This article was written by Yaroslav Susov and was posted on the sports.ru website on June 1 2021. The English version is a translation from the original article, which was written in Russian. The link to the original article can be found here.
Denmark is one of the most progressive countries in European football.
In five years, the national team soared from 42nd place in the FIFA rankings to 10th. The league has moved up from 24th to 14th in the UEFA coefficient table. Everything is good with the money: in the ranking of the 10 most profitable clubs in northern Europe in the 2018/19 season, exactly half are Danish.
• Copenhagen – 15.6 million euros (1st place)
• Midtjylland – 8.9 million (2)
• Nordsjalland – 3.1 million (4)
• Odense – 1.6 million (9)
• Aarhus – 1.4 million (10)
And this despite the fact that football is not a very important part of local culture (as in Russia). Football here is a cool addition to cool northern weekdays or a sign of regional affection.
“Fans in Denmark think like this: I was born here, so I support the team from my hometown,” says Mikel Davidsen, a leading football writer at the largest Danish newspaper BT. “It’s not part of Hugge’s philosophy or the meaning of life. If it’s cold outside, people won’t go to the stadium and watch the game on TV. And also they go to football less often in the summer. Denmark is a rich country, in the summer everyone goes on vacation. Therefore, at the beginning of the season, the stadiums are also not full of stands ”.
Only Copenhagen, Brøndby and Aarhus can consistently gather at least 10,000 fans in the stands. Most arenas can’t even hold more.
But how is a small country that exists without Norwegian oil and fish or Swedish ore and forest, located on an area the size of the Moscow region and a population of 5.8 million people (in the Moscow region – 7.8), suddenly recovered and grown everywhere in five years?
What do they have that we do not have?
In Denmark, the state has little control over sports due to the high level of self-organization and decentralization. There is no ministry of sports here at all – its functions are taken over by the ministry of culture, and sports are curated and promoted by municipalities. Such a system has developed since the end of the 19th century. In 1896, Danish schools were recommended to include football in the school curriculum, and in 1937, municipalities were obliged to allocate fields to schools and clubs.
Now the municipalities cover 80% of the cost of sports – but this applies exclusively to mass activities for health, professionals – on their own. Municipalities support sports schools, and voluntary sports clubs can apply for grants, receive free or preferential access to sports grounds, and are reimbursed two-thirds of the cost of renting private facilities.
“To get a grant, you need to create an association,” says Soren Bennicke of the Danish Football Federation’s research department in an interview with Sports.ru. – It is necessary to register the charter and indicate the purpose, as well as organize the club’s board. After that, you can apply for a grant and access to infrastructure. There is a lot of bureaucracy, but it is not that difficult to get benefits. There are millions of associations in Denmark with different goals: football, other sports, book clubs, bird watching and even discussing flowers. The only rule is that the association must be self-organized in a democratic manner. ”
Professional clubs cannot count on such conditions and operate as private commercial organizations. All clubs, except for Copenhagen, which bought the stadium, rent arenas from the state at full cost. They cannot have an owner or sponsor affiliated with the state.
“It’s just illegal. If the state sponsors the club – for example, buys the right to the name of the stadium – it will spend taxpayers’ money on it, including other clubs. Take money from one team to give to another? It’s just not fair, ”Mikkel Langer, a journalist with the Danish news agency Ritzau, told Sports.ru.
“We help professional sports with massive government support,” explains Bennicke again. – All professional athletes once started at the amateur level. It is not the state’s business to support commercial organizations like football clubs. In addition, municipalities are helping to some extent with infrastructure ”.
Danish clubs can only rely on themselves, so they had to learn early to look for money. Brøndby became the second club in Europe after Tottenham to go public (in 1987).
Any major club in the country (eg Copenhagen, Aarhus or Aalborg) is conducting an IPO in search of money. This is not only in football: the world’s first public esports club – Astralis – is also from Denmark.
The only loophole through which the state can help football clubs is the construction, repair and reconstruction of stadiums. So from 2001 to 2007, 2.1 billion Danish kroner (about 280 million euros) was invested in Danish stadiums for football and handball.
Such an independent sports system has limitations. Denmark objectively cannot claim a place in the top European leagues. The size of the country and the population also affect here: Denmark’s GDP (PPP), according to the IMF for 2019, is almost half that of Switzerland, Belgium and even Romania.
There is only one way for such a small football market to rise to the top, or at least fight its richer neighbors – effective reforms….
