Why Is The German Second Tier So Good?

This weekend saw a remarkable shift in attendance across Germany, albeit for a single week.

Top-flight matches attracted 261,099 supporters, a healthy figure underlining a thriving competition warmly embraced by supporters: the second division, 2. Bundesliga, attracted 284,643 supporters across its games. Yep, that’s right – in terms of fans going to games, there were more attending second-division games than top-flight matches. Whilst it may be an anomaly this week, it does serve to highlight the impressive support within the German game, and the growing reputation of the second tier.

Other second tiers are not as impressive, even around the big leagues in Europe. The Segunda Division in Spain averaged 9,806 fans per game in 2022/23, whilst Serie B was 9,963. In France, the second tier averaged just over 8,632; in England, Championship attendances averaged 18,868. In Germany, the figure was 22,183.

What is it about the German second tier that has elevated it to the position of the fifth-most supported league in Europe?

Quality

There was a time when the English Championship was widely lauded as the best second tier in Europe, but there’s no doubt that Germany has caught up quickly in terms of quality. It’s helped by the fact there are some huge clubs in the 2. Bundesliga right now. Schalke regularly attracts 60,000 fans to matches, whilst teams such as Hamburg and Kaiserslautern are clubs that many across Europe will have heard of. These might be big clubs with big fanbases, seven regularly get more than 35,000 supporters to matches, but any single team does not dominate the division.

This season, Holstein Kiel, a club who have never played in the top flight in the current format, are challenging at the top. Greuther Fürth, a side with just two top-flight seasons under their belt, both of which led to immediate relegation, are also up there. There are big derby matches to consider as well, none more so than St Pauli and Hamburg, which draw attention from across Europe. The division is packed with big games that people care about, and that serve up top-notch action

Also, anyone can beat anyone. In the first 17 matches of the season, every side lost at least four times apart from St Pauli, but they were held to a draw on a number of occasions. Despite only losing once so far this season, they’re not the runaway leaders you’d expect, making it an exciting division.

Ticket Prices

No doubt ticket prices play a big part in the success enjoyed by the German second tier. Germany has a reputation for being fan-friendly in the top tier, and that’s certainly the case further down the spectrum as well. Only Ligue 1 and the Eredivisie are comparable in terms of ticket prices, meaning football is affordable in Germany. Unlike England, it isn’t seen by many as a television show but instead as something to participate in and enjoy.

Fan Culture

The fan culture is also hugely important in the success of the German second tier. An example of that is with St Pauli, a club popular across Europe with supporters. The accepting culture of St Pauli is seen across the second tier, with games feeling more like huge celebrations rather than threatening, which some European countries suffer from. Where there are big crowds, there is usually an air of menace, but on the whole, German football does not suffer from that. Unlike in some European countries, it is possible to drink within sight of the pitch, and that attracts people to matches as they’re a far more social event. Many stadiums have standing areas, such as Fortuna Dusseldorf, which again promotes a better atmosphere.

There’s also the power fans yield in Germany, evident by the recent protests seen across the top two divisions. Clubs voted to allow a financial investor to take a stake in the DFL media arm. Fans protested across the country, throwing balls onto pitches, among other things, and this week the deal was cancelled.

Football Tourism

All of this has combined to make Germany a football tourist paradise. Fans fly in from England and other European countries every week to watch games. Picking on St Pauli again, there are supporter groups dotted around Europe, and every game attracts fans from Scotland, England, and elsewhere, drawn by the cult of the club, cheap prices, and the accessibility of the grounds. In some cases, it is cheaper for a group of English fans to fly to Koln, take a train to Dusseldorf, and watch a game there than it is to get to a Championship match in their own country. When they do go to those games, they can drink in the stadium; the ground is bouncing and lively, and the football on offer is good quality. If they are Premier League fans, they’ll be charged three times as much for a soulless experience or even be outpriced by a new breed of middle-class ‘supporter’ wearing a half-and-half scarf.

Conclusion

There are many reasons Germany’s second tier is thriving. We’ve outlined some here, but there’s plenty more—the 2. Bundesliga is a breeding ground for exciting talent from across Europe, and with big, well-equipped stadiums, it feels comparable with top-flight football. An earthy ‘realness’ to the German game resonates with supporters, perhaps harking back to the pre-Premier League days when the supporter in the ground was the most important aspect of a club’s survival. When you pair that with the great infrastructure in Germany, you get a recipe for success, which is demonstrated by the growing attendance.

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