Borussia’s CEO Stephan Schippers spoke before the start of the Rückrunde about competing against sides with better resources, the challenges for the new decade and the preservation of the Borussia Mönchengladbach fan culture.
Mr Schippers, on Friday the Rückrunde begins as Gladbach take on Schalke away. The team also spent part of last week at the training camp in Jerez. What is the atmosphere like ahead of the start of the second half of the season?
Stephan Schippers: I think it’s very positive and very focused. After a very strong first half of the season, you can feel that the team and the coaching staff are eager to build on their strong performances they showed in the first 17 games of the season.
Part of the Bundesliga’s winter break is to speculate about how the rest of the season will turn out. The biggest question from a Borussia standpoint is “As the underdogs of the top four, can we keep up with Leipzig, Bayern and Dortmund in the title race?” What do you say to that?
Schippers: In the Hinrunde we showed that we can compete at the same level. That is what we need to try and do in the Rückrunde. There are certainly clubs that have different set-ups to ours, where aiming for the title seems to be a much more fitting goal. And there are also a lot of other clubs, who are a similar level to us, who will be trying to overtake us. I feel that Marco Rose, his coaching staff and our team have shown hunger, conviction and passion. Every fan in the stadium felt that, and you can achieve a lot with that.
In the past decade, Borussia have consistently managed to compete for the European spots. But the competition for European places has grown. Thanks to Red Bull’s divestiture, RB Leipzig have managed to make it to the top of the table, while Hertha Berlin are being heavily invested in with the intent of making it a “mega-club” that will compete in the Champions League. What can Borussia do to counteract this in the long run?
Schippers: It’s very clear that we’re set up differently, but we can still be confident. We have shown that there’s another way with a lot of work, tenacity, continuity, patience, foresight and with economic prudence. We don’t want investors or patrons, so we need to find another way to compete economically and sportingly. For this purpose, for example, we have the investments in infrastructure in BORUSSIA-PARK.
A lot has changed in the past year at BORUSSIA-PARK with the opening of the new “Borussia-8-Grad” building. What do you think about that?
Schippers: We get a large amount of very positive feedback and praise, which is of course very nice. People who haven’t been here for a long time are amazed at what has happened. It’s a lot of fun to see how much life there is there every day. The people come to see training, to see the exhibits at FohlenWelt, to come for lunch and dinner or to stay at the hotel, just for a chance to experience Borussia for a few days. All of this has led to the upgrading of BORUSSIA-PARK, which is a cornerstone in our plans to create economic opportunities that will allow this club to continue keeping up with its competitors. In addition to the economic aspect, I think that it’s important that the club has become more real and tangible for its fans, through the investment in BORUSSIA-PARK.
Will you always be able to have public training sessions where the fans can come and meet the players, or will there come a point where the size is too great and this has to stop?
Schippers: We want to, and we need to, keep these sessions open, because they are a part of what makes Borussia special. Of course the coaches must always be able to do their work, including private training sessions. But we will never shut ourselves away from the public.
At the beginning of a new decade questions are always asked about the challenges and goals for the coming ten years. What are the challenges Borussia are facing?
Schippers: We are, first and foremost, a football club and all of our efforts will continue to be geared towards serving this purpose. Nowadays, in order to keep up with the pace, both in the Bundesliga and across the rest of Europe, it’s important to be active in a number of areas. When I’m asked about the challenges we face, we are predominantly focused on achieving our sporting objectives, but also on retaining the same structure within the club that we’ve always had. This includes preserving the 50+1 rule, remaining competitive both domestically and internationally and, above all, ensuring that we continuously qualify for these competitions. From an entrepreneurial point of view the aim is to retain economic competitiveness, while upstanding certain commercial principles. At Borussia we focus on digital transformation and internalisation. And, in order to maintain how the club is perceived, we try to stick to our principles: remaining transparent and approachable and ensuring that we retain the connection and close communication with our active fan base.
It is common across the Bundesliga for clubs like Borussia to keep a close connection with their fan bases. However, can this communication also lead to a lot of criticism? For example, in situations which require more than just an exchange of viewpoints?
Schippers: In my opinion, keeping this connection is very important and I hope that we are able to continue to do that as we move forward. Naturally there will be things that will serve to alter the perception of the club and change the nature of the fan base, but these are things that we will discuss. However, there are also things that are simply unacceptable from our point of view. For example, incidents that show Borussia in a bad light and, which the vast majority of fans distance themselves from. We ensure that we retain a very clear position regarding these situations, but it’s also important that we have people to refer to who can help uphold the principles of the club.
What is Borussia’s position in these situations?
Schippers: We investigate them extensively and take into account all of the facts and, if we find conclusive evidence, then we will take action. There’s a certain line that simply cannot be crossed. Whoever feels the need to do this, and does it in a way that affects either Borussia or any of our matches, must be prepared to face the consequences. Everyone should be aware of the fact that we have the power to decide how we organise our football matches. For example, whether there will still be tickets available for away matches. We want to ensure that the fan culture stays as it is. But, when I speak about the culture, violent acts and other criminal offences certainly aren’t a part of it. All of those that see it differently are the ones that jeopardise the continuation of the fan culture as we know it.
Do the conversations between the North Rhine-Westphalia Clubs and the Minister of the Interior also help to achieve this goal?
Schippers: Yes, because the clubs have to do their part in ensuring that Bundesliga matches take place while meeting certain basic requirements, without requiring any political intervention. Reul, the Minister of the Interior, retains a very clear and understandable viewpoint, which the clubs have to conform with. The conversations that have taken place so far have been conducted with nothing but mutual respect, and will hopefully prove to be very productive.
An important theme over the next few months will be the DFL’s sale of the television rights for the years 2021 through to 2025. What are you expecting to happen?
Schippers: The biggest challenge will once again be in finding a middle ground between the clubs striving for the most lucrative deal possible, with getting the deal that allows for the highest amount of visibility of our games, whilst providing the best possible service for the fans. Due to the digitisation of the media world there is a lot more competition than there has been in the past; there are a number of different ways of providing the service as well as taking into account the hugely varying preferences of football fans. There are fans that would prefer to watch the Bundesliga in the standard way of through the television, but there are also other, mostly younger, fans who are more accustomed to services such as Netflix, DAZN and Amazon, and would therefore prefer to follow the Bundesliga through other channels. Taking all of this into consideration, whilst conforming to the specifications of the antitrust authorities, and reaching an agreement that allows the clubs to achieve similar economical and sporting successes as some of the other major leagues around the world, is an enormous challenge. However, I have the utmost confidence that this task lies in safe hands with the CEO of the DFL, Christian Seifert, and his team. Even if some people don’t want to admit it, both the DFL and the clubs have always put the fans first and handled these important decisions very responsibly, without just looking at the money, for example when choosing kick-off times. We have complete confidence that those responsible at the DFL will handle this matter in the same vein.