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November 19, 2009

Bundesliga teams will remain owned by their members after a majority of first and second division clubs rejected a proposal to relax a rule which keeps external investors from taking over German clubs.

A small football on euro notes
Opponents of the ownership rule say it prevents investmentImage: picture-alliance/chromorange

The proposal – voted down by 32 of the 36 teams from the top two leagues – would have seen the 50+1 rule overturned, allowing investors to own over 49 per cent of any club. The rule states that all German clubs must remain at least 51 per cent in the hands of its own members.

Hanover 96 President Martin Kind, the architect of the proposal, argued that German soccer was not keeping pace with international developments and that the current regulations could have been in breach of commercial law. The Hanover president said that opening up the Bundesliga to new ownership rules would make the league attractive to investors who are wary of pumping in money without having control of a club.

He also argued that smaller clubs like his were being prevented from becoming more competitive and that the current rule could be in violation of EU competition laws, prompting Kind to threaten to take his case to the German and European courts.

"We will calmly discuss whether to pursue this option," Kind told reporters.

President of German soccer club Hannover 96 Martin Kind
Kind didn't get the result he'd hoped forImage: AP

German soccer correspondent Paul Chapman understands why smaller clubs may want an even playing field on which to operate alongside Germany's and Europe's leading teams but he feels that such a move would put the Bundesliga's credible financial stability at risk.

"It may be a dream for clubs like Hanover 96, who have to watch their budget carefully, to be able to go out and compete with the likes of Bayern Munich but it's a pipe dream," Chapman told Deutsche Welle.

"It's understandable that top German clubs want to be able to compete on an even playing field in Europe with the top English and Spanish clubs, but the one thing that the Bundesliga can boast that England's Premier League can't is the fact that – with the exception of Schalke and their well documented financial problems – most clubs are in a decent shape financially."

Chapman believes that if the Bundesliga were to open their clubs up to allow individuals or consortiums take a controlling interest, they'd be leaving themselves wide open to the club being plunged into intolerable debt.

"Look at Manchester United and Liverpool," he added. "No Bundesliga club wants that."

Ownership proposal thrown out

Fans of Borussia Dortmund
Advocates say the rule keeps the clubs close to the fansImage: dpa

While this may still remain a possibility, the chance of the German Soccer League (DFL) debating the issue further is unlikely. A two-thirds majority would have been required to see the issue debated again at the next annual general meeting, but the proposal has now been taken off the agenda after the overwhelming rejection of the plan.

"The result cannot be any clearer," said DFL president Dr Reinhard Rauball after just one member voted in favor of the abolition and three abstained at the meeting in Frankfurt.

"The Bundesliga remains faithful to itself and will continue to build on the factors which have made a decisive contribution to making German football successful over recent decades. These are stability, continuity and being close to the fans."

More money, more problems

The English Premier League and Italy's Serie A have both opened themselves up to external investment and have seen huge financial benefits flood in, resulting in the ability to afford world class players and build new stadia. However, foreign investment has also led to financial problems; the erosion of what many feel is the soul of soccer in these countries, the alienation of the grass-roots fan base and an expanding chasm between rich and poor clubs.

Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea
Owners like Abramovich have transformed English soccerImage: AP

Rauball insisted that while these leagues had seen many benefits, there was no reason for external investment to exist in the Bundesliga. "Given how clear the result of the vote is, this decision must now be accepted on the grounds of solidarity," he said.

League officials as well as the bosses of many Bundesliga clubs spoke of a fear that the traditional nature of the game in Germany would be severely compromised in much the same way that many believe has happened in the Premiership and Serie A.

"We don't want German soccer to be controlled from Russia or Asia," Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said, echoing a statement from German soccer federation (DFB) president Theo Zwanziger in which Zwanziger questioned whether the Bundesliga wanted to find itself in a situation where sponsors or sheikhs bought and sold German clubs on a whim.

Many Bundesliga clubs lack pulling power

Paul Chapman, however, questions how many external investors would actually want to get involved in Bundesliga clubs. He argues that while there are investors who take over clubs because of their love of soccer, most are there to turn a profit - and he says there are few clubs in the Bundesliga with that kind of commercial potential.

Bayern Munich players pose in lederhosen with glasses of beer
Bayern knows a tasty deal when it sees oneImage: AP

"Outside of Bayern Munich, who are just like one huge money making machine, the other Bundesliga clubs come into two categories: those with potential for greatness and those who struggle to compete," Chapman said.

"Certainly a potential buyer might be interested in existing sleeping giants like Hamburg SV, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04 and VFB Stuttgart but would there really be people wanting to plough millions into Freiburg, Mainz, Bochum and indeed Hannover 96?

"To my mind, the dangers of allowing outsiders to gain control of Bundesliga clubs are the huge debts that clubs could find themselves in, and the fact that it would probably divide the Bundesliga with the older, established clubs with huge fan bases attracting financial input whilst the others don't," he added.

"I for one am glad that Martin Kind's proposal was turned down."

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann