Euro 2020 Special

Germany Moves to Strengthen Club Ownership Rules

The German Football League (DFB) want to introduce proposals that will tighten up the existing rules as to who can own clubs in the Bundesliga.

It means reinforcement of the existing 50+1 rule which ensures that fans continue to have a major say in how their clubs are run, and seeks to curb the influence of outside investors.


What is the 50+1 rule?

Germany is different to many other leagues in Europe. In the first place, it has the highest average match day attendances of all the major leagues in Europe, in part because ticket prices are affordable for most football supporters.

There is also the fact the many fans feel a real sense of ownership of the club that they support, which, in large part, is due to the 50+1 rule.

This stipulates that the members of the club must hold 50% of the voting rights plus one. This means that the supporters have the ultimate sale in how their clubs are run not by any outside investor.

It means that for example, clubs that are owned or run as extension of nation states – PSG, Manchester City or Newcastle United, for example – would not be permitted under the German model.

Nor, in theory, would it be possible for a group like the Glazer family to take over a club like Manchester United and then load its balance sheet with debt. And it also meant that when the prospect of a European Super League was floated, no German clubs were involved in the discussions.



There have historically been three exceptions to this rule.

Bayer Leverkusen is effectively owned by the pharmaceutical company Bayer, whilst Wolfsburg is controlled by the car company Volkswagen. They owe their status to the fact that their ownership model pre-dates the existence of the Bundesliga, and there are various safeguards in place to ensure that both teams operate on an arm’s length basis from the parent company.

Hoffenheim are in a slightly different position.

They grew from what was essentially little more than a village team at the turn of the century to become a Bundesliga side in less than a decade thanks to the financial backing of Dietar Hopp, who founded the software giant SAP.

He has been able to circumvent the rule because he has invested heavily in grassroots football in Germany, funding both the professional and amateur game.


RB Leipzig

RB Leipzig are an outlier.

They were a fifth-tier team playing under the name SSV Markranstadt when the energy drinks group Red Bull acquired the licence and rebranded them.

They got around a law that German clubs are not allowed to be named after their sponsors by calling the club RasenBullsport Leipzig and also found a way around the 50+1 regulation as well by having just 17 members with voting rights, the majority of whom have links with Red Bull.

This has not endeared them to fans of other clubs. They have often been described as the most hated club in Germany, especially as they have become increasingly successful on the pitch in recent years.


Criticisms of the model

Whilst the 50+1 rule is widely credited for the positive fan culture in Germany, it does have its criticisms as well, in that it starves some German clubs of the major investment enjoyed by some of their European clubs.

It has also helped to preserve the status quo with Bayern Munich remaining the most dominant club in the country due to their lucrative sponsorship arrangements.

It has been 11 years since anybody other than Bayern won the league title, and they are on course to make it 12 in a row.


The new regulations

Now the Bundesliga says that there should be no further exemptions from their rules, and the three clubs currently granted “exceptional’ status will have to make some changes to their constitutions if they want to continue playing in the league.

Hopp, who not only is a fan of the club he owns, but once played for them in their amateur days has already pre-empted the move. He has said that he intends to hand back the majority of his voting rights to the club, without demanding any compensation in return.




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