50+1 un­der pres­sure

World Soccer - - Contents - NICK BID­WELL

Never be­fore has Ger­man foot­ball’s “50+1” rule – whereby out­side in­vestors are gen­er­ally for­bid­den from hold­ing a con­trol­ling stake in a club – looked so ripe for re­form or abo­li­tion. In March, a ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s 36 pro­fes­sional teams voted to re­tain the clause, but by no means can it be re­garded as a de­fin­i­tive vic­tory. The Ger­man League (DFL) says it will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on the is­sue at the end of the year, and with 12 of the 18 Bun­desliga clubs thought to be keen for change, noth­ing can be taken for granted.

Those ad­min­is­tra­tors who see 50+1 as a bar­rier to greater ex­ter­nal fund­ing con­tinue to make a lot of noise, with Hanover pres­i­dent Martin Kind, whose ap­pli­ca­tion for an ex­emp­tion to the rule was thrown out by the DFL this sum­mer, threat­en­ing le­gal ac­tion.

The hi­er­ar­chy at Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt are float­ing the idea that each club be al­lowed to de­cide for it­self whether to con­form or not, while Bay­ern Mu­nich chair­man Karl-Heinz Rum­menigge, who is very much in the van­guard of the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion move­ment, con­stantly ar­gues that the clause is erod­ing the com­pet­i­tive­ness of Ger­man clubs in Europe and that the best of the Bun­desliga are be­ing left be­hind by their English and Span­ish coun­ter­parts.

“Every­one is wor­ried and fear­ful that if we open up the mar­ket, we will lose our abil­ity to com­pete,” says Rum­menigge. “The op­po­site is true. Ger­many would ben­e­fit from it. Ei­ther we also go down this path or end up pay­ing a price for not do­ing so.”

It’s un­de­ni­ably true that the Bun­desliga has been per­form­ing badly of late on the con­ti­nen­tal front. Not since 2013 has a Ger­man team reached a Euro­pean Fi­nal and last sea­son was a near wipe-out, with two of their three Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fiers dumped out at the group stage and not one side pro­gress­ing from a Europa League pool. Only Cham­pi­ons League semi-fi­nal­ists Bay­ern made the pass­ing grade.

On the other side of the fence, vast swathes of foot­ball sup­port­ers have a to­tally dif­fer­ent take on club gov­er­nance.

For them, the pur­pose of 50+1 is to pro­tect the soul of the peo­ple’s game, a guar­an­tee of com­mer­cial fair play, low ticket prices, full sta­dia,

“Every­one is wor­ried and fear­ful that if we open up the mar­ket, we will lose our abil­ity to com­pete. The op­po­site is true. Ger­many would ben­e­fit from it” Bay­ern Mu­nich chair­man Karl-Heinz Rum­menigge

a thriv­ing fan cul­ture and com­mu­nity-driven iden­tity.

The prospect of a Premier League-like own­er­ship struc­ture fea­tur­ing US fi­nanciers, Mid­dle East­ern states and Rus­sian oli­garchs is sim­ply anath­ema to a large pro­por­tion of the Ger­man pub­lic. Nor would they like to ex­pe­ri­ence the fate of the faith­ful at Mi­lan, whose mys­te­ri­ous Chi­nese owner could not keep up his loan re­pay­ments and re­cently had to hand the club over to an Amer­i­can hedge fund.

Fans in Ger­many have deep emo­tional ties with their clubs and shud­der at the thought of be­com­ing mere cus­tomers. At grounds up and down the coun­try, ban­ners de­fend­ing the mem­ber­ship model have been sprout­ing like spring­time daf­fodils and over 3,000 fan or­gan­i­sa­tions are now work­ing to­gether un­der the “50+1 Stays” um­brella.

“Ev­ery week, foot­ball brings hun­dreds of thou­sands of dif­fer­ent peo­ple to­gether,” reads the mis­sion state­ment of the afore­men­tioned group. “It doesn’t be­long to an in­di­vid­ual, com­pa­nies or in­vestors. It be­longs to us all. At the end of the day, it’s about still more money for the prof­i­teers.

“For us fans, the foot­ball will not im­prove be­cause of it [the scrap­ping of 50+1] and nei­ther will busi­ness re­spon­si­bil­ity. Quite the op­po­site.

“A lot has been said about the in­ter­na­tional com­pet­i­tive­ness of the Bun­desliga. But do we re­ally want to move to the non­sen­si­cal sums of money in Paris or crazy mar­ket in Eng­land?”

The prob­lem for the tra­di­tion­al­ists is that the 50+1 ci­tadel al­ready has been breached. Three clubs – Bayer Lev­erkusen, Wolfs­burg and Hof­fen­heim – en­joy spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion from the rule, while RB Leipzig, who are al­most en­tirely owned by the Red Bull soft-drink con­glom­er­ate, only com­ply in the loos­est of senses, and Borus­sia Dort­mund solely own 5.5 per cent of their Stock Mar­ket share bun­dle.

Ul­ti­mately Ger­man foot­ball will have to make a de­ci­sion. Do they stick to their unique fan-friendly way of op­er­at­ing or to­tally em­brace the money men?

The bat­tle lines are drawn.

Ex­empt...Borus­sia Dort­mund (in yel­low) and RB Leipzig

Leader... Karl-Heinz Rum­menigge

Protest... Stuttgart fans

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