How the 50+1 rule ensures German leagues boast best atmosphere in world football


When you think of German football, what comes to your mind?

To some it might simply be Bayern Munich, but to many others including myself, the atmosphere that the fans create comes to mind and is by far the best of the top five leagues with it also up there for some of the best in Europe and even the world.

The choreographies they create, the pyrotechnics they use and the various songs they sing for all 90 minutes is fascinating and they uniquely tell a lot more than just active support, but rather where in Germany they are from and what they believe is important.

The examples could go on forever but a few of note include St. Pauli in the 2. Bundesliga, whose left wing and alternative ideologies go hand in hand with their rebellious fanbase and the choreographies they produce, including the famous pirate skull emblem.

Another that creates unique atmosphere are the feel good story of last season’s Bundesliga, Union Berlin, who has three of the four stands in the Stadion An der Alten Försterei as standing only, which once again ensures everyone is jumping and singing for their team the whole game.

As well as their atmosphere, their supporters might be the most dedicated in Germany as they literally volunteered to build their stadium when it didn’t meet requirements and more insanely in an effort to raise more money for the club when they were in need, donated blood and gave the money they received from it straight back to Union.

Brings a whole new meaning to bleeding for your club.

Finally perhaps the most famous of them all, Borussia Dortmund with the iconic ‘Yellow Wall’ in their Signal Iduna Park, in which the stand they call home the Südtribune (South Stand) holds 25,000 people alone, more than the whole of my hometown football stadium HBF Park.

You bet those 25,000 people certainly make themselves known, as well, with Dortmund often on the list of the best football atmospheres in the world and one you have to experience at least once in your lifetime.

Now with all of these examples, the one thing they all have in common is these fans of their respective clubs is each unique in providing unwavering support to their teams and almost act as a 12th man, feeling they have a factor in their teams on the pitch.

That comes down to the fact that, technically, they do.

(Photo by Roland Krivec/vi/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

You see, the DFL (Deutsche Fußball Liga) who operate the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga have a regulation in place called the 50+1 rule, in which all participating clubs are required to have 50 per cent plus an additional share of the club under member control, to ensure members always have voting rights and are not subject to complete ownership takeovers.

So, for the three clubs I have just mentioned and most of the German clubs, they are not just fans and not even just members, but have the ability to vote for what they want their team to be.

While the required minimum is 50 per cent plus one, that doesn’t stop some clubs from having complete member ownership and it’s not just the small clubs that do this but rather some you might be familiar with.

The biggest club in the Bundesliga to be 100 per cent controlled by its members is SC Freiburg, whose over 45,000 members have complete control over what they do with their club.

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Quite the achievement considering their recent Europa League campaign took them all the way to the Round of 16.

They aren’t the only ones to be run with this model, with the other ‘eingetragener Verein (eV)’ clubs including the previously mentioned Union Berlin along with Mainz and Schalke.

While the rule is one of the fundamentals of German club football and the thing the supporters hold most dear, that doesn’t mean it is not without its flaws.

As mentioned before, the rule states that members have majority control of the club, but the rest is really up to how the club wants to follow those rules.

This alludes to the controversy regarding Germany’s most hated club, RB Leipzig.

They have drawn criticism over their ‘artificial’ rise, from when Red Bull purchased the football licence of then fifth-tier club SSV Markranstädt in 2009, taking them from the fifth to first division in the space of seven seasons, and it’s not the only thing that the fans are not pleased about.

To explain, let’s take German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, where you can purchase a regular membership for around €65 (AUD $108) per year and that earns your vote in club matters.

Whereas with RB Leipzig, a ‘gold’ membership would set you back around €1000 (AUD $1662) and not even that would give you voting rights within the club.

Instead, the belief is the club only has approximately 750 members, with reportedly only 17 of them having voting rights and are mostly Red Bull employees, and people who send membership applications can be rejected for any reason whatsoever.

Even if they are willing to pay the supposed thousands of euros required to be one.

Despite some clubs getting around the rules, what the 50+1 rule does to the German game is key to ensuring that the fans are heard and that the issues that they see are addressed in the best way possible for all parties.

In a world where football is increasingly seen as simply a profitable business opportunity, the fans show their unwavering support on your TV screen that often leaves you in awe and that comes down to that one rule that is a pillar of the German game.

Along with a landscape where football fans often aren’t happy with the relationship between them and their club’s ownership, German football seems to have got that blend working positively.

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