BY MARKUS HORN
This weekend, FSV Frankfurt will kick-off their sixth consecutive season Germany’s second division (Bundesliga 2). Currently only TSV 1860 Munich have had a longer continuous stint in the second tier of the German Bundesliga.
Founded in 1899, the club from Frankfurt’s Bornheim district was on the verge of bankruptcy by 1996. As a consequence, nine years had to be spent in the doldrums of the fourth division, before marching successfully straight back into the second Bundesliga within only two seasons. Once back there, FSV Frankfurt were constantly fighting against relegation during the first four years. But last season things all of a sudden changed dramatically. The club finished the league in fourth place in the table and promotion to the first division was within reach for quite a while. It was the best season ever in the club’s long history.
But when the gates of the Volksbank Stadium in Frankfurt open for the season’s first home game against Karlsruher SC this Sunday, no long lines are expected to form in front of the ticket booths. Only admissions for the visitors section are expected to register increased demand from the fans of Karlsruhe, who are enthusiastic about their own club’s return to the second tier.
As a matter of fact, the remarkable resurrection of FSV Frankfurt almost happened under public exclusion. Unlike FC St. Pauli in Hamburg, FSV Frankfurt has never been able to position itself as a counter-concept to its much more powerful competition in their own city.
For supporters of first division club Eintracht Frankfurt, the rivalry with Offenbacher Kickers has always remained more prominent, even though Offenbach have sunk down to fourth division in the recent times, and is not considered a real threat anymore. Eintracht’s relationship with their neighbors from Bornheim is best described as one of ‘friendly disinterest’. As a consequence of the lack of equality and sporting rivalry between the two clubs from Frankfurt, not a single local derby took place between 1962 and 2011.
It appears that the city of Frankfurt with its 700,000 inhabitants is too small to support two professional clubs alike. Moreover, FSV Frankfurt never managed to overcome the status of a “neighborhood association”, finding a place in the hearts of football fans in the region around Germany’s banking capital.
Yet many marketing initiatives were launched in recent years to attract more spectators to the Volksbank Stadium, which has been modernised since 2007. After returning to the second division, 160,000 letters were sent to Frankfurt households. With the help of a coupon code, the recipients could redeem a free ticket for one of the first three home games on the club’s internet site.
Also, in January 2009 FSV Frankfurt gained nationwide attention with an initiative called “Erst gucken, dann zahlen” (“First watch, then pay”). Before the match against RW Ahlen, the club granted free admission for everyone. After the game, the supporters could decide for themselves how much they were willing to pay for watching their club’s 4-0 victory. The final balance was sobering: Among the 3,686 spectators in the stadium, only 1,187 fans took advantage of the initiative. The remaining fans probably were season ticket holders. At the end of the day, the club treasurer only counted 6,124 Euros from the collection boxes.
In addition, FSV Frankfurt also has distributed 500,000 free stadium magazines and promotes its home games with the slogan “Born in Bernem” constantly on 900 outdoor spaces.
Despite all these efforts, an average of just 5,513 fans were willing to support FSV Frankfurt during last season, the best in the club’s history. This was the second worst figure in the entire league, one which has registered an overall average attendance of 17,240 per match during 2012/13. Even neighbours, Kickers Offenbach, who finished a more than disappointing third division season on in 15th place, attracted an average of 6,370 spectators to their stadium.
There is no current evidence that things will change for the better next season. Especially because it is more than doubtful that FSV Frankfurt will be able to repeat their surprising success of last year.
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You can view Markus’ blog here http://markushorn.blogspot.com