Borussia Dortmund – Back In The Game

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Last season was truly memorable for Borussia Dortmund’s many supporters, as their beloved Schwarzgelben retained their Bundesliga title and also secured the first double in the club’s 103-year history by winning the DFB Cup too. Not only did they avoid the dreaded second season syndrome, but they actually did so in record-breaking style by setting the highest points total (81) and the longest unbeaten run in a single season (28 matches). Germany’s leading sports magazine, Kicker, compared this achievement with Bob Beamon’s “unbelievable” long jump record in the 1968 Olympics.

They have admirably managed to cope with the loss of key players each season, so when they sold influential captain Nuri Şahin to Real Madrid in the summer of 2011, his place in midfield was effectively taken up by Shinji Kagawa, whose return from injury meant no loss in momentum. Similarly, when the Japanese international was sold to Manchester United this summer, Dortmund had already signed his replacement, the highly talented Marco Reus from Borussia Mönchengladbach.

All this has been done with Dortmund playing an exciting, attractive brand of football that has been appreciated by fans everywhere. Under charismatic manager Jürgen Klopp, this is a side that attacks with pace and defends with great intensity, proving that teams can win with style.

They have also achieved the seemingly impossible task in football of combining victories on the pitch with financial success, though it is equally true that sporting success has helped lead to improved economic results. In 2011/12 Dortmund’s revenue rose by an imposing 42% to a record €215 million (€189 million excluding player sales), while pre-tax profits surged to a hefty €37 million. Despite higher bonus payments, the wage bill of less than €80 million can still be described as “merely average” for the Bundesliga.

The club was saved by the “never say die” spirit of their supporters, whose “We are Borussia” campaign resulted in Dortmund’s community of citizens, companies and public authorities combining to help repair the finances. This included some very understanding creditors and bank managers, who deferred stadium rent and interest payments until 2007.

Dortmund also had to take out yet another loan to help pay the players’ salaries, while they were forced to shore up the balance sheet in 2006 with significant capital increases, which enabled the club to obtain a more manageable debt structure and improved interest rate terms. In particular, the club took out a 15-year loan of €79 million with Morgan Stanley, which facilitated the repurchase of the remaining stake in their stadium from the property fund.

Dortmund have learned from their past mistakes (and excesses) and adopted a far more sustainable business model in the past few years. They now employ a solid financial strategy, based around the over-riding principle of “achieving maximum sporting success without taking on more debts.” The focus is primarily on youth, as explained by managing director Thomas Treß, “We learned that you have to invest in your youth, to develop your own stars, adding to your team with young players of potential.”

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In comparison, Bayern Munich, the “alpha male” of the Bundesliga with 22 league titles and four Champions League victories, have made profits 19 years in a row, consistently bettering Dortmund’s results off the pitch – except last season, when the Schwarzgelben’s €9.5 million was slightly higher than the Bavarians’ €8.8 million. Bayern will also have to go some to match Dortmund’s €37 million in 2011/12.

Dortmund re-entered Deloitte’s Money League in 2010/11 in 16th position with revenue of €139 million, even without the benefit of Champions League money. Their 2011/12 revenue of €189 million would have placed them 11th, assuming no growth at other clubs.

That is more than respectable, but the problem is that it is far below the leading clubs, such as Real Madrid €479 million, Barcelona €451 million, Manchester United €367 million and (crucially) Bayern Munich €321 million. The magnitude of Dortmund’s accomplishment in overcoming Real Madrid (in the Champions League this season) can be seen by the relative revenue figures last season with Madrid’s €514 million being nearly three times as much as Dortmund’s record €189 million.

In the meantime, we should simply enjoy the fabulous spectacle at Dortmund, where they have proved that a football club does not have to throw money at the problem, but can win in the right way. First-class management, astute scouting and a belief in youth development have delivered trophies to some of the best fans around, while the team’s dazzling displays have gained admirers throughout Europe.

That’s some accomplishment, especially as they have combined their sporting excellence with a remarkable recovery from near collapse to a solid financial position. Coldplay may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the lyrics from their breakthrough single seem strangely apposite; “Look at the stars/Look how they shine for you/And everything you do/Yeah, they were all yellow.”

Now that its finances are well in order,  it appears that the German club is destined to compete at the highest level of German & European football for years to come. Meanwhile, we recommend reading the entire analysis of Dortmund’s success on both the football and financial fields written by Swiss Ramble.

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