Hansa Rostock: Sinking ship kept afloat, but at what price?

The financial crisis at Hansa Rostock must be a dream for headline-writers everywhere. Rostock is a city defined by the sea – a member of the Hanseatic league for over 600 years and still an important port for freight and passenger ships. Hansa Rostock’s nickname, Die Kogge, is even taken from the name of type of ship that adorns their badge. Sinking ship and bail-out puns aplenty, then.

Yesterday, the Bürgerschaft (equivalent to a city council or parliament) came together at the town hall to vote on an urgent bail-out to save Hansa from administration. The omens weren’t good. Hansa Managing Director Bernd Hoffmann made it painfully clear that this was the last chance saloon; that only the city itself could save the club and there would be no last-minute sponsor assistance such as was case with Arminia Bielefeld last season. The financial committee of the city council had already recommended that the bail-out fund be rejected. But what exactly did the projected bail-out entail? Hansa’s total debts amount to more than 8.5 million euros, 4.5 million of which originates from unpaid tax between 1999 and 2001, right in the middle of their 11-year stay in the German top flight. This is what they were granted by the council yesterday:

  • Cancellation of € 680,000 of the € 4.5 million tax debt to the council.
  • A direct injection of € 750,000 to maintain the club’s capacity to operate as a business.
  • The purchase of the Hansa Rostock stadium and training centre by the city council at a cost of € 530,000.

This all racks up to an eye-watering € 1.96 million.

5,000 Hansa Rostock fans gather at the Neuer Markt to await news.
Source: http://www.rostock-heute.de

Since it became clear that the decision would be made on 9th May, Hansa Rostock fans have been organising protests, benefit events and petitions to encourage a yes vote and to garner support from others who hadn’t yet made up their mind. 5,000 gathered in front of the town hall on the afternoon of the vote and a petition containing 28,000 signatures was handed over.

If there were Hansa fans harbouring any hopes of a quick and painless yes or no, these were quickly extinguished. The debate began at 4:30 p.m. and the members of the council took turns to highlight the position of their respective parties before declaring whether they were for or against the motion. Eva-Maria Kröger from Die Linke began by praising the dedication of the fans but also highlighted the consequences a yes vote would have on the city’s finances. Her statement was the first clue as to the general feeling amongst the politicians: “[…] There were also many who registered their displeasure at a possible bail-out for Hansa,” said Kröger, “[…] but for many others the club is everything; their lifeblood. We cannot take this away from them”.

Spokesmen for the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats declared that different members of the council in their respective parties would be voting differently. Dieter Neßelmann from the CDU assumed that “this would not be the last of the financial assistance [required by Hansa]”. There was also stinging criticism from him of former directors at Hansa, with complaints that the city council had been left to face the music and pay (both literally and metaphorically) for the mistakes of others. Several other council members from other parties declared their support of the plan and it soon appeared as if there was light at the end of the tunnel.

It appeared as though the main crux of Hansa fans’ argument, namely that Rostock needs Hansa just as much as Hansa needs the city of Rostock, had rung true for the people making the decision. Steffen Bockhahn (Die Linke) hit the nail on the head with the following quote: “The rational decision would be ‘no’. But I will pin my hopes on the principle [of the financial assistance working] and say ‘yes’”. By this point it was clear that a majority would vote yes and Hansa fans could slowly but surely begin to relax. Sure enough, just before 6:00 p.m., the motion was passed with 31 council members voting yes and 12 no.

Opposition to the plans may not have been as vocal as the support from Hansa fans, but it was most certainly there. When there isn’t any room in the budget to fund carers for the elderly or kindergarten places or any other local projects, detractors of the bail-out are sure to look to FC Hansa Rostock as their main source of chagrin.

Of course the fans of the club have every right to be delighted that the city council has stepped in to save them from extinction; but there are sure to be hard times ahead. Three seasons ago, Hansa lost the relegation playoff from the 2. Bundesliga to FC Ingolstadt and were relegated to the third tier for the first time in their history: they never played lower than tier II in the DDR and spent most of the 1990s and 2000s in the top tier. The team was ripped apart; with hardly any players in possession of valid 3. Liga contracts. Despite this, Hansa made short work of the 3. Liga and were back up in the 2. Bundesliga within a season.

This time, the situation is slightly better. Seven players will have contracts valid in the 3. Liga and, perhaps most importantly, head coach Wolfgang Wolf has extended his contract until June 2013. He took control at the Ostseestadion in December 2011 and almost engineered an implausible great escape. TV money will be drastically reduced from over € 4 million to around € 800,000, so Wolf will be looking to Hansa’s youth academy to unearth another Toni Kroos. If Hansa’s last season in the third tier is anything to go by, this sojourn won’t be going on for too long either and the fans certainly hope that the club will rise back to where they feel it belongs.

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