Clubs from the top two tiers of German football will host a crucial meeting today to discuss the future of the 50+1 rule.
All football clubs in Germany are member-run associations, though 24 out of the 36 Bundesliga clubs have established separate companies to run their professional football operations. Fans can become active members of these association and thereby hold a stake in their clubs.
The 50+1 rule, which is embedded as a licensing criterion in the statutes of the German Football Association (DFB) and German Football League (DFL), ensures that member-run associations—and in effect, the members of those clubs—hold the majority of voting rights in the company responsible for running the professional football section (i.e., 50 percent of the shares plus one share).
According to the Bundesliga, this means that “private investors cannot take over clubs and potentially push through measures that prioritise profit over the wishes of supporters.” As a consequence, 50+1 “simultaneously protects against reckless owners and safeguards the democratic customs of German clubs.” The DFL further argues that it is in part responsible for producing “top-quality play, the highest average attendance in world football, low ticket prices, and a great fan culture.”
Popular Among Fans
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rule is almost universally popular among German fans’ groups, over 3,000 of which signed a petition to protect it when it appeared under threat. It is also looked upon with envy by fans across Europe, many of whom believe it could improve the governance situation in their own countries. Indeed, more than 106,000 people recently signed a Parliamentary petition to “enforce the 50+1 rule for professional football club ownership in the UK’.
In May, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) issued a preliminary assessment of the 50+1 rule. The assessment declared that the rule is “unproblematic” from the perspective of competition law, and entirely justified by the DFL’s intention to “maintain the club character of the sport and ensure a certain level of balance in sports competition.”
Moreover, the FCO expressed concerns about exemptions to the rule, concluding that they may result in a “competitive disadvantage for those clubs which do not benefit from the exemption.” The so-called benefactor exemption applies to investors which have “substantially funded a club for a continuous period of 20 years”, and includes Bayer Leverkusen, TSG Hoffenheim, and VfL Wolfsburg.
Fan-Led Review Panel Looks to Germany
Last week, meanwhile, the UK government’s fan-led review of football invited a delegation of German fans to provide evidence on 50+1 and other aspects of the German governance model.
Organised by Football Supporters Europe (FSE) and the Football Supporters Association (FSA), the delegation encompassed fans from different groups—Unsere Kurve, Unser Fuβball, BVB Fanabteilung, FC St. Pauli, and BAFF—working together as part of the Zukunft Profifuβball initiative, which aims to make the German game fairer and more sustainable.
Commenting on the input of German fans, FSA chief executive and FSE Board member Kevin Miles said:
“The threat of the European Super League really brought home to many fans in England how important it is that there should be a powerful fan influence inside clubs, with a veto strong enough to prevent such an outrage. The 50+1 rule offers that in Germany. We have been really keen to learn about how it works, and to discuss how the safeguards it provides could best be replicated in England.”