What is the 50+1 Rule? Giving fans more control in football

When news broke of the Super League on Sunday evening, the press release named 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs as founding members.

AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur were the clubs named.

Not on the list were French champions Paris Saint-Germain, and German giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

In fact, Bayern and Dortmund both issued strong statements against the Super League, and both announced that they refused to play in it.

Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said: “We are convinced that the current structure in football guarantees a reliable foundation.

“FC Bayern welcomes the reforms of the Champions League because we believe they are the right step to take for the development of European football.”

He then went on to say: “I do not believe the Super League will solve the financial problems of European clubs that have arisen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

In German football, teams must have a controlling stake owned by its fans – meaning that they have a say in any decisions made. It is called the ’50+1′ rule.

Let’s take a look at the rule in more detail:

What is ’50+1′?

Each club must retain a majority of voting shares, which allows club members to veto decisions by outside investors.

In short, the fans own 50% of the shares and an additional share, which is where the ‘+1’ originates from.

Therefore, unlike in most countries, the 50+1 rule is designed to stop investors from controlling football clubs.

The rule was introduced back in 1998. German clubs were originally founded as not-for-profit organisations, and ownership of any kind was banned.

That has now changed, although fans still retain majority control that means that decisions such as the Super League had to be finalised by them.

Given the backlash we’ve seen in the past 48 hours, there was only ever likely to be one outcome to that decision.

Have there been challenges to the rule?

There are exceptions to the 50+1 rule, and challenges have been made in the past.

In 2015, the DFL made a decision that allowed Hoffenheim’s Dietmar Hopp to take a majority control of the club.

The German businessman had, at that point, invested in Hoffenheim for over 20 years, which the DFL said was a major factor behind their decision.

The league association board said at the time that they could determine exceptions on request in cases “in which a legal entity has uninterrputedly and significantly supported the football of a parent club for more than 20 years.”

Hopp has overseen the club’s rise from the fifth division in Germany all the way up to the Bundesliga.

They have qualified for European competition in three of the last four seasons. The club currently sit 63rd in the UEFA club co-efficient rankings.

Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Wolfsburg are also exceptions to the rule, with investors having had an interest in the clubs for over 20 years.

RB Leipzig, meanwhile, have a small number of members that have voting rights. Most of them are linked to Red Bull, the energy drinks giant that invest in the club.

BBC reported last year that the club have just 17 members with voting rights.

The club are one of – if not the – most unpopular clubs in Germany.

Fan backlash

Meanwhile, the decision to grant Hoffenheim chairman Hopp majority control was met with backlash by German football fans.

Borussia Dortmund were given a two-year away ban at Hoffenheim last year after their fans verbally abused Hopp in chants.

In 2018, the club were punished after displaying a banner which contained Hopp in crosshairs with the tagline ‘Hasta La Vista Hopp!’

Dortmund were given a €50,000 fine and a suspended three-game away fans ban at Hoffenheim.

An incident also occurred during Bayern Munich’s trip to the same stadium last year. Bayern fans lifted up a banner insulting Hopp.

Both teams left the pitch on 78 minutes and the game was stopped. They both later re-emerged and spent the remainder of the match passing the ball between each other.

Bayern won the game 6-0.

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