RB Leipzig have cleverly worked under the 50+1 rule in Bundesliga, but that has come at a haunting price.

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German football league, Bundesliga, is one of the most competitive and one of the most famous leagues in the world. Clubs like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, FC Schalke are really big names in the footballing fraternity and are still forces to reckon with. 

Over the years, Bundesliga has featured not just entertaining and tactically brilliant football, the league boasts of some impressive features like highest average attendance in every game, extremely low ticket prices and admirable fan culture. One of the most notable things that might have escaped our eye is that apart from Bayer Leverkusen, VFL Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, no other club is owned by any individual or any particular group. Let's find out why. 

What is the 50+1 rule?

In a world of corporate giants ruling the sports world, it might come as a surprise that the likes of Roman Abramovich, the Glazer Family or the City Football group never attempted to own a club in Germany while the latter has 8 clubs to its name including one in China and one in India. It is all because of the famous 50+1 rule in Bundesliga. According to the rule, if a club wants to be certified to play the league, it must share a majority of the ownership with the fans. This way, no investor can use the club as personal property. 

When did the first come into existence?

Before 1998, the football clubs in Germany were non-profit organisations and belonged entirely to the fans. But when other leagues started to pour money from foreign investors, German football understood that without big investments, the clubs will lose out on major European success and fall behind with time.

So in 1998, The German Football Association (DFB) decided to allow the clubs to grant investments from public and private limited companies. But to keep the fans involved, they came up with the "50+1" rule that will allow the fans to hold a majority of the ownership and have voting rights. 

Why is there an exception for Hoffenheim, Leverkusen and Wolfsburg?

The rule also came with an added clause that said if a person or a group is investing in a club for more than 20 years, they can appeal to get the majority of the ownership. 

Bayer Leverkusen was founded by the employees of the pharmaceutical company named Bayer. Therefore, the ownership of the club lies with the company. Similarly, VFB Wolfsburg was founded by Volkswagen, while Hoffenheim was founded by Dietmar Hopp. 

This rule was heavily criticised by Martin Kind, the investor of Hannover 96, who has been putting money in the club since 1997. But when he applied for the majority in 2017, the fans protested vehemently and after losing the vote, Kind stepped down in March 2019. 

The Leipzig story and why everyone hates them?

Formerly known as SSV Markranstadt, the club was bought by the Austrian energy drink producing giants in 2009 when the team was playing the Fifth tier. They promised 100 million euros transfer budget along with helping the club reach the top tier of German football within 8 years. 

This action raised a lot of eyebrows as to understand how the company bypassed the law. This was a meticulously woven out plan which succeeded immensely. 

Red Bull, already the owners of RB Salzburg, had found out the profitability of the investment and they discovered a loophole in the system in Germany. By 2009, the club had only 17 paying members - compared to Dortmund’s 1,70,000 member, who were also Red Bull employees. So it was easy for the company to acquire the ownership status. After buying the club, they changed the name to Red Bull Leipzig, but since DFB wouldn't allow them to use the name of the company, they changed the name to Rassen Ballsport Leipzig, which abbreviates to RB Leipzig. 

The club, with newfound money, rose through the ranks with vicious pace and within one year ahead of the proposed tenure, RB Leipzig were playing in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League.

In the process, they have made sure that the ownership can not be taken away from the club. First, they increased the membership amount to 1000 Euros, whereas clubs like Dortmund only charge 62 Euros for an annual membership and voting right. 

This is the prime reason why there is so much hatred against RB Leipzig. 

Is the law a blessing or a curse on Bundesliga?

There have been multiple times when this law was put to the sword and till now, it has survived. In 2009 Martin Kind filed that the law is in breach of EU competition law and he put forward a motion to revoke the law. But the proposal was declined by 32 of the 36 voting bodies.

In another vote in 2018, DFB again decided for the law but this time, only 18 clubs voted for, 4 against and 9 abstained their votes while 3 clubs did not participate and 2 were absent. Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge voted against the rule as he believes that in the European circuit, teams with more investment are leapfrogging them with more investors. 

However, the abolition of the law would see a rapid hike in the ticket pricing and the fans will also lose their role, making them feel disconnected from the club.

Therefore, it is difficult to draw a conclusion to the question and it remains open-ended as of now. However, experts believe that it is just a matter of time when the law will lose its meaning and will cease to exist.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / John Macdougall