Elisha Chauhan asked Borussia Dortmund whether safe standing – looking likely to be introduced in the English Premier League – make financial sense.
“If you look for pictures of Borussia Dortmund, almost 50 per cent would be of the ‘Yellow Wall’,” says Borussia Dortmund sales and marketing director Carsten Cramer. “For many people the Yellow Wall is a synonym for Dortmund and the extraordinary culture of supporters of the club and football fans throughout Germany.”
Holding 25,000 fans, the Yellow Wall standing area at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park is the largest in Europe. In total, the venue formerly known as the Westfalenstadion is the largest in Germany with a capacity of over 80,600 when all its safe standing areas are in use, including one for 3,000 away fans.
However, with 95 per cent of the standing area housing season ticket-holders – who pay no more than €200 a season – only a relatively small proportion of fans pay between €10 and €16 to stand in the areas on a game-by-game basis. This means, contrary to common belief, the increased number of fans that can be accommodated in standing areas does not necessarily mean more money for the club.
“The revenue stream of a seated area is always higher than from a standing area, but the brand value is so important that we accept losing money from concessions and the entrance fee because of the atmosphere that is produced by the standing fans,” Cramer told SportBusiness International.
“This increased brand value means that, in the long term, we can ask for a higher price for sponsorship deals, which helps us to compensate or substitute the money we lose.”
Currently, the average ticket price for a Dortmund game is €21, according to Cramer, who adds that safe standing areas also make matchdays more affordable for fans, in addition to playing an important role in bringing together the community.
“German football has a supporter and fan culture, and the standing areas belong to our game just as much as serving beer inside the stadium does. We have nearly sold-out stadiums, we have fantastic atmosphere and I am sure every German club sees standing areas as part of our culture,” he says, adding that the club also has a season ticket waiting list of 10,000.
All-seater stadiums have been compulsory in the top four tiers of English football since the start of the 1994/95 season following 1989’s Hillsborough disaster, where a crush killed 96 Liverpool fans and injured 766. However, a growing number of English Premier League clubs have supported a campaign spearheaded by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) for ‘rail seating’ – similar to those in existence at Signal Iduna Park – to be installed in grounds.
Cramer says the introduction could certainly boost the fan experience in the English Premier League, where fans also pay an average of £834 (almost €1,000) for a season ticket, according to Virgin Money’s Football Fans Inflation Index, published in August 2013.
“I still wonder about the ticket prices that the English Premier League clubs charge,” he says. “I won’t say I’m disappointed, but it’s definitely a different atmosphere. Of course it’s the motherland of football, but when we played at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium [on October 23 last year], the atmosphere and the crowd was not what I expected. It’s still amazing to me that the crowd turns up to the stadium five minutes before kick-off and leaves immediately after.”