How Germany did it: completing the football season in Europe

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There was a trophy, medals, and commemorative shirts. Only fans were missing when Bayern Munich celebrated their title on Saturday and the Bundesliga breathed a sigh of relief. The restart plan worked.

"This is not the Bundesliga we wanted or loved, but it was the only Bundesliga that was possible," said league CEO Christian Seifert.

When the Bundesliga restarted on May 16, it was more than a month ahead of other major European leagues. The end of June 27 leaves Bayern Munich and Leipzig with weeks of free time before the Champions League returns in August.

Virus tests and Bundesliga medical protocols formed a plan for other leagues and sports around the world. Unlike most other European countries, Germany also restarted the women's league, won by Wolfsburg.

AN UNEQUAL SEASON

The games were creepy when the screams of the players resounded on empty concrete decks and the colorful displays of fans disappeared. Borussia Dortmund set the tone on the first day when his players lined up to greet the empty "Yellow Wall", generally one of the loudest and best-known fan sections in Europe.

The results were very similar to any other recent season. Bayern bounced back from the problems of the early season to win their eighth consecutive title with two games to spare, then held a silent party in private without the families of the players and the usual beer-throwing antics. Dortmund fought hard with a young and exciting team but fell short.

The coronavirus brought pain to some players, at least indirectly. Injuries were more common after the long break from training and second division club Dynamo Dresden had to play eight games in 22 days after positive tests for coronavirus delayed their return to action.

"Do you think someone in the league spent a single second thinking about what's going on in our heads?" Dresden player Chris Löwe said in a tearful, expletive television interview that he criticized the German league last week.

Bayern and Leipzig now face weeks without games before the Champions League resumes in August, although Bayern still has a cup final on July 4 against Bayer Leverkusen. There is also a two-stage promotion-relegation playoff that has yet to be played.

VIRUS TEST

Almost immediately after suspending the league on March 13, Germany quietly began preparing for the restart.

It helped make Germany a world leader in increasing its coronavirus testing. That meant that the league could use up to 25,000 coronavirus tests to end the season without affecting the country's testing capacity.

The deputy director of Germany's main public health agency objected, saying the tests should be kept only for people suspected of having the virus.

At one stage, the restart seemed doubtful after positive tests for the players or staff of the first division club Cologne and the second division teams Dresden and Erzgebirge Aue. Polls consistently showed that most Germans opposed the restart. Detailed league planning for testing and training helped convince key politicians.

The league has stopped releasing test figures, although no top division team has reported an infection since the league resumed.

The only confirmed case of a player who lost a Bundesliga game due to a coronavirus was when Werder Bremen veteran forward Claudio Pizarro was quarantined after a positive test for his daughter, as he later told the local newspaper. Weser Kurier. It was not found to have the virus.

ABUNDANT INJURIES

The restart was accompanied by an eruption of minor injuries, mostly tensions from the players' soft tissues. That left Borussia Dortmund presenting a less-than-ideal starting lineup in their 1-0 loss to Bayern, which decided the title, when Jadon Sancho and Emre Can were only fit enough to come off the bench as substitutes.

Bundesliga players spent less time training at home than their counterparts in England or Spain due to Germany's rapid transition to socially distanced group training.

Some used the break to shake off injuries and get fully fit again. Top scorer Robert Lewandowski, his Bayern teammate Kingsley Coman and Leipzig midfielder Kevin Kampl made a big impact after getting back into shape in the spring.

OBEDIENT FANS

German police, like those in England and elsewhere, feared that fans would gather around stadiums and spread the coronavirus.

When Dortmund welcomed local rival Schalke on the first day on May 16, some curious locals in the club's colors wandered but soon left. A group of about 10 Polish warehouse workers made up the largest crowd as they posed for photos in front of a club logo and played with a ball.

The Bundesliga's brief experiment with empty stadium games was not repeated before the closing, when hundreds of Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters sang outside their team's stadium during a victory over Cologne.

Instead, German fans have mostly followed the rules and watched at home, as evidenced by record-breaking Sky radio audiences the first weekend. The Bayern title victory also didn't spark the kind of street party seen in England after Liverpool's long-awaited championship.

FALL OF TV RIGHTS

Germany was also at the forefront of trade. It was the first major European league to attempt to limit financial damage to its television businesses during the pandemic.

Nearly two decades of high-value television rights came to a halt with new national broadcast packages signed on Monday worth 4.4 billion euros ($ 5 billion) for four seasons from 2021-25. That's roughly 60 million euros ($ 67.7 million) less per season than the current deal.

Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said other leagues will soon feel the pain. "If you look at the problems that have not yet been solved with television stations in, for example, England, Italy or Spain, then we can be very satisfied here in Germany," Rummenigge said Tuesday in a video on the page of Club LinkedIn.

Italy's Serie A expects to launch a television rights tender in September for the period 2021-24. The English Premier League and the Spanish league are initiating talks on new cycles of national television rights beginning in 2022.

Splitting a smaller TV rights deal between the same number of teams is causing tension in Germany. Many smaller clubs want a more even division and fewer benefits for teams that finish at the top of the table.

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