Soccer scandal Black Market Bundesliga

Unauthorized sales of German professional soccer tickets are booming, with huge tax-free profits to be made. But a complex legal situation is hindering clubs and police from stopping it.
Anyone got a ticket?

Siggi has been traveling for 23 hours. But as he reaches the Allianz Arena soccer stadium in Munich, the home of Bayern Munich, he realizes his journey may have been in vain.

Countless men - some fans, some out to make a fast buck - are waving “Tickets wanted” signs at the arriving crowds. Siggi, who needs a ticket, realizes it’s going to be expensive to see his beloved Borussia Dortmund take on Bayern in the biggest match of the German soccer season.

The Bundesliga game has been sold out for weeks, and the black market is his last chance.

The business of reselling Bundesliga tickets is booming. On visits to several of the league’s 18 clubs, Handelsblatt reporters met street dealers earning several thousand euros in an afternoon.

Hard figures on the size of the market, both outside stadiums and online, are difficult to come by but it is clear that a group of less than a dozen dealers dominates sales and likely rakes in millions of tax-free euros.

“The business has grown enormously,” said Felix Holzhäuser, a Munich attorney who represents several soccer clubs and associations.

According to a Handelsblatt poll, eight of the 18 league members have seen an increase in ticket trading, while seven clubs rate the situation as “very problematic.”

A group of less than a dozen dealers dominates sales and likely rakes in millions of tax-free euros.

Siggi is part of that problem. The unemployed Dortmund fan survives on benefits of €391 ($483) per month. He wants to pay a maximum of €100 for the Bayern Munich game ticket, the most expensive of which have a face value of €70.

But is it enough? A few days earlier, tickets to the match were selling on the Internet at prices of up to €1,500.

A couple dozen men outside the stadium have built businesses out of this disparity. Most have no commercial license and pay zero taxes on what they sell. “It is a ticket mafia,” said Munich Police Officer Christian Böhrer, on duty for the match.

Currently, there’s little the soccer clubs or law enforcement authorities can do about the black-market sales. Their fight back is complicated by a murky legal situation.

The Flourishing Black Market Bundesliga black market



The clubs, keen to retain the wholesome and affordable image of soccer, forbid the commercial resale of tickets.  But private transactions for amounts roughly equivalent to face value can't be prevented, according to a decision by the German Supreme Court. Street sales are illegal no matter what the case.

Another city, another sold-out match, and this time Toni,  a black-market dealer, arrives with six helpers but without a single ticket.

It doesn’t matter. The group divides up into buyers and sellers hours before the start of the game. With tens of thousands of spectators, one person in a group usually drops out, creating opportunities.

The average mark-up on a ticket is 100 percent. Toni’s group makes €3,000 in the build-up to the game.

A blond youth notices one of Toni’s buyers and sells him a spare ticket for €50. The dealer instantly hands the ticket to his buddy, who sells it for €125 in less than a minute.

The average mark-up on a ticket is 100 percent. Toni’s group makes €3,000 in the build-up to the game. “I don’t force anyone to buy from me,” one of his sellers said.

The dealers are a secretive group. “What we do isn’t a minor offense,” one ticket seller said. “It's tax evasion.” But he is more worried about trouble with other dealers and hooligans than the police.

Because hooligans are often banned from stadiums, they have to buy tickets on the black market. They don’t like paying inflated prices and are known to beat up dealers to grab tickets.

Despite the difficult legal situation, soccer clubs are fighting the black market, primarily on the Internet. They identify sellers on sites such as Ebay and impose penalties, or run sting operations. Thirteen Bundesliga clubs give legal notice to such sellers. Three impose stadium bans.

Borussia Mönchengladbach wrote to 100 Ebay sellers before a recent game against Bayern Munich. Fifty were classified as unknowing first-time offenders, but the others were hit with penalties of up to €500.

Borussia no longer keeps track of street sales. “The effort has no relation to the return,” said Michael Plum, the club’s head of ticketing.

The situation with online ticket marketplaces such as Viagogo is more complex. Half the teams in the league partnered with Viagogo at one time, but fans soon complained about commercialization.

Now, many clubs, including Mönchengladbach, Dortmund and Leverkusen, are taking legal action against Viagogo, Handelsblatt has learned. Viagogo refuses to comment.

The German soccer league plans to combat the black market by creating an official second-tier marketplace for all clubs, but the exchange won’t be ready before the summer of 2015.

The German soccer league plans to combat the black market by creating an official second-tier marketplace.

Siggi now needs a small miracle. After narrowly missing out on a ticket offered by a genuine spectator, he notices a man with a Bayern Munich scarf watching him. He still has a ticket and he wants €250 for it.

The ticket is supposedly from a fan club. These are legitimately allocated tickets by Bundesliga clubs in the belief they are going to loyal fans.

But Mr. Holzhäuser said the clubs are “a problem,” noting one Bayern Munich fan club formed solely to gain access to ticket sales.

Siggi doesn’t hesitate. He pays the €250 and gets his ticket with 10 minutes to spare.

Anyone got €250?

 

Officer Böhrer has had less luck. He and two colleagues have failed to catch any black-market dealers. To prove a violation, officers must witness the transaction and find out the price paid. Anything above €30 ($37.50) is sufficient for a citation. Then, a fine of up to €450 can be levied. Tougher penalties await repeat offenders.

But successful prosecutions are as rare as successful apprehensions. Officer Böhrer has witnessed just one jail sentence in 15 years.

Siggi’s luck is also on the wane: Dortmund are beaten 2-1.

As he considers the long journey home, Siggi searches for empty bottles near the stadium. He can collect a 25 cent deposit if he returns them to a shop. Eventually he finds one.

Another 999 deposits and he’ll have paid for the cost of the ticket.

 

The author is a reporter and editor at Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]