Competitive inequality in German football

This post analyses the Bundesliga, as part of ITMH’s competitive inequality project, tracking the impact of financial inequality upon football. The introductory post explains the measures that are used in the analysis. See the other posts in this series for commentary on top flight football in Italy, Spain and England, or the overall discussion of trends within Europe’s top leagues.

The Bundesliga was founded in the early 1960s, much later than other major national leagues. Since its inception, one club – Bayern Munich – has been consistently preeminent (winning 32 of a possible 60 titles), with the likes of Borussia Mönchengladbach (1970s), Hamburg (late 1970s/early 1980s) and Borussia Dortmund (1990s-present) providing the primary challenge.

German clubs have claimed eight European Cup/Champions League trophies, with Bayern the most successful, with six titles. No German clubs were involved in 2021’s abortive European Super League plans, although there are good grounds for thinking that, had the proposal been successful, two of the 15 proposed permanent members spots would have been offered to Bayern and Dortmund.

Fig 1: correlation

(Bars here represent the individual correlation value between each season’s finishing positions and those in the preceding season. The red line is a five-year rolling average to pick up on trends in the medium term. The dotted line is an overall trendline representing the overall direction of travel for this measure across the results. See the introductory post to this series for an explanation of the choice of measurements.)

Despite the single team dominance of the league, results of the correlation analysis show consistent variation throughout the league’s existence. There are periods of greater stability (1980s, noughties), but also seasons characterised by major flux (1978-79, 1995-96, 2010-11, 2011-12). The overall trend across the results shows a gradual increase in correlation levels. In the shorter term, since the early 2010s there has been a steep upswing in correlation, meaning that we are currently in a period where finishing positions are more predictable and stable from year to year.

Fig 2: turnover

(Lines here represent five-year rolling averages for the turnover measure, assessing levels of variation among clubs finishing in the top four and top six of the league. NB – since the calculation of this measurement relies upon future finishing positions, the current season’s figure can only be known in three year’s time. The latest figure, therefore, is for the 2019-20 season. See the introductory post to this series for an explanation of the choice of measurements.)

The turnover measurements for both top four and top six finishing positions in the Bundesliga track each other pretty closely. For both, there are periods of relative consolidation in the early 1980s and across the 21st century. The graph shows the current period has been marked by a rapid short term decline in turnover, point to greater consolidation of top positions among a small number of clubs. Indeed, four teams (Bayern, Dortmund, RB Leipzig & Bayer Leverkusen) have all finished in the top six in every season since 2017-18. The chart shows that this level of concentration is something new within German football.

Fig 3: points per game

(Bars here represent the average points won per game by the team that finished champions that season. The red line is a five-year rolling average to pick up on trends in the medium term. The dotted line is an overall trendline representing the overall direction of travel for this measure across the results. See the introductory post to this series for an explanation of the choice of measurements.)

In the early years of the Bundesliga, the title-winners frequently ended up with a points total with an average of less than two points per game, with Bayern’s all-conquering early-1970s team providing an early exception by recording more than 2.3 points per game in both 1971-2 and 1972-3 seasons.

Since 2010, the chart displays a significant jump upwards, with subsequent champions (well, almost entirely Bayern – who have won the last 11 consecutive titles) frequently recording records that match or surpass that of the Beckenbauer/Gerd Muller era team. While the overall trendline shows a steady rise in performance by title winners, the recent trend records a decline over the past few seasons with a marked drop-off in 2022-23, as Bayern’s current team have declined (despite winning the title this season, it was clear to all that this year’s Die Roten side should no longer be considered a major force among Europe’s best). It will be interesting to watch whether this measure drops back to consistent historical levels (c. 1.9 to 2.2 points per game), marking Bayern of the 2010s as something rather special, or whether this season’s relative low is the aberration on a overall shift to a general higher level for title winners.

Fig 4: goal difference per game

(Bars here represent the average goal difference per game recorded by each season’s title winners. The red line is a five-year rolling average to pick up on trends in the medium term. The dotted line is an overall trendline representing the overall direction of travel for this measure across the results. See the introductory post to this series for an explanation of the choice of measurements.)

This measure confirms the analysis of points per game outlined above: Bayern’s team of the early 1970s were something well above the general level of performance seen by German champions; however, their record has been consistently matched and sometimes surpassed by Bayern teams of recent vintage. Again, while the overall trend is upwards, the past few seasons have seen a slight decline. Future results will be worth watching, to assess whether or not recent levels of dominant performance by Bayern represent a new norm for German football.

Summary

In the Bundesliga trends across the data show greater correlation of finishing positions from season to season, declining turnover of teams at the top of the league and a shift towards more dominant performances by league champions. All of these measures are consistent with a decline in competitiveness and greater predictability of league outcomes.

4 thoughts on “Competitive inequality in German football”

Comments are closed.