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DFL moves to tighten 50+1 ownership rule for Bundesliga clubs

German soccer body doesn’t want to grant further exemptions to current regulations.

9 March 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • DFL aiming to tighten legal certainty and compliance of current ownership framework
  • Existing rules prevent investors from controlling majority of voting rights in Bundesliga clubs

The German Football League (DFL) is aiming to tighten ownership rules for Bundesliga clubs and stop investors taking control of teams.

The current ‘50+1’ regulation means German sides cannot be majority owned by independent parties, such as an external investor, thus ensuring a club and its members retain overall control.

However, there are certain exemptions to the rule where an investor has ‘substantially funded a club for a continuous period of more than 20 years’, meaning they can own a controlling stake. This exception notably applies to Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, which have been owned by pharmaceuticals firm Bayer and auto giant Volkswagen before the formation of the Bundesliga.

In addition, Hoffenheim were handed an exemption to 50+1 that enabled Dietmar Hopp to take control of the club. Earlier this month, the SAP co-founder confirmed he planned to return his majority voting rights, while retaining his position as the majority shareholder of the team, therefore giving up Hoffenheim’s exemption.

The effectiveness of 50+1 has been questioned, as the Red Bull-owned RB Leipzig have shown. The team now competes in the Bundesliga after rapidly achieving promotion through the lower tiers courtesy of major investment from the energy drinks company.

Now, the DFL, which oversees the top-flight Bundesliga and second-tier Bundesliga 2, has submitted a proposal to Germany’s national competition regulatory agency that would grant no other 50+1 exemptions. The DFL is also looking to tighten the legal certainty and compliance of the current ownership framework. No timeline on a decision has been given at this stage.

‘This proposal has now been submitted to the Bundeskartellamt,’ the DFL said in a statement. ‘Among other things there shall be no exemptions offered in the future from the 50+1 rule.’

SportsPro says…

The 50+1 rule is not watertight, as RB Leipzig have demonstrated, but clubs remain committed to it. In 2009, Hannover pushed to overhaul the regulation but it was rejected, with 32 of 36 clubs voting against the motion.

The rule is in stark contrast to other European soccer clubs, which can be taken over by external investors, provided they meet league requirements. Given the vast financial resources these backers have brought to teams, particularly in the Premier League, there may have been new temptation to reconfigure 50+1 so Bundesliga clubs would have access to fresh capital.

The DFL, though, thinks otherwise. Tightening 50+1 would be seen as a victory for fans, though the proposal may still allow for investors to mirror Red Bull’s approach with RB Leipzig. Regardless, external ownership will still not be coming to current Bundesliga clubs. 

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