The footballers of the Munich Ravens have found their "home base" in Unterhaching – here at training in Sternstraße. © Patrik Stäbler
Starting this Sunday, the football egg will fly in the Unterhachinger Sportpark: There, the newly founded Munich Ravens will start the season of the European League of Football (ELF).
Unterhaching – On a rainy May evening in Unterhaching, a SpVgg youth team is training on the football field on Sternstraße, but their kickers are visibly distracted by the hustle and bustle on the next pitch. A few minutes ago, a few dozen giant figures in black jerseys and black helmets entered the pitch, where they are now warming up and passing egg-shaped balls, under the guidance of several coaches – in English, of course.
These are the footballers of the Munich Ravens, a newly founded team of the European League of Football (ELF). They have been training in Unterhaching for a few weeks now, where they will also play their home games in the Sportpark from June. The Ravens are probably the most exciting sports project in the Munich region at the moment, which has made waves throughout Bavaria and also caused resentment – but more on that later.
First of all, the ELF, a semi-professional league that was founded in 2021 – following the example of the National Football League (NFL) in the USA. This has triggered a football boom in this country. The most recent highlight was the Seattle Seahawks' league game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Munich in November, for which 750,000 people tried to get tickets. According to the NFL, Germany has now overtaken Great Britain as the largest European market for American football. Only the local German Football League (GFL), in which the Munich Cowboys compete, could hardly benefit from the boom. And it is precisely this gap that the EFL wants to fill, whose boss Patrick Esume has repeatedly criticized the German association for not exploiting the fan potential.
Club was only founded in 2021
In 2021, the league started with eight teams; the following year there were twelve – seven of them from Germany. This year, the season is to take place with 17 clubs, including the newcomer from Munich, whose entry became public in August. The shareholders of the franchise, as it is called in football, are the sports entrepreneur Thomas Krohne and financial investor Christian Binder. As manager, they have hired Sebastian Stolz, who most recently worked for the Red Bull Salzburg ice hockey team and before that for the NFL club Oakland Raiders for years.
The 45-year-old is standing on the sidelines in Unterhaching this evening and observing the training. Will the sporting or organisational challenges bring more beads of sweat to his forehead so shortly before the start of the season? Stolz smiles at this question – black beard, black down jacket, black hoodie. Then he says, "I'm generally a very quiet person." But yes, there is still a lot to do organizationally, especially since it was only finally clarified in April that the Ravens would play their six home games in Unterhaching.
They are "super happy" to have found a home here, Stolz emphasizes. The cooperation with the community is "great". And in general, Unterhaching is to become the nest of the ravens – the "home base", as the manager calls it. The crowd at the home games, however, will come from all over Bavaria, Stolz estimates. "The league average last season was 3500 spectators. And that's also what we'd like to have in Unterhaching."
Playoffs are the sporting goal
From a sporting point of view, he is less worried, says the manager. "Do you see this coach?" says Stolz, pointing to head coach John Shoop, who is explaining a move to his protégés on the pitch. "He's worked in the NFL and top colleges for 30 years. And, of course, he has the ambition to be at the forefront here as well." In other words, the Ravens want to make the playoffs in their debut season.
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My areamanager of the Munich Ravens is Sebastian Stolz. © Patrik Stäbler
This is to be achieved by a squad that – supplemented by ten foreign players – is, according to Stolz, a "Bavarian all-star team". The Ravens have recruited their squad primarily from surrounding GFL clubs – from Ingolstadt, Straubing and above all from the Munich Cowboys, who lost 15 players to their city rivals. Accordingly, they are angry about the newcomer, which he can understand to a certain extent, says Stolz – on the one hand. On the other hand, it is tempting for the players to "play on a different level". In addition, duels against Barcelona or Milan sound more appealing than away trips to Schwäbisch Hall or Ravensburg. And last but not least, the Ravens – although they are not a purely professional team – have more money to be earned: According to Stolz, the club's budget for its debut season is in the seven-figure range.
With regard to the association and the GFL, the manager says: "German football has missed many opportunities in recent years. That's why I understand when people say: The EFL is better because..." Stolz leaves this sentence unfinished and instead emphasizes that his Ravens wanted a "good relationship" with neighboring clubs in the medium term. At the moment, however, the focus is on preparations for the start of the season. It starts this Sunday, June 4 (kickoff at the Sportpark at 13 p.m.), with a home game against the Raiders Tirol.