Germany’s Michael Freitag helping the game grow photo by photo

By Roberto Arturo

One of the centerpieces of American football in Germany has long been photographer Michael Freitag. Anytime you see a photo of a game from Germany over the last decade and a half, chances are you’ll find his name in the credits.

The photographer has mainly centered his job in Hamburg, covering NFL Europe, the German Football League, and more recently, European League of Football (EFL) games.

We had the opportunity to have a conversation with Michael about his experience behind the scenes.

AFI: How did you first get into American Football?

Freitag: In 2005 I got the chance to work as a team photographer for the Hamburg Sea Devils team. (NFL Europe). Our goal was not only to take sports photos, but the task was to show the players without helmets and to make them better known. It was much easier with the boys than with professional footballers (soccer) here in Germany, which was our job too.

Back then, the Hamburg Sea Devils had their training camp in Tampa, Florida, near the (NFL Tampa Bay) Buccaneers. We had a meet and greet there and I was also allowed to take photos during training. They liked it so much that they flew me in to make reports for the German market. I’m a Bucs fan. Even without Tom Brady, but also with him of course.

I’ve been to every game, every training session and every business meeting. Since then, Coach Esume has also been my friend. (I also photographed his wedding at the time.) He was also the one who wanted me in the new league.

Michael Freitag in action during Hamburg Sea Devils vs Barcelona Dragons game, Stadion Hoheluft Hamburg, June 12, 2022. Photo: Malte Krause/Agentur Freitag

AFI: How difficult is this job?

Freitag: The job is only difficult if you don’t enjoy what you do. Or if you can’t. The exciting thing for me is to find new and exciting perspectives every time.

What makes the job much easier is if you know the moves, if you know where the ball should go. Because it’s a very fast sport, if you’re not awake, the situation is over. Plus, it’s easy to capture action because it’s spectacular in almost every drive.

AFI: How many photos do you usually take in a game?

Freitag: About 2000 to 3000 photos. Our cameras take 20 pictures in one second, which adds up to many images. After we have selected the best of them, about 300 remain. We try not only to make game pictures, but the experience all day long. Set-up, arrival, staff, spectators, arena, sponsors, etc.

Hamburg Sea Devils RB Glen Toonga evading Berlin Thunder tacklers Photo: Michael Freitag

AFI: Has Football allowed you to travel to different places?

Freitag: Oh yes, I owe a lot to football. But I have also invested a lot of time. The NFL approached us through these NFL Europe contacts. My friend Thomas Bothstede, then PR director of the Hamburg Sea Devils, me, and a small team were allowed to work for the NFL. We accompanied the NFL in the city bid for the Germany game and supplied material for the American market.

Then we went to the Superbowl in LA. Here we looked after German journalists and sent interviews and photos to Germany due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We were also at the first Germany game in Munich. What a great experience!

Photo: Malte Krause/Agentur Freitag

AFI: What is the part that you find the most satisfying about your job?

Freitag: It’s not the money! It’s the appreciation. From the franchise, the fans and the players. And it’s the joy of presenting something you like very much. And to see how the whole thing grows.

AFI: How do you see the growth of American football in Germany in the coming years?

Freitag: Football is “in” here in Germany. It’s a fast-growing fan base that realizes it’s not just about football. It’s not just about my team. It’s nice to see so many different jerseys sitting next to each other in the stadium. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be possible in soccer. Football is Sport, Entertainment and Event. All day. It is not only 90 minutes. And at the end of the game, everyone celebrates together. Something is happening here in Germany and that’s a good thing. We’re on the way to get to the second most popular sport in Germany, right after Soccer. It will take some time, but no other sport has been growing so fast.

In our continuing series about the photographers who diligently cover our game throughout Europe, we have also interviewed Germany’s Sarah PhilippFinland’s Jari Turunen, Italy’s Gioli BusiLola Morales from SpainDenmark’s Mikkel Bo Rasmussen, Austria’s Hannes Jirgal, Peter Kramberger, also from AustriaSergio Brunetti (Switzerland) as well as Stefan Akander and Jonas Domfors from Sweden.

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