It’s 2005. Because of poor financial management, Borussia Dortmund are on the verge of bankruptcy. The club has to sell their Westfalenstadion, and needs to loan 2 million euros from rivals Bayern Munich in order to survive. It was their darkest hour, but also a new dawn for Die Borusse.
When Hans-Joachim Watzke was appointed CEO of Borussia Dortmund in 2005, it was obvious that things were about to change in the North Rhine-Westphalia. Year after year, the club had been paying for expensive players without ever really selling anyone. BVB registered a loss in transfer balance every single year. When Watzke arrived, he was clear: “The goal should be making BVB a financially stable club. In all of its actions, Borussia Dortmund is guided by the principle of maximising sporting success without piling up new debts.”
And up until today, that is what distinguishes them from their rivals. In a modern football world where ‘results’ are the supreme value, BVB focuses on community, youth development and financial stability.
Economic prudency isn’t an entirely Dortmund-thing. German clubs are known for their responsible financial policy, and even Bayern Munich, Germany’s biggest club, has only once ever bought a player for more than 45 million euros.
But Borussia Dortmund is the prime example of this policy. For example, the team Jürgen Klopp lined up for their 2013 Champions League final cost Watzke & co a combined 40.6 million. That’s less than 4 million per player, with Marco Reus’ 17.1 million taking almost half of that number.
In the last five seasons, they’ve had an average transfer balance of +35.1 million euros. Over the years, they have made staggering amounts of profit on players from either their own youth academy, or players they signed for a small price, reselling them for a much higher figure. Their top-five:
- Ousmane Dembele – 123 mill. € profit
- Christian Pulisic – 64 mill. € profit
- P-E Aubameyang – 50.75 mill. € profit
- Mario Gotze – 37 mill. € profit
- Mats Hummels – 30.8 mill. € profit
It’s needless to say that in the next couple of years, this list will be massively shaken up. Superstar prodigies like Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham are set to be sold for much higher figures.
Die Gelbe Wand, or The Yellow Wall, in Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, is probably the most impressive terrace in Europe. 25,000 supporters give it their best every other week, in the biggest standing terrace in Europe. And for yet another season, Borussia Dortmund registered the highest average attendance in world football with 81,171, before Covid-19 kicked in.
The most important Schwarzgelbe pillar is ‘Echte Liebe’, which means ‘True Love’ and shows the commitment and loyalty of everyone involved with the club. Players feel connected and usually stay at the club for many years. Even the ones who leave, such as Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Mario Götze, Shinji Kagawa, Nuri Sahin… eventually find their way back home.
That continuity also shows off in staff and management: Jürgen Klopp was their manager for seven years before leaving in 2015, Hans-Joachim Watzke has been CEO since 2005, and club legend Michael Zorc has been sports director since his retirement from football, 22 years ago.
But the most crucial component is the support of the fans: because of the environment of longevity at the club, fans are more patient when things don’t go to plan. It creates a connection, an identification between fans and players. In February 2015, when Dortmund sat bottom of the Bundesliga by losing against Augsburg at home, the stadium was sold out every single match.
The club of the people
Many teams claim to have their fans as their primary interest, but few live up to that promise. Borussia Dortmund, like most German clubs, is literally ‘the club of the people’. In Germany, the 50+1 rule (which states the club’s members should hold at least 50+1% of the shares) ensures that football remains the community asset it should be.
In a city like Dortmund, football has been of huge importance for its people. It was originally a steel and coal industrial city. When the mines closed in the 1980’s, the working-class people needed somewhere to find belonging. Football gave them just that, and that working-class identity is still visible in BVB’s infrastructure: a robust stadium, modest training grounds, very basic dressing rooms. A clear message to new players: we will provide you the necessary, but there is no luxury. Work hard, give it all you have got, and you will make it.
If you ever have the chance to visit Dortmund, you’ll most likely be surprised by the cheap ticket prices, one of the benefits of the fans owning the club. People with a season ticket in the famous Yellow Wall pay the bargain of €12,88 per game.
This has its influence on the atmosphere in the stadium: if you have been to a Premier League game, might have the impression that the public in the stands are more of an entertainment audience. In Dortmund, that’s different. Because all sections of the population have the financial ability to visit the stadium, the most passionate fans turn up too. Prepare yourself for 90 minutes of continuous support, whether the team in black & yellow are 5-0 up, or 3-0 down.
The Borussia Dortmund Academy
As mentioned before, being on the verge of bankruptcy left a significant impact on the club’s culture. Over the years, BVB have developed a system of meticulous scouting and proficiency for promoting youth. Many clubs have tried to copy it since.
Still, Borussia Dortmund is the only big club that can create the environment in which youth development is the priority. Not to say that other big clubs haven’t been successful. FC Barcelona’s La Masia Academy, for example, boasted the top three in the 2010 Ballon D’Or. But since, Barça has changed. Since 2013, Sergi Roberto has been the only academy graduate to establish himself as a regular starter. The board desperately place success above their values.
There’s no such thing at Dortmund. Whatever happens, everyone inside the club know what’s expected from them. New managers are encouraged to hand opportunities to football prodigies as soon as they are eligible for the first team. In 2011, Jürgen Klopp lined up Borussia’s youngest ever eleven (22 years and 9 months old), beating Bayern Munich 3-1 in their own Allianz Arena. When Klopp left in 2015, that didn’t change. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele… They arrived at Dortmund, were handed the opportunity at a young age, improved, and were sold for a benefit. Win-win for club and player.
Borussia Dortmund have long been a disrupting force in European football. Because of their direct opponents’ better financial state, they are aware of the need for great professionalism and creativity to achieve their goals.
And their strategy works: since BVB’s financial crisis, they have become a stable European top club, both financially and on the pitch, and have produced some of the game’s biggest stars (Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho…) along the way.
And the results keep following: Two Bundesliga’s, two cups, and a top-2 result in either league or cup in nine of the last ten seasons. Combined with reaching the 2013 Champions League final, it has been a decade like no other for Die Schwarzgelben.
Borussia Dortmund is here to stay.