Chelsea and Bayern Munich might prove hard to separate on the pitch, but off it they could hardly be more different
Bayern Munich's accession to the Champions League final against Chelsea represents more than just a football achievement for Jupp Heynckes and his team. Bayern's second European Cup final in three years elevates to the highest stage the values at the heart of German football – clubs owned by supporters paying ticket prices that are affordable. These laudable merits differ fundamentally from those of the Premier League in general, and Chelsea in particular.
While England's Premier League has become the first football league to have had its top clubs largely sold to rich foreigners, the Bundesliga still requires its clubs – with the historic exceptions of Wolfsburg (Volkswagen) and Bayer Leverkusen (the pharmaceuticals giant Bayer) – to be majority owned by their members. The clash between Bayern and Chelsea could hardly embody two more extreme ends of these conceptions of a football club. Chelsea are 100% owned by Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who bought the club in 2003 shortly after "falling in love with football" at his first Champions League match. Bayern, for all their commercial power as Germany's biggest club, remain 82% owned by their supporters.
The Bundesliga has maintained the principle that clubs are member organisations, despite the Premier League's financial dominance and the fiercely ambitious selling of its television rights to lucrative overseas markets. Underpinned by that sense of belonging and modest ticket prices, the Bundesliga has consistently enjoyed the highest attendances of any league in Europe – approaching 45,000 on average for the season that has just finished, with Borussia Dortmund as the champions.
In November 2009, the president of Hannover challenged the Bundesliga's rule that its clubs must be majority-owned by their members. He argued that if they became purely commercial companies, as they are in the Premier League, or floated on the stock market, clubs could raise more capital. Of the 36 elite clubs, 32 voted to keep the 50%+1 ownership rule, with three abstaining and only Hannover voting for a change. The supporters group Unsere Kurve had campaigned passionately against the move, delivering a petition signed by more than 100,000 supporters. On keeping the 50%+1 rule, the league association president, Dr Reinhard Rauball, said the Bundesliga was "remaining true to its principles" and keeping a core foundation of its success and appeal: "stability, continuity and proximity to fans".
Bayern reach Saturday's Champions League final having sought to maintain a balance between being supporter-owned and having the commercial clout to compete for and keep the world's best players. Alongside the 82% of Bayern owned by 130,000 club members, 9% stakes are held by two mighty German companies, Adidas and Audi, which also sponsor the club. Bayern's income, €321m (£258m), in 2010-11 included commercial turnover of £177m. That has enabled them to sign and hold on to stars such as the Frenchman Franck Ribéry and Holland's Arjen Robben, who has committed himself to the club until 2015, while having but still make 13,500 tickets for each match available in the Allianz Arena's standing areas behind the goals, for just €15. Members, who join the club for €60, or €40 for those aged 18-25, can watch matches against the top teams in the Bundesliga and Europe for €12.50 (£10).
Large standing areas at all Bundesliga grounds have been retained as a deliberate policy to generate a vibrant atmosphere and keep ticket prices affordable. That has ensured the attendance of many young adults, who have been largely priced out of many Premier League grounds as ticket prices increased by up to 1,000% in the past 20 years. Considering how to address outbreaks of hooliganism, the German federation, the DFB, decided in March 1993 not to follow the Taylor Report's call for all-seat stadiums, preferring to make standing areas safer. It held that football is a social activity from which poorer people should not be excluded: "Football, being a people's sport, should not banish the socially disadvantaged from its stadiums and it should not place its social function in doubt," the DFB said.
Bayern's 70,000-capacity Allianz Arena, opened in 2005, incorporates standing areas behind both goals and teems with young people. Dortmund's "yellow wall" standing area has space for 25,000 supporters to watch the newly crowned Bundesliga champions. At Chelsea, the cheapest tickets for a top match at Stamford Bridge this season were £56 for members, more than five times the price at Bayern, and £61 for non-members.
Since being challenged by the 1997 Labour government's Football Task Force, the Premier League has said its clubs should "stretch" pricing to enable the more expensive seats to subsidise cheaper tickets. But at the top clubs such as Chelsea, where there has been no dip in demand for highly priced tickets, there are few cheaper seats available.
Chelsea's chief executive, Ron Gourlay, when making the case for Chelsea to move to a new stadium in Battersea, said: "We need to get more youth in." That looks like wishful thinking: Arsenal's move to the Emirates Stadium did not lead to widespread ticket price reductions.
A Premier League spokesman, reflecting on German football's great accessibility, said: "There are many things the Bundesliga does well – things we admire. We have a longer and more organic development in terms of ownership, so we don't have an ownership philosophy, but are ownership-model neutral. That is not to say we don't care who owns our clubs, but it is more important how they are run – hence our rules on financial sustainability and transparency."
What is clear is that Bayern's presence in a Champions League final staged at its own home again provides a vivid opportunity for those transfixed by the Premier League to see there is another, less free-market, way of watching the people's game.