RB Leipzig’s promotion to the top flight is a traditionalists’ nightmare. But as DW’s Jefferson Chase points out, it’s also indicative of where the league is heading, whether some fans like it or not.
The start of 2016-17 Bundesliga season is over three months away, but it’s already clear who the most hated team in the league will be.
RB Leipzig, who clinched promotion to the German top flight on Sunday, make German football traditionalists see red. Red Bull red. The club, founded in 2009, is the brainchild of the soft drinks giant and, for many, a paradigm example of the commercialization of modern football.
It’s hard to discount that view because – essentially – it’s true. Under the stewardship of experienced Bundesliga coach Ralf Rangnick, Red Bull’s big bucks have allowed the team to skip years of development and bound up the echelons of German football, from the fifth to the first division in only seven years. RB matches are short on local culture and fan ritual and high on show business and, well, business.
Still, there’s hardly a more futile endeavor than raging against the commercialization of today’s sports. The repositories of tradition in top-flight German football – be it Bayern, Dortmund, Schalke or whoever – would not be what they are now without the support of carmakers, massive energy conglomerates and telecommunications giants. The people’s game has long been bought and sold.
Leipzig should bolster the league
Moreover, Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena is no more lifeless than other newfangled purpose built stadiums, Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion, for instance, or Leverkusen’s BayArena. RB’s attendance this season is the third highest in the second division. Some people are clearly enjoying the football there.
Self-appointed guardians of tradition enjoy bashing the so-called Retortenclubs, which translates literally as clubs artificially bred in a Petri dish. But the reality is that at least two of the Bundesliga’s venerable teams will be going down this year. No fewer than five clubs with one main corporate sponsor/owner (Leipzig, Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Ingolstadt and Hoffenheim) will be playing in the top flight next year. “Artificial clubs” are not a threat to the Bundesliga. They’re a reality.
Every traditional member of the Bundesliga that goes down takes something with it. For instance, if Stuttgart and Bremen are relegated, followers of the league will miss their entertaining derbies against Freiburg and Hamburg respectively.
On the other hand, RB Leipzig restore top-flight football to the eastern part of Germany, where none of the traditional clubs would have a chance of competing in the first division. And the hostility that the footballing parvenus will engender through the country next season will also make for some compelling storylines.
RB Leipzig embody the commercialization of football, but like it or not, that’s reality. Big money isn’t going disappear any time soon because traditionalists object. And neither, in all likelihood, is the latest member of the Bundesliga.