Germany is one of the most successful footballing nations in the world. German Bundesliga, the top flight of German club football has consolidated its place as one of Europe's major leagues. But the thing that makes the Bundesliga stand out from the other leagues is the ‘50+1’ rule. As no German club had any part in the recent European Super League drama, this rule once again comes to light.
The 50+1 rule alludes to a clause of the directives set by the DFL, the administrative body responsible for the operation of different tiers of German league football, which states that no club will be allowed to play in the top tier of German football if commercial investors have more than 49 per cent share in that very club. This rule was reinforced in 1998 when the authority felt the necessity of modernising the ownership structure in club levels as previously the clubs were owned exclusively by the members.
Although private ownership was allowed, this rule was enacted to make sure the clubs don't become business entities. 50+1 rule ensures that the supporters and members of a club have majority voting rights. This system supposedly creates a check and balance in the league subsequently preventing the commercialisation of football which is evident in most of the other top leagues.
But the big question remains whether the rule is actually beneficial for the Bundesliga or not. With Bayern Munich an inch away from securing their 9th title in a row and being the only Bundesliga club posing a constant threat in Europe in recent years, the rule has been questioned frequently by the experts.
Upholding tradition and fan culture
Bundesliga matches on average are attended by more fans than any other league in the world. One of the most enticing things about a Bundesliga match has been the vibrant presence of the fans. This huge turnout in the matches can largely be credited to the 50+1 rule as the ticket prices are always within the reach of the general populace unlike the Premier League, where fan protests over skyrocketing ticket prices are common.
As most of the board members of a Bundesliga club are former players accustomed to the culture of the club, the clubs hold a strong sense of identity. This is why RB Leipzig is the most hated club in Germany, as the club is only 11 years old and doesn’t have a rich culture. Other than this, the club is known for circumventing the 50+1 rule as the energy drink company Red Bull has the majority share of the club, as well as the members of the club, are employees of the very company.
No reckless decision making
No Bundesliga club was involved in the recent initiative taken by 12 elite clubs in creating a breakaway European Super League. The league was later cancelled due to active protests from football fans and the whole incident created a massive uproar in the footballing sphere as a whole.
As the fans have a say about various matters involving the club, the clubs cannot take reckless decisions of this sort. As a result, after the whole European Super League debacle, the 50+1 rule has garnered global attention and critical acclaim for emphasising the essence of football, the fans.
Being a Feeder League
Despite all the positives, the 50+1 rule can be held largely responsible for Bundesliga's mass exodus of talents. Other than Bayern Munich, most of the clubs are not financially capable of meeting the salary demands of global superstars, as well as the clubs, are not ambitious enough.
This very reason drove Aubameyang, Mkhitariyan, Havertz, Dembele and many other top-rated talents away from the league. Currently, Dortmund might lose ErlingHaaland next season as the team is not capable of presenting Haaland with an enterprising prospect that might match his career aspirations both in terms of salary and silverware. This is why Bundesliga has grown a reputation as a ‘Feeder League’ as the teams have been selling their best players to elite clubs.
Dominance of Bayern
Bayern Munich is an anomaly in the league as their financial prowess is a result of shrewd decision making and consistent ambition which are absent in other teams of the league. They are also known for poaching the best players from the rival teams for quite some time now.
Many believe that the abolishment of the 50+1 rule will bring an end to the hegemony of Bayern as foreign investments have brought success for many global clubs like Manchester City, PSG and Chelsea.
However, the only club that is giving Bayern a bit of competition is RB Leipzig, a club that is hated throughout the country for their corporate and nontraditional culture, as well as their disregard for the 50+1 rule.
Although the 50+1 rule has been successful in keeping the influence of fans in decision making, the authority that Bayern wields in the league has only increased over time. What could be the solution, making no anomaly to fan culture and ending Bayern’s hegemony at the same time, is yet to be found.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir is a student of Economics at the University of Dhaka.