A dispute has broken out among Germany's professional football teams over the distribution of revenue from their central marketing program. An initiative from a second-tier club could turn out to have been an own goal.
As representatives from the 36 clubs that make up the Bundesliga and the second division sit down for talks on their next central marketing contract in Frankfurt on Wednesday, a lot of attention will likely be focused on a controversial proposal from Hamburg's St. Pauli.
Last month, the second division club wrote to the DFL (German football league) demanding that four Bundesliga teams be excluded from the DFL's next central marketing deal as they do not comply with the "50+1" rule, which prevents an investor from buying a controlling interest in a German club.
Three of the clubs named are already exceptions to the rule, with Volkswagen owning 100 percent of VfL Wolfsburg, Bayer AG owning Bayer Leverkusen, and Dietmar Hopp holding a controlling stake in Hoffenheim. The letter also mentioned a fourth club, Hannover, where Martin Kind is poised to take a controlling stake in 2017 due to a provision that allows a business person to gain exclusion from the 50+1 rule after 20 years of significant investment in a club.
The demise of 'solidarity?'
The four clubs in question quickly cried foul, writing their own letter in which they accused St. Pauli of seeking an end to the "solidarity" within German professional soccer, which sees second division clubs profit disproportionately from central marketing.
Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, St. Pauli didn't appear to have won widespread support for their proposal - at least in its current form - but in putting it forward, they may have put the ball on the penalty spot for Germany's most successful and richest club, Bayern Munich.
Bayern's chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, was quoted in Monday's edition of "Kicker" sports magazine as saying that "what came from St.Pauli was a primer." They may have been after something else entirely, Rummenigge said, "but this is moving in the right direction."
According to a report in last Friday's edition of the Munich-based broadsheet "Süddeutsche Zeitung," Rummenigge's goal is for the individual clubs to gain more freedom in marketing their rights, without necessarily doing away with central marketing. The paper reported that to this end, the Bayern chairman held talks with Germany's Federal Cartel Office last month. The report cited a cartel office source who said the talks had dealt with "what could be possible for Bayern Munich."
St. Pauli initiative 'an own goal'
In the "Kicker" interview, Rummenigge warned that "the St.Pauli initiative was, however, an own goal. Whoever demands solidarity, like the second division, should also practice solidarity," he said.
Rummenigge told "Kicker" he believed that Bayern could generate around 200 million euros ($212 million) in revenue annually by marketing itself individually, instead of the 50 million the club currently receives through central marketing.
At the same time he added that Bayern was willing to go along with the central marketing arrangement in solidarity with the German other clubs "as long as it doesn't detract from our competitiveness internationally."
However, with Real Madrid and Barcelona raking in 140 million euros and top clubs in the Premier League reported to be bringing in a minimum of 200 million, the current deal would appear to put Bayern at a distinct disadvantage. Despite Rummenigge's pledges of solidarity , this could amount an almost irresistible argument for Bayern to walk away from central marketing in two years' time.
While no actual decisions are to be taken at Wednesday's meeting, they are expected to go some way towards setting the tone for negotiations to take place next year.