Why Bundesliga clubs cannot seek foreign takeovers ?

Football in Germany and the ownership structures are very different to the Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1.

Why Bundesliga clubs cannot seek foreign takeovers ?
Credit -

A few years back, the then struggling Newcastle United was given a breath of Fresh air when the then controversial owner Mike Ashley decided to sell the club. The saviors for the Toon Side were Amanda Stavely, owner of PCP Capitals. However, the majority partner was the PIF fund backed by a middle eastern country for a whopping £260bn - a complete control of an English Institutions by a foreign power. Despite the allure of their riches and success this simply is not a possible at least for now in the Bundesliga thanks to the famous yet polarizing  50+1 ownership rule. 

Though many leagues have welcomed private conglomerates, wealthy business owners and Wealth Fund backed nations with open arms  such as PSG with the QSG group, the above mentioned Newcastle United, City about a decade prior. The Bundesliga up until now has resisted the change instead opting to uphold the community ownership model even at the cost of massive financial repercussions.

As far as German football is concerned, the financial and ownership structure is very different as compared to the model deemed acceptable in Spain, England, France and most other top footballing nations. The rational behind it being the 50+1 rule that mandates that a club must retain at least 51 percent of shares in its professional football team. Thanks to that, majority of German clubs still have a very robust organizational structure, and the club in a true sense is a representation of the area it is based in as it is for the people, by the people from the people.

At the opening of the 41st DFB Congress in 2013, the then UEFA president Michel Platini highlighted the Bundesliga model and gave a glowing review of it :

 “While the rest of Europe has boring leagues, half-empty stadia and clubs on the verge of bankruptcy, German football is in remarkable health.” 

In simpler terms it means that Football clubs cannot be vied as a toy, collateral, business assets in the Bundesliga. Many other ultra-wealthy individuals and groups of companies view football clubs as around the world but view them for what they actually are. This mainly helps with the fact that mismanagement of finances, decision making to benefit personal motives, general incompetence and mismanagement can be avoided as much as  humanly possible.

In order to make football accessible to all sections of the society and to not turn it into a pay to say, pay to play, even exist within the football atmosphere model. The Germans have refused at times obscene monetary advances holding their principles as above any commercial games and valuing keeping Football as the common folks game their utmost priority.

But it is not that the Germans are against any influx of Private investment. If a private firm has had a stake for more than 20 years in the club, they are exempted from the above mentioned rule. For example  German firm Bayer AG Pharma was the owner of recent European Hotshots Bayer Leverkusen since the early 1900s and have been exempted. Along with that certain clubs like Bayern, Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg are some clubs that have benefitted massively from said relaxation but this has proven to be a double edged sword.

One such club how has managed to skirt around rules and find loopholes to work around the said rule. They are not well received for basically gaming the system and being against everything that the German football culture stands for but are successful on the pitch. It gives more ammo to those who wants German football to be more like the Premier League in terms of Financial leeway are RB Leipzig.  

RB Leipzig was founded in 2009, followed the same pattern. The club came into existence when energy drink giant Red Bull rebranded fifth-tier team Markranstädt. Leipzig over the years climbed up the divisions and have finished as Bundesliga runners-up in 2016/2017 and also  qualified for the Champions League with them now being a staple fixture from Germany in European competitions.

When Uli Hoeness was elected club president of Bayern Munich in 2016, some 290,000 members of the club voted for the same. At Leipzig,  the club is not run by those who have stakes in Leipzig as a community but by a select few board Members from the Austrian energy drink giants and only they have the right to vote .

In December 2014, software magnate Dietmar Hopp was agreed upon to be given majority control (96%) of Hoffenhiem. The billionaire had invested heavily in the club for over twenty years abut the fortune of the club did not take an upward turn, with the club nowhere near their glory days back in the 70s  and have even been relegated from the top flight but now seem to be on their way back with them finishing as high as 4th in the second division this season.

While having a community based models does have clear benefits, others who have embraced private ownership are in a much better state financially. This can create a gap between clubs from other nations and German clubs which the then Arsenal and German NT Keeper Bernd Leno was critical of at that time in 2018 and he had this to say-

“How stupid are we in Germany?” He was speaking about what he perceives as a lack of respect towards investors, whose resources, according to him, benefits clubs and their communities.

On the other hand, Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke supports conserving the community centric spirit of German football and prioritizes the filling of stadiums and ensuring parity for most clubs. In an old interview, Watzke  said-

I never wanted to see German fans being “milked” for money “as is happening in England.”

For the Germans, Football is much more than 90 minutes of commercial TV package centered around glitzy foreign imports. And being bombarded with advertisers and commodifying the event that is a football match as much as possible. It is an institution, a way of life around which entire communities are centered. They are not ready to put a price on it and that does not look like changing anytime soon

Cover Credits -

Leave a Reply