The corona crisis is causing financial problems for football clubs. Schalke, for example, can rely on political support – other traditional clubs cannot, denounces RW Essen board member Marcus Uhlig.
“The Corona crisis is” life threatening for the club, said Schalke board member Alexander Jobst months ago. Now the state of North Rhine-Westphalia vouches for the traditional club in Gelsenkirchen with a sum of millions, sees it not only as an important employer in the structurally weak city, but also as an important cultural asset of the region. Other clubs with a no less glorious past cannot rely on such support as the Royal Blues. Such as Rot-Weiss Essen.
The club that formed the strikers Helmut Rahn and Horst Hrubesch, the German champion from 1955 and the DFB Cup winner in 1953, is in a predicament. According to a report by “Reviersport”, the club faces a loss of 2.5 million euros from Hafenstraße due to the Corona crisis. An amount with which Schalke now wants to cap its large earners. An amount that could already ensure that the lights go out at the Ruhrpott neighbor from the regional league.
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Marcus Uhlig is strongly opposed to this horrific scenario. The 49-year-old has been at RWE since 2017. In an interview with t-online.de, he explains how the association wants to save itself from the corona loop and why it sees political action as a “certificate of poverty”.
t-online.de: Mr. Uhlig, how do you feel watching the Bundesliga on TV but knowing that the ball had to rest in the Essen stadium and in the regional league?
Marcus Uhlig: The DFL operated first-class crisis management. She has managed to resume and maintain play operations as best as possible. I don’t say that as a football fan – because as a football fan I have my problems with watching such ghost games – but from the perspective of a club manager. The DFL was primarily concerned with minimizing the effects of the Corona crisis on their clubs and securing their business. With Christian Seifert at the top, she did just that.
Marcus Uhlig: The former managing director of Arminia Bielefeld has been managing the affairs of Hafenstrasse since 2017. (Source: Revierfoto / imago images)
How safe is your business in the Regionalliga West?
In the context of the Corona crisis, we as Rot-Weiss Essen were very well represented in the media in order to show the view of the clubs that do not play in Germany’s first three professional leagues. The clubs in the regional league and the subclasses below are extremely dependent on audience revenue. Our absolute business basis in Essen is the home game: as many home games as possible in one season in front of as many spectators who consume as much as possible – beer, bratwurst, fan utensils. And surely at least 80 percent of our sponsors get involved with us because they think that’s good: that they can present themselves in this home game environment.
Why is it that a traditional club like Rot-Weiss Essen is so dependent on matchday earnings?
The Bundesliga is extremely focused on media revenue, i.e. TV money. Sponsorship and ticketing revenues, on the other hand, play a much smaller role there than with us. We received 3,000 euros in television money last season. I repeat again: 3,000 euros. For the entire season.
We need between six and seven million euros in sales per season to make ends meet. We are not making any progress with television money. We generate around half of our income through sponsoring and in the hospitality sector, and we feed a further 30 percent from ticketing. The rest is contributed by the Merchandise and Public Catering areas. That is why I would like to emphasize once again that the entire existence of the club depends on the experience of the day with as many consuming fans as possible. Without games in front of an audience, our business basis breaks down.
Rot-Weiß Essen fans: Numerous supporters also support RWE in the stadium opened in 2012 in the 4th division. (Source: Noah Wedel / imago images)
You tried to counter the collapse of the business base by selling ghost tickets, mouth guard and special jerseys. How did you choose these relief actions?
What really makes Rot-Weiss Essen stand out is an almost irrational love that the fans have towards the club. The solidarity idea that the fans would help the club in this crisis was quickly there. Many of our partners and fans have understood that we have to stick together if we want to get through this debt-free crisis.
We were certainly very creative there with regard to the possibilities of monetizing this support. But you also have to say very clearly: in principle you only sell hot air. You sell the fans their own love, their own passion, you sell them their own solidarity with the club. Selling a special bond worked very well. We have achieved a high six-figure proceeds from the relief measures, which we would otherwise not have achieved in times of the pandemic. All of this has helped us extremely to avert even greater damage.
What is the situation regarding repayment claims?
We are very happy that we only had a really low single digit percentage of repayment claims from the people who gave us all the money in advance for the entire season: season ticket holders and sponsors. Even though a third of the season was never played.
Was the bond with the fans strengthened by the Corona crisis?
Definitely. The many small, personal stories that this time wrote were outstanding. That would be completely beyond the scope of this if I started talking about them. We as a club received much more help from the fans than we expected and were allowed to. That finally showed me that the “RWE family” is not just an empty word.
What is the current mood in and around the club?
I would be lying if I said I was sitting in my office beaming today. But what I clearly perceive is that a “now more than ever” mood is spreading around the club. This can extremely help us with the tasks ahead. Because nobody knows what will happen when we can get back together in the stadium. Despite all the adversities, we want to start the new season with maximum ambition.
Nevertheless, there are reports saying that the financial situation of Rot-Weiss Essen looks critical despite the relief efforts. The club is not alone, even in the Bundesliga, clubs are threatened with insolvency due to the Corona crisis. The best-known example is FC Schalke 04, which will now try to counteract this with a salary cap and a guarantee from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In your opinion: Are traditional clubs like Schalke and Rot-Weiss Essen worth protecting goods that should be supported by public funds?
What I miss is a significant, tangible support from the football associations. Although the DFL reacted excellently for the Bundesliga, in the 3rd division the associations gave a devastating picture. Even though we are officially considered an amateur club as a fourth division club, we run a professional football business here. You can already see that in sales. With our average audience of 11,000, we have been at the second division level for years and prove what a radiance this club has for the city of Essen and the entire region. And yet, apart from the city of Essen, nobody gives us a helping hand.
Jochen Schneider: Schalke also ended the season thanks to the TV money. (Source: RHR photo / imago images)
Neither federal nor state politics and neither of the associations has given us a sign to this day that one would like to look after clubs like us, Rot-Weiß Oberhausen and Alemannia Aachen. Clubs that I consider absolutely systemically relevant in their local regions. There is talk of an economic stimulus package of over 200 million euros, but this money will only reach the 1st and 2nd Bundesliga and the third division. If it continues for us fourth division teams so that we live in uncertainty as to whether and when we can plan again with our business model, it will have devastating effects on German football.
I hear a lot of misunderstanding.
Politicians and associations simply do not work precisely enough. The higher I play, the more rescue parachutes I already have, keyword TV money. So far nothing has been done for us fourth division teams. But we are also the employer of over 100 people that we have to pay every month. The fact that we have received no support to this day is an absolute sign of poverty for politics.
The “Bild” reports that a concept approved by the Ministry of Health for a Bundesliga start with fans is ready. To what extent are there such concepts for the Regionalliga West?
We are currently in the process of creating our own opening concept with our stadium operator, which should enable a significant number of spectators at the start of the season in early September. So we try to help ourselves further out of the crisis in close exchange with the authorities of the city of Essen. Because if we were just waiting for politics to help us, we could close the store directly.