“In life we often look at Sweden and Norway and compare ourselves with them. Although in football we consider ourselves their elder brother, – says the leading football author of the largest Danish newspaper BT Mikel Davidsen to Sports.ru, – Our top clubs are looking towards Belgium and Switzerland. They have more money for transfers and salaries, they are higher in the odds table. ”
It was this benchmark that led Denmark to reform the championship five years ago.
Until 2015, the Danish championship had many problems:
• the league was plummeting in the odds table. From 12th place in the 2011/12 season – to 22nd in the 2014/15 season.
• the championship matches were played in three rounds – and the draw of the stadium in the third round could decide the fate of the championship.
• there was not enough money for growth. The leaders of the Danish championship in terms of the budget were 2-3 times inferior to the Belgians.
“Before the reforms, a lot of teams were afraid to get kicked out,” continues Davidsen of BT newspaper. “Instead of developing young players, they clung to the result. Big clubs understood that in order to grow, they needed to play with each other as much as possible. Many were unhappy and saw problems.
Since in football we often look at Belgium as a country going one step ahead, we saw that after the reforms in 2008, their championship has become much better. There is more and more money, the level of players and clubs is growing.We looked at Belgium and said to ourselves: “We want this too.” And they called the guys from Hypercube who were remaking their championship”.
Hybercube is a research and consulting company that evaluates everything around football (from the impact of kickoff times on ratings to the financial health of regions) and offers new league formats. Somewhere – division into groups in the second part of the season, somewhere – even groups + subsequent playoffs. The most famous projects of the company are the Eredivisie, the Belgian championship, the Austrian Bundesliga, the new format of the 2024 Champions League.
“Hybercube was launched in January 2000,” founder and CEO Peter Newvenhuis tells Sports.ru. – We worked with state, insurance, logistics companies and banks, we understood how the audience behaves. And then they started helping football.
The first was the Dutch championship. Feyenoord was strong, winning the UEFA Cup in 2002, but few people went to football – and we analyzed why. It turned out that the championship was boring. 18 teams played 34 rounds, and only at the end there was interest: who will get into the European cups and who will be eliminated. The middle peasants’ matches were of no use to anyone, because they did not fly out and did not reach Europe. And we have introduced playoffs so that teams from the middle can get into European cups. In two years, attendance has grown from 4.9 thousand per match to 5.5 – at the distance of the season, this is plus a million people! This format gave impetus to the development of teams such as AZ and Twente.
In January 2015, we were invited to Copenhagen. We spoke to fans, Danish championship team captains, coaches, broadcasters, club leaders, league, federation and academics. I remember a conversation with the head coach of the national team, Morten Olsen. He said, “I don’t care what you do.The main thing is to give my players a division into groups, like in Belgium. I’m sure their level will rise if the best teams play each other four times, not three.”. So he supported us along with the fans.
We also talked with the heads of the regional police. They explained that if the matches are more interesting, then more people will come to them, and they asked for data on the number of police officers at the matches in order to predict how this will change after the reforms.
We started in March, worked for 6-8 weeks and finished in June 2015 – then the leaders of the Danish championship consulted with the bosses of the second division and made a decision. ”
The Danes have officially set the goal of the reform – to get to 15th place in the table of coefficients and increase club income.
Hypercube collected an array of information and produced a 100-page report with reform proposals.
According to the company’s calculations, there should not be more than 30 professional clubs in Denmark (the audience potential no longer allows). The optimal size of the major league is 12-14 teams, and the main change was to affect the second part of the tournament – after each team played with each one twice (before, the usual third round lay on top, often boring and useless).
Hypercube came up with nine formats with 12 and 14 teams. They were assessed in terms of increased competition in the championship and finances – and the clubs themselves made their choice.
The league was expanded to 14 teams that played two rounds. Then the first six played for places in European cups, and the rest were divided into two groups of four: in the first 7, 10, 11 and 14 places, in the second – 8, 9, 12 and 13. The winners of these groups were cut among themselves for a joint group for the Europa League, and losers – for relegation.
But this format has not survived. Before the start of the 2020/21 season, the championship was reduced to 12 teams and the second stage was slightly simplified: now the league is divided into two sixes.
“After a couple of years, the fans and the boss of the Danish league wanted to return to 12 teams,” said Nieuwenhuis. “They just got together and made a decision. I remember very well that in 2015 we sat with fans of 11 of the 12 teams in the league and discussed the format. They all said they wanted to see 14 clubs in the league – and they didn’t like 12. And now we have returned. In general, it seems to me that 12 teams are also a suitable option for Denmark. The difference is not that big.”
In the top six there is a struggle for European cups (three best teams get direct tickets), and in the bottom six – for relegation (two worst are eliminated directly). In the last match of the season, the fourth team from the first six and the best of the second six compete for another place in the European competition – so there are no unmotivated teams in the table.
“The new system has given the middle peasants a raison d’être,” says Mikkel Langer, a journalist for the Danish news agency Ritzau. – Now they are not just aimlessly waiting for the end of the championship, rejoicing that they did not fly out, but are fighting for every place. Because there was a big difference between the places in the first and second six.
Now the day of the end of the first part of the championship (two smooth circles) is the main day of the year. Because everyone wants to play in the top 6… There is much higher income from television rights. For one match in the top TV slot, the team will receive approximately 300,000 Danish kronor (40 thousand euros), for a match in the bottom six – approximately 50,000 kronor (6,700 euros). It is financially more profitable to play with the tops. TV rights revenues outweigh the chance for a spot in European competition. And in the bottom six you can always fly out. ”
In 2015, Denmark signed a new telecontract for the new format for DKK 394 million (3.6 billion rubles at the average rate of 2015, 4.9 billion rubles at the exchange rate at the end of May 2021; RPL telecontract with Match TV – about 2 billion rubles – Sports.ru). And we changed the distribution of TV rights:
• a third of the telecontract is divided equally between clubs
• One third is divided between the clubs depending on the slot chosen by the broadcaster for the broadcast of the match (each round, the teams, the matches of which are shown at 16 and 18 hours on Sunday, receive the most).
• another third – depending on the place in the table after the first and second rounds and at the end of the championship.
So the Danish championship got rid of the unfair three laps, began to earn more due to a new telecontract, and the teams pulled themselves up in European competitions.
Copenhagen advanced into the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2016/17, the first since the new season, and Danish clubs have scored more points than in the previous two years combined. For four years, the Danish Championship has exceeded the task and climbed to 13th place in the coefficient table.
“There seems to be no match left where you can easily predict the outcome,” says Langer. – For example, in the top four – Brøndby, Midtjylland, Copenhagen, Aarhus – you can’t say who is really stronger. And the same is at the bottom of the table. There seems to be almost no problem in Danish football now. Except for the left-back of the national team, haha ”
After the reforms, Denmark quickly became attractive to foreign investors. The first was Nordsjalland in 2015, and now 9 out of 24 clubs in the top two divisions are owned by foreigners:
• Nordsjalland (Egypt)
• Midtjylland (England)
• Vejle (Moldova)
• “Senderjuske” (USA)
• “Esbjerg” (USA)
• “Helsingor” (USA)
• “Koge” (USA)
• “Fremad Amager” (Russia)
• “Wendissel” (Switzerland)
And it’s not over yet. At least 6 more teams are open for negotiations with investors: Aalborg, Randers, Silkeborg, Horsens, Lyngby and Viborg… The Red Bull conglomerate was thinking about buying Brondby, but so far it has not come to substantive negotiations.
The reasons are simple:
1. Clubs are inexpensive – primarily due to the size of the country, the growth of TV rights and other revenue is initially very limited.
2. A club can rise very quickly in the championship and reach the European Cups – much faster than in other leagues. There are only 12 seats in the tower – and 5 of them go to European cups.
3. 14th place in the UEFA coefficient table allows you to start from the high stages in the tackle.
4. Danish football has long become a transfer hub and is ready to consciously develop and sell players – especially since almost everyone in the country speaks English, notes the American owner of Helsingor Jordan Gardner.
The lack of a limit on foreign players makes the league a springboard not only for locals, but also for footballers from Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Africa. And the perfect field for experimentation. Therefore, in recent years, more and more investors have come to Denmark with a wide variety of management approaches.
In 2015, former Manchester United scout and founder of the Right to Dream football academy in Ghana Tom Vernon bought Danish Nordsjalland – a story you’ve probably heard by now.
“I’ve seen Ajax, Red Bull and Feyenoord fail with investments in African academies. Their approach: we need to teach everyone how to do it. That message is the root of failure, ”Vernon said. – Modern academies only care about sports and financial results, but this is shortsighted. Therefore, we see a lot of mental problems in football players. All players – both young and graduated from football – ask themselves the question: “Why is all this necessary?” I spent a lot of time studying the aspiring footballers who became the tops. And I understand that it is important not only to teach children to play football, but also to be citizens of the world, to talk about social responsibility, the need to return back what you once received. ”
His dream is that only graduates of the Danish and Ghanaian academies will play for Nordsjalland. So far it turns out. Nordsjalland are one of the youngest teams in Europe (average squad age 22.4, according to CIES).
