Would 50+1 Fix Football?

FanHub content writer Jack (@addictfootball3) give us his thoughts on how the 50+1 rule could benefit English football.

Here at FanHub, we’re all about the fans. Therefore, like many of you reading this blog, we were infuriated at the proposed European Super League (ESL) idea.

Ironically, in this European ‘Super’ League, the reigning European Champions aren’t amongst the current founding members. Why’s that you may ask? Well, German football operates with a unique rule regarding club ownership, the 50+1 rule. So, today’s blog describes and discusses this rule and it’s potential to save English football.

What’s the 50+1 rule?

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Dortmund CEO Hans Joachim Watzke said “if he (a fan) gets the feeling that he’s no longer regarded as a fan but instead as a customer, we’ll have a problem”, and this fans first approach is epitomised by 50+1.

The 50+1 rule is in the place to ensure the fan always has a close tie with their club, by restricting commercial investment in a side. This is done by legally requiring that a club’s members retain the majority of voting rights by limiting commercial stakes to 49%.

Consequently, moves like the ESL, which blatantly disregard fans so that the rich can get richer, can be swiftly rejected by the fans with a controlling stake in the club. This therefore safeguards clubs from volatile ownership.

What are the positives of this model?

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First and foremost, the aforementioned protection from volatile ownership is at the heart of the ethical benefits of 50+1. While English football has seen the likes of Bury destroyed by inhumane ownership, or the top six’s attempts at destroying competition, Germany has continued to put fans first.

With inferior private investment, profit is never prioritised, which plays into the impressively cheap ticket prices Germany boast. This also contributes to Germany’s tight control of debt and wages, creating a prosperous future for clubs governed democratically under this model.

Should private investors want a more controlling stake in the club, they must provide backing and interest in a club for over 20 years. This explains the Volkswagen and Bayer’s stakes in Wolfsburg and Leverkusen respectively. Although this undermines the rule itself, the longevity required to disrupt a German side’s democracy shows a commitment and care for the club that safeguards it.

The model is popular in Germany too, as when Hannover 96 attempted to change the legislation, 32 out of 35 sides rejected the proposal. This delighted the DFB as it continued the “stability, continuity and proximity to fans”.

As a result of the model, German football is seen as one of the most stable footballing pyramids globally. While the Premier League continues to be bankrolled by billionaires creating financially unfair and unsustainable business models, the Bundesliga is thriving off financial stability and democracy.

What are the negatives?

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As is the case with most regulations, there are loopholes that have been exploited in the 50+1 rule, most notably with RB Leipzig.

While it is theoretically possible to become a Leipzig voting member, RB hold the right to reject any applications without reason. Consequently, the club’s only voting members are employees of the side’s parent company and sponsor, Red Bull. This has ironically given the side wings, as they’ve flew through the German leagues with their plethora of exciting prospects.

Also, limiting commercial investment arguably places German sides at a disadvantage to their European rivals. As the likes of City’s spending goes north of £100 million most summers, Bayern rely on Bavarian bargains to keep up. This left club CEO Karl Heinz-Rummenigge opening the door to the DFB giving clubs more control over external investment.

This disadvantage extends to Dortmund too, as they’ve largely survived off becoming a stepping stone to Europe’s elite. Before their current crop of prospects reach their peak, they’ll be cherry picked by bank rolled competition before Dortmund can see the true fruits of their labour. Without external investment, this cyclicality of being second best simply will never be broken.

So, can 50+1 fix football?

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Implementing 50+1 in English football would halt the ludicrous investment that has helped establish the Premier League as the perceived ‘best league in the world’. While we would likely see a decrease in quality of football with this rule’s introduction, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Modern, financially driven football has created a divide between a fan and their club that will soon be beyond repair. Take FSG and Liverpool for example, a side that should identify with the working class ideologies of its historic city, have cast their ethos aside to make the rich richer. There are approximately 5300 clubs across the English football pyramid, and the ESL could leave just six remaining long term.

Each and every fan forms the back bone of their club. We’re the reason the Premier League has the demand to receive lucrative TV deals, and we provided their main income from the stands before hand. I know the 50+1 rule stops fans from becoming customers, but even if we have become customers in a commercialised game, we’re not given the respect our loyalty deserves.

Therefore, football is broken, and must be fixed. 50+1 can be that solution as it safeguards fans from the corrupt elitism that threatens our mere existence as supporters. For once, let’s put fans first and give us our democratic right to fortify the English traditions and footballing pyramid that provides the foundation for football today.

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