Bundesliga to debate 50+1 rule amid Hannover president's takeover bid
The German Football League (DFL) has called for a "fundamental debate" on the future of the 50+1 rule in the Bundesliga after Hannover president Martin Kind put his takeover bid on hold earlier this week.
Kind, a businessman and Hannover local, had previously hoped to gain a majority stake in the club after 20 years of investing in it.
He had faced strong opposition from several Hannover fan groups, and reports last week hinted at a DFL decision against Kind's takeover bid. Instead of issuing a ruling, the DFL has now called for a debate.
"From the DFL presidency's point of view, it appears appropriate to put the wording and the implementation of the 50+1 under scrutiny in the coming months," read a statement from the DFL.
It added that the "important principles of German football culture" should be enshrined while discussing the need to "open up to new development possibilities."
Under DFL rules, clubs in Germany will not be allowed into the upper two tiers if commercial investors have more than a 49 percent ownership stake. The rule, introduced in 1998, guards German clubs against potential takeovers and, in theory, ensures the clubs remain fan-owned.
However, there are exemptions from the rule for clubs with investors who have funded them for more than 20 years.
Among those exempt are Bayer Leverkusen, owned by the pharmaceutical company Bayer; Wolfsburg, owned by car manufacturer Volkswagen; and Hoffenheim, which has been controlled by SAP founder Dietmar Hopp since 2014 after the multi-billionaire invested consistently in the club over two decades.
RB Leipzig have also found a way to legally bypass the rule by allowing only 17 people with voting rights into the club -- all of whom are affiliated with the energy drink company Red Bull -- and rebranding then-fifth-tier side Markranstadt in 2009.
German clubs have been split about whether to scrap the rule, adjust it or keep fighting for its existence.
Leverkusen CEO Michael Schade told kicker that "clubs need new sources of funding to narrow the opening gap to the European top clubs."
Freiburg president Fritz Keller, however, praised the rule and said it needs to be "preserved."
"But I fear that there will be a compromise," Keller said. "We will fight that as much as possible of that rule will stay. Many clubs are looking for new money, but England should be a warning.
"If one day the cornucopia opens on the Bundesliga clubs, it should only be ethical, clean money going into the sport."
Speaking to FAZ, Hans-Joachim Watzke, the CEO of Borussia Dortmund, the only Bundesliga club listed on the stock market, said the club will support the rule.
"We will continue to fight for 50+1," Watzke said. "As long as none of those opposing the rule can tell me why we should abolish the rule when both Real Madrid and Barcelona are the most successful clubs in the world with 50+1, I will keep fighting for the existence of the rule."
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.