The coaching staff includes the main footballer in the recent history of Ghana, Michael Essien. And the trainees are already being successfully sold: this season Mohamed Kudus moved to Ajax, Mikkel Damsgaard to Sampdoria and Isaac Atanga to Cincinnati. Total income – 19 million euros.
The Nordsjelland system is quite effective. In 2015, when Vernon just bought the shares, the club’s income was 10.8 million euros, and four years later it more than doubled – to 24.1 million euros (profit – 3.1 million).
In January 2021, Vernon sold shares of the Right To Dream club and academy to Egyptian businessman Mohamed Mansour for 100 million euros (and bought in 2015 for 13.5 million)… The Egyptian investment fund will invest 30 million euros in the development of the academy in Egypt, so in a couple of years the Ghanaian-Danish composition of Nordsjelland will be diluted by guys from the north of Africa.
A similar path was chosen by Yammerburg from the third division, which in April 2021 was acquired by German businessman Klaus Müller, owner of football academies in Nigeria and Mali.
Midtjylland has a completely different approach. Owner Matthew Benham (who owns Brentford) and CEO Rasmus Ankersen have turned the club into a geek’s paradise.
“We cannot spend more competitors,” Ankersen told The Correspondent. “Therefore, we must think more. We believe the analysis of league, team and player data is key. ” It is there that coaches for kicks , corners, artificial offside and even mental recovery from defeats work.
And also in Midtjylland they rethought the work of scouts. “Your job is not to tell us if a player is good or bad,” Ankersen tells the scouts. – We already know that. Your goal is to understand if this player is psychologically appropriate. ”
In Midtjylland, decisions are made purely on the basis of numbers, which is why in the world media the club is called the football version of the Oakland Athletics baseball from the Moneyball movie.
By the way, the general manager of that “Oakland” Billy Bean himself recently joined Danish football. In February 2021, as part of an international consortium, he bought a stake in Esbjerg – so the Danish club from the second division got into the same Pacific Media Group network with English Barnsley, French Nancy, Belgian Ostend and Swiss Thun. More than $ 6 million has been allocated to the initial stage of development – it is obvious that we are talking about the development of infrastructure and children’s football.
Some in Denmark are wary of such an influx of foreign capital.
“The big risk is that the Danish club may not be the main, but the second or third asset in the portfolio,” says Mikel Davidsen, author of the largest Danish newspaper BT. – This has already happened with Senderjuske. Its owner, American Robert Platek (a partner in the investment company of the Dell family, which owns the computer developer Dell), recently bought Spice. Another similar story is with the second league club Fremad Amager. Its owner, Russian Anton Zingarevich, bought Botev Plovdiv – and they took the head coach and four players to Bulgaria right on the day of purchase. ”
The Danish League responds confidently to these doubts. “I understand the fears very well,” says the director of the league, Klaus Thomsen. “But we are very proud that our clubs – both in terms of sport and organization – have become so attractive for investments. We do not see any reason for concern – on the contrary, the clubs are only becoming more responsible. Everyone understands that it is necessary to raise the level, so that no one will oust Danish talents from the teams ”.
Statistics so far only confirm this. Denmark leads Europe in terms of the average number of pitches per club, according to a UEFA report, with a professional team having 6.4 full-size natural pitches and 2.9 artificial or hybrid pitches….
In terms of spending on the academies of Denmark, there is no equal in northern Europe:
4 Danish clubs spend from 2 to 3 million euros on the academy – and not a single Swedish or Norwegian
4 Danish clubs spend 1-2 million euros on the academy – 7 Norwegian and 3 Swedish
But one Danish club is radically different from the rest. Copenhagen also pays attention to transfers and academies, but its business model is much more interesting.
In 1990, the Danish government wanted to rebuild the old Idretspark, but was not going to spend too much. The arena was given to an investment fund, which undertook to build a new stadium on the same site if the football federation guarantees to hold all the matches of the national team there in the next 15 years. DKK 640 million was spent on the reconstruction of Parken. Copenhagen first rented the stadium, and in 1998 bought it for 138 million kroons and went public under the name PARKEN Sport & Entertainment Group.
