pandering to the wishes of fans, however vocal they may be, or how much they value their team.

For purists, the Champions League final at Wembley stadium on June 1 might seem like a rare opportunity to celebrate European values and fan democracy in football. But this is an idealistic notion, which fails to acknowledge how deeply embedded global financial and geopolitical networks have become in the beautiful game.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Simon ChadwickProfessor Simon Chadwick is a researcher, writer, academic, consultant and speaker with more than twenty-five years experience in the global sport industry. His work focuses on the geopolitical economy of sport.

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Paul WiddopReader of Sport Business, Manchester Metropolitan University

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