The Bundesliga and the emergence of new referee technologies

For the German Bundesliga a new era is about to begin. While various players are competing for the TV, web and mobile rights of the soccer games and are supposed to flush more than a billion euro into the coffers of the German soccer league DFL, the referees will get technical support for the first time. From season 2016/17, the video proof will be tested in an offline mode over the course of two years.

The “historical decision for the soccer world”, as FIFA president Gianni Infantino commented, was made at the 130th General Assembly of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Cardiff. The DFL is delighted that the FIFA greenlighted the video proof. In cooperation with the German Soccer Association DFB, the DFL plans to actively participate in the test period in the next two years. According to Ansgar Schwenken, DFL director of soccer affairs, it will take two years until the referee will be technically supported by video proof in order to decide about goals, penalty kicks and dismissals.

As soon as all issues are clarified with FIFA, the first phase will kick off in the upcoming season, 2016/17. “It is important to us that the soccer game will remain [of] its actual character,” underlines Schwenken.

The Bundesliga seems to be all set for this change.

“If the tests will be admitted, we can implement them very fast,” says Christian Seifert, managing director, DFL. But he is also concerned about hasty reactions. He doesn’t deny that mistakes might be made and that the video proof will change the game in a radical way. Therefore, it needs to be well thought-out: “We have to examine it very seriously and can’t rush it.”

Soft start

Therefore, the Bundesliga is planning a soft start for the new technique. In the upcoming season the test will be operated in offline mode. In the following season a direct intervention will become possible, but it won’t have any consequences for the game.

When it comes to the Bundesliga, only the referee will have the right to request the records. “It is important for us that the referee will remain the decision-maker,” emphasises Schwenken.

The referee will still be the boss in the field, adds Herbert Fandel, chairman of the DFB Referee Committee, who is convinced that it is not going to work if the assistants intervene. “There has to be a clear structure in the communication process,” says Fandel. “The direction has to be entirely [in the hand of one person].” The video proof can only be requested in controversial and match-winning situations such as goals, penalty kick situations and dismissals.

Fandel suggests that veteran referees should be deployed as video assistant because they have the calm and experience which is needed. Due to these personnel requirements, it might be possible to have 26 referees in the Bundesliga in the future. The video assistant needs to be at a central location or the stadium, and will use the TV images as basic source when he/she is assisting via headset the referee in the field. Within 12-15 seconds divisive scenes can be clarified. Furthermore, a monitor will be located on the sidelines so that a referee can also check a situation on video in exceptional cases. It still needs to be clarified with FIFA who will pay for that.

But the result should be that incorrect decisions will not longer take place in the Bundesliga. “We believe that we will bring more justice to it,” emphasizes Ronny Zimmerman, DFB vice-president, who is in charge of the qualification of the referees. Instead of just watching what is going to happen, he wants actively to participate in this process.

Broader concerns

But the additional costs associated with the video proof system are only one concern that the Bundesliga is facing. The DFL is under pressure because soccer leagues such as FC Bavaria Munich are looking for a higher income in order to compete with other leading European soccer clubs so that they can invest more in their top talents. The proceeds that the DFL is generating with TV licences are only about a third of the income of the British Premier League. DFL director Seifert is seeking up to a billion and a half euros, including international rights, for the Bundesliga seasons 2017/18 up to 2020/21. According to the German cartel office it won’t be possible anymore that one player will receive exclusive rights. The all-important discusssions between broadcasters, telcos and online platforms have already started, and the results will be presented on June 10.

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