The football club became the mainstay, but not the only asset of the new business system. By 2008, PARKEN Sport & Entertainment Group included Copenhagen football and GOG handball, Parken stadium, the Rockshow promotion company, the country’s largest ticket operator, recreation parks (hotels, cottages for rent, water parks, bowling, tennis , mini golf, and ice rink) and fitness centers.
A couple of years ago, unprofitable fitness centers and a handball team were sold and began to build a new recreation park in the west of Denmark, and they also bought the North esports team. But for now, esports, like football, are not the most profitable assets of the company. She earns the most from water parks.
But he invests in marketing innovation. At Parken you can watch a replay of any dangerous moment of the match right in your smartphone .
Now in Denmark – an equal and competitive championship with a cloud of innovative ideas. But the reforms have exposed another global problem that a small country cannot defeat. No matter how successful the Danish championship is, it will most likely not overtake its neighbors from Belgium and the Netherlands, and the success of the national team practically does not depend on its effectiveness.
The Danish national team for Euro 2020 has only four players from the national championship: the third goalkeeper Loessl from Midtjylland, center-back Jorgensen, left-back Boylesen and forward Wind from Copenhagen.
“It’s actually a good problem that we have almost no national team players in the league,” says journalist Mikel Davidsen. – In the top 5 leagues, our guys are growing every week, playing with stronger partners. The guys leave for Italy, England, Germany. This is a great achievement. ”
Globally, the Danes do not care who the leader of the national team Eriksen plays: for Inter or Odense, because they do not have excessive ambitions that would prevent them from soberly assessing the possibilities of the championship. Moreover, strong players in their home league are wary. It is believed here that a bright player should shine abroad, at a higher level.
“We understand that the Danish championship will never be the best in Europe,” says Davidsen. -We know that we will always be a donor league. And we understand: if a guy is really good, he should leave. Because this is the cycle of football life… And if the guys return, then we are not happy that they are back. We look differently: it means that he does not match the level of stronger leagues and missed the chance. ”
“To be objective, it looks like 13th place in the odds table is the maximum of our championship,” adds Mikkel Langer, a journalist for the Danish news agency Ritzau. – It’s the same with the national team. She is unlikely to ever rise above tenth in the FIFA rankings and go beyond the Euro quarter-finals, unlike France or Germany. It looks like we have reached our potential. ”
But there is no tragedy in these words. Denmark has learned to be happy. The country ranks second in the world in terms of happiness in the UN ranking, despite huge taxes (about 70 percent in total), very high prices for essential goods and cold weather by European standards (winters in Denmark are slightly warmer than in Russia, but summers are colder).
“Real, deep and lasting joy usually requires the ability to refuse, and this is in abundance for the Danes. This is a lack of ambition and dynamism in life, avoiding sometimes much-needed conflicts, the loss of freedom of expression and individualism, which are denied the right to exist by Hugge and the Janthe Laws, ”writes Michael Booth, author of the book“ Almost Ideal People ”about Scandinavia.
It seems that Hugge and the Janthe Laws are generally the key things that explain the Danish mentality.
“Watching football together or playing at a local amateur club — that’s Hugge. In general, amateur football is a good example of this philosophy. People meet, socialize, eat and have fun, ”Soren Bennicke from the Research Department of the Danish Football Federation told Sports.ru.
Jante’s Law came up with Danish-Norwegian writing Axel Sandemuse for the fictional world of The Fugitive Crossing His Trail, very similar to his native Danish town. The main goal of such a life is social equality. The rules from the beginning of the 20th century still work. “Jante’s Law works like this: You can’t come and just say that you are better than me or anyone else. You need to be more modest. And in general: you are no better than me! – explains journalist Davidsen. – For example, it’s not customary to say that you don’t give a damn about the team and that you just want to score more goals. A footballer who says this will be looked at with censure. For example, Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Denmark would not be accepted one hundred percent. He does not obey the laws of Jante. ”
“If you have a lot of money or, for example, your own business, you don’t need to show it,” says Langer. – You need to be humble and not show your success. This also works in football. Stars don’t need to show off their glamorous life. The best example is Daniel Agger. He donates money to charities, helps children. An anti-example is Niklas Bendtner, who is criticized by most of the country for drunk driving and being a bad guy. ”
So the status of the middle peasant championship will not affect the Danes. This also has its own fun.
Now Hypercube, which reformed the Danish championship, has signed a contract with the RFU to reform the system of Russian football – from the PFL to the RPL. Will it be better further?