In case you hadn’t heard, DFB, the ruling body of football in Germany, voted last week to reaffirm its commitment to the 50+1 rule. That rule ensures that 50 percent of any club, plus at least 1 additional “share”, must be retained by the club. That means control will always rest with the club membership. In effect, it bars corporations and extremely wealthy individuals from buying controlling interest in German football clubs.
Is 50+1 (yet) another win for Bayern?
Part of the impetus for DFB (re-)considering the 50+1 rule (yet again) is, in part, the lengthening shadow of FC Bayern. The red men of Munich have been towering over the rest of German top-flight for quite a while and it seems now as if they are threatening to blot out the sun entirely.
Pretenders to greatness in German football for teams other than the reigning giants were hoping to remove the 50+1 rule, which understandably is the greatest obstacle to their goal. Just look at what big investment has done for Paris-Saint Germain in Ligue 1—legal troubles notwithstanding— and, closer to home, RB Leipzig are threatening to eclipse at least Dortmund. Perhaps they could even challenge Bayern one day soon?
Despite Red Bull’s bankrolling of Leipzig, they still manage to qualify, just, under the existing ownership rule. Detractors say that they have corrupted the essence of 50+1, but how else might a club begin to mount a serious challenge against the behemoth that is Bayern?
When the DFB reaffirmed the preeminence of 50+1, German football purists were heartened. It’s a big win for the little guy in the face of the expanding influence of big money in football, especially in the top European leagues. By extension, though, it is also a big win for keeping things the way they are. Bayern, immer Bayern!
The great red tide of Bayern Munich
The DFB’s action is indeed a big win for the status quo in German football as well as a big loss for wealthy interests looking to pick up a club and try to build another Bayern out of it.
But let’s consider that for just a moment…what is Bayern anyway?
Bayern will complete their 6th consecutive Bundesliga championship likely before these words I’m typing could see the light of the internet. And if not by then, then not long after—it is inevitable.
The club has achieved an unprecedented dominance in the domestic league. This season they have been top of the Bundesliga table since matchweek 10, but have built a commanding 20+ lead on points and an astounding 50+ goal differential in that time. A figure that is four times as great as the current second place, FC Schalke. All this, despite Bayern having changed managers less than a month in, supposedly for having a sub-par start to the season.
At home last Saturday, they trounced the Bundesliga’s “second-most-powerful club” and current third place, Borussia Dortmund 6-0. The big bear grabbed the lead after 5 minutes and went to the break at halftime up 5-0.
50+1 and done
And that’s the thing with the Bundesliga these days: the inevitability of FC Bayern. That’s mainly because they own every good player in Germany. And if they don’t own them already, they are either committed to having them under contract in the near future, or are circling them like sharks in bloody seawater.
What’s wrong with that, you might ask. Bayern are successful and have the right to use their earned resources any way they choose. Why should the DFB change the rules just as a matter of helping up lesser clubs who haven’t been as successful?
But there’s the rub. Bayern have already broken the 50+1 rule. When the club first built its success—that which has followed them into the modern Bundesliga and propelled them into the top tier in Europe—it did so at a time when things were very different.
It did not take huge international resources and financing to compete. Certainly not inside the German game. Now, it does. In effect, saying that smaller clubs need to compete with Bayern is like saying that your Etsy store needs to compete with Amazon.
Surprise… You have an etsy store. Second surprise, you can’t possibly compete with Amazon.
One man’s corporation is another’s GmbH
The “club” in Bayern’s case is itself an international business interest (dare I say, “corporation”?). They were already a successful enterprise before the modern incarnation of the Bundesliga was born. It entered the game as exactly what the 50+1 rule forbids.
The club holds controlling interest, but the club is beyond the membership. It is a marketing brand worth a great deal of money and with a lot of followers; it produces championship football for sure, but it produces it. Such football, particularly in today’s environment, doesn’t just happen.
And success at that level produces marketing opportunities that other clubs such as Köln and Augsburg can only dream about. Given the costs of putting players like James and Arjen Robben on the field at the same time, without some change in the normal course of the business of football in Germany, those must remain just dreams.
It is inevitable.
On the plus side, I just got a great idea for some great billy goat-themed merch you could sell through your etsy store…