How GPL clubs can nurture fans - the Dortmund example

How GPL clubs can nurture fans - the Dortmund example
Source: Ghana/Joy Sports/George Addo Jnr
Date: 01-04-2019 Time: 10:04:26:am
Dortmund fans ready for match against Wolfsburg at Signal Iduna Park (Image by George Addo Jr)

Dortmund, GERMANY – Borussia Dortmund's slogan "Echte Liebe" - or True Love - says it. Former Ghana international Ibrahim Tanko who currently is the assistant coach of the Black Stars, Kevin-Prince Boateng now with Barcelona, midfielders Bashiru Gambo, Otto Addo, Mallam Yahaya and striker Mattew Amoah made Dortmund a home and will have smiles as they read about my experience with the Yellow and Black on a Media Visit sponsored by StarTimes Ghana and Bundesliga International.

For the sixth consecutive season, Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park is leading the way with the highest average attendance anywhere on the continent. Home to the famous 'Yellow Wall', a 25,000-strong standing terrace without equal in Europe, the stadium recently topped a study by DeporFinanza as the most attended football ground with an average attendance of 80,830 - almost 6,000 more than second-placed Old Trafford – home of Manchester United. Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena with a weekly average of 75,000, came in third on the list.

George Addo Jr

Image: George Addo Jnr at the Signal Iduna Park

It is important to remember this is a club run by the fans, for the fans. The Bundesliga's  "50% plus one" rule requires clubs to be owned by their members. All but three of the clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga II are owned or controlled by their members, with Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim the exceptions.

Dortmund's fervent atmosphere is the envy of Europe but it is not there by accident. The club keeps prices low precisely to ensure all areas of society are represented in the crowd. There is no room for people who attend matches primarily to enjoy luxury boxes and corporate hospitality, rather than support a team or enjoy the sport.

Being at Signal Iduna Park to see the Yellow Wall had long been a desire for me and on the trip sponsored by StarTimes Ghana and Bundesliga International I was thrilled to have firsthand experience. For those not aware, Dortmund’s gigantic “Yellow Wall”, with nearly 25,000 fans on the south end of the park is the largest standing terrace in the European game and widely considered the best standing section in any football stadium. 

Dortmund fans

The match day experience lasts longer in Germany and many people gathered outside the stadiums quite early to eat, drink and chat about the upcoming game, or just meet friends to talk over the week. In Dortmund's case, a whole beer park sits on their former home ground now housing the Under 23 team. 

It’s more than a simple event, and the game against Wolfsburg over the weekend – with the Bundesliga title race very competitive – meant the occasion had been set for a true manifestation of what Dortmund truly is about.

The yellow and black say “Dortmund stands for intensity, authenticity, cohesion and ambition. There's an intense character to everything we do. Our stadium is the epicentre. This is where all of BVB's energy is released and enjoy a special place in the hearts of all our fans: their unconditional loyalty has carried us through the good times and the bad for more than 100 years.”

And yes, that's what the media team felt heavily – even when the scoreline was goalless all through 90 minutes with a few minutes to the end of the game The Yellow wall was noisy and there was no sign of a fan attempting to go home or leave the stand as we witness elsewhere when the home fans are disappointed with a predictable result or outcome.  Well, the goals came and the grounds of the Signal Iduna Park was shaking, infectious enough to get me joining in.

The little connections from basic families hold Dortmund together in such a fascinating way. Before the game, there was a choreography with an inscription that almost told the whole story of the bonding and importance of nurturing support at a very young age. It read; "When I was a boy, I came here with my dad, and he was already here with his dad."

Dortmund fans

This really gave me a lot to think about. While other clubs and some local clubs here in Ghana struggle to fill their home grounds consistently, Dortmund' approach represents the easiest and most pragmatic way of involving their very community every step of the way.

Germany's systems may be a good platform for such initiatives to thrive but Ghana Premier league clubs are too detached from their own communities and that makes it extremely difficult to form a formidable fan base which in turn will the basis of potential financial inflow into the club.

Dortmund will eventually win this game courtesy Paco Alcacer's brace and are very much in the title race -two points ahead of  Bayern Munich but no game outcome will affect the fans love for the Club. In Dortmund, everyone is talking about the Yellow and Black and believe it's the best club in the world. A taxi driver who chauffeured the Media visit team for dinner on arrival showed us pictures he had taken with former Dortmund cars and spent the whole time driving to convince us Dortmund was the way to go.

In reforming Ghana football, clubs may want to take a proper look at the Dortmund approach in keeping millions of fans connected to the club for their entire lives. The Dortmund model may not, though, be as attractive for those clubs determined to make money above all else. But their overriding principle as I have come to appreciate at Dortmund quiet simply is -THE FAN IS KING!

George Addo Jnr is on a Bundesliga Media tour sponsored by StarTimes Ghana and Bundesliga International.