The direct influence of the fans in football clubs has been a core principle of German football since its inception. The famous and often envied fan culture, which has developed over the course of many years, has been made possible by the famous 50+1 rule. This informal term states that in order to obtain a license to play professional football in Germany, a club must hold a majority of its own voting rights. The rule has been introduced to ensure a club’s members retain control by protecting the insitution from the external investors.
However, the rule has been criticised and outmanoeuvred many times, which forced the German FA to introduce the 20-year clause. The additional paragraph states that if a person or company has supported a club financially for a period of 20 years, they’re allowed to buy the majority of the club’s shares. This exception applies to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, owned by pharmaceuticals company Bayer, and VfL Wolfsburg, owned by Volkswagen. In recent years, Hoffenheim’s and Hannover’s sugar daddies Dietmar Hopp and Martin Kind passed that gap as well and are now entitled to gain the majority of their clubs’ voting rights. These examples are a fitting representation of the German football fans’ fears, who strongly oppose foreign investment and commercialisation.
An even bigger outrage among German fan-bases has been induced by the RB Leipzig “fairy-tale”, because they fear the Red Bull have started a new era of German football. To do build their unique marketing system, Red Bull has exposed the questionable efficiency of the 50+1 rule. Contrary to the public assumption, Red Bull are not the owner of Germany’s newest addition to the Champions League, but in fact the Austrian energy drink producer is pulling the strings. To be fair to them, it’s worth to acknowledge that RB Leipzig is technically controlled by its members. They’re keeping up with the German surrogacy, but behind the scenes RB Leipzig reserves the right to reject any membership application without explaining their reasons. Therefore, RB Leipzig has only 17 members; nearly all of them are employed by the Red Bull Gmbh. It’s more than obvious that they are just creating the illusion of a membership club, don’t even make an effort to hide their true intentions
Besides the undermining of the 50+1 rule by the 20-year-clause and the RB Leipzig phenomenon, the acting figure have also publicly criticised the existing circumstances. Hannover 96 president Martin Kind even argued that the rule is in breach of EU competition law and Leipzig’s sporting director Rangnick claimed:
“The number of members of the club is obsolete and irrelevant. For me, that concept is old-fashioned. Borussia Dortmund has 150,000 members but, for the strategic decisions the club makes, they have no influence. It’s about the right people on the board making the right decisions for the club.”
The former head of global soccer at RB Leipzig, Oliver Mintzlaff, appealed to scrap the rule, to ensure the international competitiveness of German football. Even if other clubs like Dortmund have more than once pointed out the rule is the protector of German football in its current form, the debate seems to swing against the core principle the national sport.
With the growing global interests in German and the public criticism, there is a lot of vocal support for scrapping the 50+1 rule, which would be a ground-breaking decision for Germany’s top flight. The German FA could know even face legal action considering 1860 Munich owner Hassan Ismaik’s recent comments. It seems quite likely that this is the beginning of the end for Germany’s football in its current form. For many years the fans have had a large influence on the clubs’ future, which results in a strong bound and identification between the supporters and the club. These days might be over sooner than many fans could believe. Their voices might be silenced very soon and a wind of change will change the Bundesliga landscape’s shape.