It’s no secret that the Bundesliga has topped Europe’s attendance charts for many years, boasting an unrivalled stadium experience for fans. But did you also know that Germany’s second division is also one of the continent’s best attended leagues?
With the new 2022/23 season kicking off on Friday, 15 July, fans will once again be flocking to the 18 stadiums that will host Bundesliga 2 action for the next year. It all starts in Kaiserslautern, the home of the team promoted from the 3. Liga via the play-off. Some of you might be thinking that sounds like a quaint little ground to maybe visit in the picturesque southwest.
Well, not quite. The Fritz-Walter-Stadion is a giant 49,850-capacity structure sitting atop the Betzenberg hill that gives the Red Devils’ home its nickname, the Betze. And they were filling the place in the third division last season, with an average of over 47,000 packing in for their final three games once COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted.
Watch: Kaiserslautern return to Bundesliga 2
The Betze was a 2006 FIFA World Cup host and is one of five large stadiums we’ll see in Bundesliga 2 this season, with Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion, Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Merkur Spielarena, Nuremberg’s Max-Morlock-Stadion and Hannover’s Heinz von Heiden Arena also holding 49,000 or more.
Numbers are obviously skewed over the previous campaign and a bit due to the pandemic and differing restrictions on stadium capacities across countries and states, so let’s go back to 2018/19 for the last full season without restraints.
That year, Bundesliga 2 had an average attendance of 19,125, which worked out at filling 77 per cent of available seats over the 306 games.
Comparing those numbers to Europe’s top seven (first division) leagues by UEFA coefficient, then Germany’s second tier comes sixth out of eight for average - and fourth for the percentage of seats sold. Only the Bundesliga, English Premier League and the Dutch Eredivisie saw a greater proportion of places occupied.
If you’re wondering where England’s Championship ranks among these, it saw 1,000 more people per game, but with average capacity being 3,000 more per stadium, it meant those grounds were proportionally less full at 72 per cent.
Perhaps more noteworthy, though, is just how many Bundesliga 2 games sell out. There were 65 capacity crowds across the 306 fixtures in 2018/19. The Bundesliga saw sell-outs at 103 matches.
But in the remaining six aforementioned top flights (plus the Championship) combined, they sold out just one game more than Bundesliga 2 (66) from 2,683 fixtures played. And 58 of those were in the Netherlands.
Watch: The return of fans in Germany
So why does it hold such a magnetic appeal among fans? Well, Germany is famed for its fan-first football culture, with the most wide-reaching example of this being the 50+1 regulation that prohibits outside investors from becoming majority stakeholders. As such, clubs retain their connection to their local roots, with the members having the greatest say.
This is also reflected in the fact that spectators are not priced out of the matchday experience. While seats for big games at the biggest teams can cost up to €48, tickets for standing in the terraces often start at €9. The league average for a season ticket is €372 – equating to roughly €22 per game – while the cheapest season ticket for a standing area comes to €196.
Moreover, matchday tickets usually allow fans to ride on local public transport to and from the stadium, but there’s also a €9 ticket this summer in Germany for unlimited transport around the country.
Roaring on your team is thirsty work, and a beer and a sausage are another vital component of any stadium visit in Germany. At St. Pauli, for example, that will set you back just €7. Far from being an outlier, such affordable prices are the norm across all clubs in Bundesliga 2, allowing supporters to enjoy a game without worrying about their bank balance.
Not only that, but the division itself is simply fun. Fiercely competitive, wildly unpredictable and often deliciously chaotic, comebacks, big scorelines and last-gasp goals are simply par for the course. On Matchday 21 last season there were two 5-0 results on a single weekend, with one of those a win for relegated Ingolstadt against promotion-chasing Nuremberg.
So tight is Bundesliga 2, in fact, that at one point last term the entire top half of the table was separated by just seven points – and that was in the second half of the season.
Indeed, over the past 10 years only two teams have broken the 70-point barrier: Hertha Berlin in 2012/13 (76) and Freiburg (72) in 2015/16. Schalke won the title last season, even after losing nine times – again, a figure that is simply part and parcel of being in the division.
So when you tune in to Bundesliga 2 this season, starting with Kaiserslautern on Friday, rather than asking yourself why the crowd is so big, the more pertinent question is: why wouldn’t it be? And why not be a part of it?
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