Located near Germany’s border with the Netherlands, Düsseldorf is a city best known for its fashion and arts scene. However, it’s the city’s soccer club that is making global headlines. On April 26, Fortuna Düsseldorf announced a ground-breaking initiative entitled the “Fortuna For All” project. Starting next season, Fortuna will offer all fans free tickets for three home games at its impressive 54,600-capacity Merkur-Spiel Arena. In five years, Fortuna’s CEO, Alexander Jobst, said the plan is for all tickets to each home game to be free.
Currently sitting 6th out of 18 in the 2. Bundesliga, the second-tier league of German soccer, Fortuna Düsseldorf have been a perennial middleweight club since the 1980s. Since winning two consecutive German cups in 1979 and 1980, along with losing to global superpower FC Barcelona in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1979, Fortuna’s best league finish has been a measly 9th place in the 1. Bundesliga. In its third consecutive season back in the 2. Bundesliga, Fortuna averages around 30,000 fans per game, only about 55 percent of its stadium’s capacity. With both the club’s finances and performances stagnating, the club’s leadership announced their ambitious plan with aspirations of attracting more fans and sustaining their position in Germany’s flagship league.
The “Fortuna For All” initiative still has its inherent risks. According to Jobst, ticketing revenue makes up roughly a fifth of the club’s total income. Fortuna also makes considerably more from ticketing when it’s in the 1. Bundesliga. However, the forward-thinking club will use sponsors to finance the cost of match tickets. Over a five-year period, companies will pay the club 45 million euros (around 49.5 million dollars), some of which will also be invested in the club’s youth setup, women’s team, and existing infrastructure. Should more sponsors join the initiative, the club hopes to have enough sponsor revenue to supply free tickets to all home games within the next five years. Fortuna and its sponsors must be cautious, however. German soccer prides itself on having primarily fan-owned, not corporate-owned, clubs. While Jobst assured that the club will not sell shares to investors, it’s imperative for the reputation of the club that corporate involvement is not overbearing.
The announcement comes at a time in which the role of fans in global soccer is being challenged like never before. Nearly two years to the date before Fortuna’s announcement, the soccer world united to stop the formation of the European Super League: a 12-team league featuring the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City which would’ve tarnished the competitive integrity of European soccer. Recently, Leeds United in England came under heat after videos surfaced of its players ignoring fans who had traveled 250 miles to watch them play, questioning the connection between the club and its fans.
However, Fortuna’s ambitious plan serves as a refreshing reminder: soccer is for the fans. Should fortune come upon the Düsseldorf club, it’ll be interesting to see if other clubs follow suit.