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The Leadership within German Football Clubs: An In-depth Examination of Executive Management.

Authored by: Roger Hampel

The Leadership within German Football Clubs Henning Bindzus Matthias Dombrowski
The Leadership within German Football Clubs Henning Bindzus Matthias Dombrowski

The realm of professional football is a dominant force within German culture and the media. Every week, millions of enthusiasts are drawn to football, engaging a vast audience. The DFL Economic Report 2024, published by the Bundesliga's league organization, reports that Bundesliga clubs generated revenues of €4.45 billion and 2. Bundesliga clubs brought in €785,7 million during the 2022/23 season. Nearly 20 million tickets were sold by the 36 Clubs of the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga. Throughout this period, Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga clubs were directly or indirectly responsible for the employment of more than 55,000 people.

Yet, the question arises: Who leads the German Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga clubs? What characteristics are common among the executives of these clubs? Is there a significant presence of ex-professional footballers in these roles, and if so, what are their contributions? These questions have been thoroughly investigated in a research study (focused on the analysis of top management's traits in German professional football) by the aspiring doctorate in sports science and Executive Assistant to the CEO at the German football club FC Ingolstadt 04 Matthias Dombrowski and expert Henning Bindzus, with his knowledge from advisory board mandates and leadership positions on various sides of football business, i.a. at Hamburger SV and Hermes Europe, with the Football Business Journal highlighting important findings and deductions.

"Professional football clubs, given their organizational structure, size, and economic significance, resemble football enterprises aiming at varied objectives, thus demanding adept leadership. Apart from immediate achievements on the pitch, clubs often pursue mid to long-range objectives that are not directly related to sports, mainly economic," - explains Matthias Dombrowski.

The effective chase of these goals requires proficient leadership and management adept at evolving mid-sized corporate entities. Yet, unlike roles such as the head coach or sporting director, the top management in football clubs seldom garners attention in academic research or widespread media reportage.Nevertheless, aspects inherent to professional sports, including the equilibrium between competition and collaboration, the regulations set by football governing bodies, and the unpredictability of game results, add to the unique challenges and complexity top executives face in professional football clubs.

"While certain business areas and duties closely resemble those in other sectors or industries, successful management of a football enterprise, both on and off the field, necessitates leadership that can maneuver through the distinctive conditions of professional football while keeping up with trends in non-sporting areas. This requires the right minds in the right positions," emphasizes Henning Bindzus in context.

The decisions of boards and management are crucial, making them key figures in the wider German football ecosystem.

Key Traits of Executives in Charge of German Football Clubs

Over six seasons, from 2016/17 to 2021/22, the executive board and management members of 36 Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga clubs were closely examined. In total, 150 individuals held 167 top-level management roles. Remarkably, 15 individuals served at two different clubs within this timeframe, and one had responsibilities at three clubs. Regular analysis includes personal data concerning top management, particularly looking at numbers, diversity in gender, age, and educational backgrounds. Former professional players, making up 40 of the 150 individuals (26.7%), often receive additional media attention.

On average, each club's top management consisted of 2.27 individuals. Considering nearly all clubs have a single sports department representative, this indicates a common dual structure of a sports manager alongside a commercial manager in many instances. The presence of at least one ex-player in top management increases the average to 2.4 individuals. Notably, over the studied seasons, the average number of top executives rose from 2.01 to 2.49 (a 23.8% increase). When compared to other leading international leagues like Serie A (average of 5.45), Premier League (average of 5.95), and La Liga (average of 8.9), German clubs have a significantly smaller number of top-level managers. Nonetheless, it's essential to acknowledge the differences in governance structures across these leagues.

"Clubs are recognizing the need for increased professionalism and specialization within their top management to remain competitive and successful in the future. This involves ensuring both qualitative and quantitative representation in expanding business sectors such as internationalization, digitalization, innovation, and sustainability, which still offer considerable potential in many instances, as well as incorporating entirely new corporate divisions and strategic alliances. Moreover, an enhanced emphasis on existing domains like business growth, fan culture, communication, and marketing are vital to meet the diverse needs of stakeholders and maintain each club's unique identity." - notes football business leader Henning Bindzus.

Among these 150 individuals, merely four are women (2.7%), with no noticeable trend towards improvement over the analyzed period. Strikingly, no woman manages the sports department, nor does any former professional female player hold a position in top management. This significant underrepresentation of women highlights the imperative for progress towards gender diversity, vital for the sustainable success of organizations.

The average age of top managers at Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga clubs is 49 years. In terms of educational backgrounds, 72.9% of top managers possess degrees, with a majority (55%) in economics. Nearly two-thirds have either a diploma/master's degree or a state examination, whereas only 18.7% have sports-related education, such as a UEFA Pro License or a degree in sports management.

Of the 40 ex-professional players in top management, 19 (47.5%) lead the clubs they once played for, with 85% overseeing the sports department. Remarkably, at least one ex-professional player holds a top management role in 28 of the 36 clubs reviewed. Compared to clubs in the Premier League (5%) and Serie A (3%), former professional players are more commonly found in the management of German clubs (26.7%).

"The noticeable trend in Germany, similar to other top European leagues, is the higher regard and skillset attributed to former players, especially those who have donned the club's jersey. The involvement of ex-professional players in top management highlights their potential to forge strong connections with the club and engage fans effectively. The preference for general business acumen over sports-specific education indicates a balanced approach to leadership needs in professional football. This will be a focus of more intensive examination in future studies," -concludes Matthias Dombrowski, the football business analyst.

Utilizing insights from this study can guide future personnel decisions, strategies for top management, and practical recommendations aimed at enhancing sporting and economic achievements across clubs. Upcoming research will delve deeper into the relationship between the characteristics of top-level management and the performance of clubs.


About the study:The theoretical background of the analysis, the applied research method, and literature available at:Dombrowski, M., Hovemann, G., Hodeck, A., Bindzus, H. (2023). Ist-Analyse der Merkmale der Personen im Top-Management im deutschen Profifußball. Sciamus - Sport und Management, Jg. 2023, Nr. 2, S. 24-48. DOI: 10.24403/jp.1335529


Matthias Dombrowsky -




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