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New Bundesliga clubs hurting league's global popularity - Schalke executive

Schalke are one of the Bundesliga's traditional clubs.

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Schalke marketing executive Alexander Jobst has said newly established Bundesliga clubs like Ingolstadt and Hoffenheim are a threat to the league's plans for international growth, and warned against the fall of the 50+1 rule.

"It would be beneficial for the league's positioning abroad if clubs like VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 were to return to the top flight next season," he told ESPN FC.

In recent years, clubs including Hoffenheim, Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig have arrived in the German top flight and taken the place of some of the Bundesliga's established clubs.

Their success has not been widely celebrated, particularly as Hoffenheim are exempted from 50+1 rule, which stipulates that more than 50 percent of a club must be owned by its members, while Leipzig's 17 "members" are all attached to the Red Bull company.

The rule was established in 1998 as a safeguard when the German FA (DFB) decided to open the door to private ownership at clubs, but Hoffenheim executive Peter Gorlich told ESPN FC last month that he believes "50+1 will fall" and many Bundesliga clubs are waiting for that to "take the money [from investors] straight away."

Jobst -- who has told ESPN FC that Schalke could play an all-German friendly in China as early as this summer -- said the end of the rule could ultimately prove a significant blow in the league's fight to capitalise on worldwide markets.

He said: "If you were to drop the 50+1 rule, there will be many more 'not traditional' clubs who would have sporting success fairly soon, but does that serve the product Bundesliga in an international context? My answer is 'no.'"

In late February, a renowned study, "The Red Card 2017," showed that Bundesliga remained the top European league in Chinese digital media for a second year running. The study also found that Bayern Munich are the second most popular club in China, behind Manchester United.

However, Jobst said: "Popularity is also about fan interest, about tradition-rich aspects, about loyalty, and the examples of Ingolstadt or Hoffenheim show that they are hardly recognised on Chinese TV as part of the overall perception of the Bundesliga.

"It would therefore be beneficial for the league's positioning abroad if for instance clubs like VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 were to return to the top flight next season."

Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen do not comply with 50+1 as they hold exception permits from the German Football League (DFL).

Borussia Dortmund act as the only Bundesliga club listed on the stock exchange, and investors have effectively taken control of second-tier chaos club 1860 Munich as well as Hamburg, who have been struggling in the top flight for the past few years.

"If you need to chase the money, you do it most of the time from a position of weakness," Jobst said. "There are examples of traditional clubs like 1860 or HSV [Hamburg] who have put themselves into foreign hands. That's not helping the identity, the history and the future awareness of such traditional clubs."

Jobst, however, says Schalke are prepared for the future should 50+1 fall.

"We are convinced that we will be able to have success with our club structures because we hold the marketing rights as well as the stadium rights," he said. "We have never disposed of them and see that as a competitive edge in this growth market -- but surely the fall of 50+1 would have effects on all traditional clubs."

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.


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