Why Is Women’s Football In Germany In Decline?
There was a time when Germany’s national female football team was acknowledged as the best in the world, a time also when Germany and the USA were the only two front runners for a Women’s World Cup. But those days are now gone. In Germany, as well as in many other European nations, even though you can still find lots of football-themed games in your favourite online casino, the women’s football game (Frauenfußball) seems to be in decline. But how can this be so when some nations report that interest in the women’s game is at an all-time high? When a world record crowd of 60,739 recently turned up to watch a Spanish domestic football game between two female teams – Atlético de Madrid and FC Barcelona? When only last December, Ada Hegerberg become the historic first recipient of the inaugural women’s Ballon D’or?
A highly respected platform
Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga is undoubtedly one of the leading women’s domestic professional football leagues in the world. With a history stretching back more than a quarter of a century and teams crammed with strong domestic players, the Frauen-Bundesliga has long been a platform featuring football of the highest quality played by many of the world’s most talented female players. Thus the Frauen-Bundesliga has a strong claim to be the torch bearer of German women’s football.
Two of the Frauen-Bundesliga’s leading lights
Heidi Mohr was one of the league’s first stars back in the 1990s. She played for the German national team 104 times and was the Frauen-Bundesliga’s top scorer from 1991 through to 1995. Mohr was a dominating presence in the domestic league who was also able to replicate her form on the international stage. She scored 83 times in 104 matches and is second in the all-time list of leading female international goal-scorers.
Birgit Prinz is the first name on the list of top goal-scorers. She scored 155 league goals, and has won several Bundesliga titles and German cups. Prinz is also a three-time UEFA Women’s Champions League winner with Frankfurt. In addition, she was voted FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and also honoured as the German Female Footballer of the Year in a long-running spell from 2001 to 2008.
Turbine Potsdam have been one of the most successful teams in the Frauen-Bundesliga, and their spokesperson, Stephan Schmidt, accepts there has been a serious decline in the number of spectators turning up to watch games. He believes crowds of more than 60,000 are essentially a one-off which will do little to arrest the downward trend. Furthermore, he can’t see the forthcoming World Cup having any longer-term impact on attendances, even if Germany were to do well.
Revealing that Turbine’s own support has fallen by 25% in five years, he said the average gate used to be around 2,000 but has now dropped to about 1,500. Schmidt thinks these numbers could rise temporarily if the German female team can get to the later World Cup rounds, but he is still convinced any possible spike won’t last long enough to turn around the league’s fortunes.
The bad news is echoed elsewhere in the Frauen-Bundesliga. Wolfsburg, currently enjoying a very successful run, are the Bundesliga champions and serial winners of the Women’s Champions League (in both 2013 and 2014). Yet their home support still seems to be dwindling away: Over a five-year period their average turnout at a domestic league game has gone from a respectable 2,400 down to 1,300 – a 42% tail-off in support.
FC Bayern Munich’s female footballers are faring a little better, as they have managed to stabilise their numbers over five years and can even boast a nominal increase. Nevertheless, most observers put this down to the phenomenal domestic success of Bayern’s men.
New national coach knows the score
Steffi Jones, who herself played for Germany more than 100 times, did not enjoy great success as coach of the German national team. Although they were the 2016 Olympic champions, Germany’s women suffered an embarrassing sequence of losses. Six-time European champions, they still lost to Denmark at the quarter-final stage of the 2017 competition. Such performances eventually resulted in the sacking of Jones when her team finished last in the four-team SheBelieves Cup tournament.
New national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, soon to announce her own World Cup squad, is very much aware that women’s football has lost popularity at lower levels. She feels that the World Cup presents her German team with a great opportunity to start addressing this decline. If she can get her team performing well again, Voss-Tecklenburg believes this will help to get more spectators back into German stadiums.
With the retirement of former star players such as Birgit Prinz and Nia Künzer – whose Golden Goal against Sweden secured the World Cup for Germany in 2003 – there is a sense that some of the former ‘role model’ appeal is now missing from the game. And with the present success of the women’s game in England and the USA, there is always the risk that today’s top German players could now opt to play their football abroad.
Prinz, a veteran who played in 214 international matches, will in fact accompany the national team to the World Cup, but only in her capacity as a sports psychologist. And even here, her involvement is not considered important enough to be a full-time role. As national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg explained: ‘She won’t be there for the whole time because we approached her late. So she will be able to give us some input, but only for a fixed time.