German Soccer League Pushes Back Against Antitrust ‘50+1’ Ruling
(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s DFL professional soccer league has defended its ownership restrictions against a preliminary assessment by the nation’s competition authority that suggested they may breach antitrust rules, public broadcaster ARD reported.
The DFL introduced the so-called “50+1” rule in 1999, under which a club’s parent association must own more than 50% of a team’s voting rights. It’s designed to limit the influence of outside investors and retain the club character of the sport, though there are exceptions for three teams where the investor has been involved for more than 20 years.
The Bundeskartellamt said in May that the “50+1” rule is “problematic” because its “uniform application and enforcement is currently not ensured.” Volkswagen AG and Bayer AG have long owned 100% of VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen respectively, while Dietmar Hopp, the billionaire co-founder of software giant SAP SE, bankrolls TSG Hoffenheim.
Scrapping the rule and allowing deep-pocketed investors to buy majority stakes in all German clubs could give them more financial muscle to compete with cash-rich teams like Manchester City, London’s Chelsea FC and Paris Saint-Germain.
At the same time, it’s a contentious issue and proposals to open up the Bundesliga to outside investment have prompted protests by some fans who fear rising ticket prices and a loss of influence.
“Competition law does not stand in the way of the sport policy objectives pursued by the 50+1 rule,” Andreas Mundt, the authority’s president, said in May. “However, the DFL must ensure that the rule is consistently applied and enforced for all clubs.”
ARD on Saturday quoted a DFL response as saying that they don’t believe that the three exceptions contravene antitrust rules and disproportionately benefit those teams.
The fact that so many different German clubs qualify for Europe compared with the continent’s other top leagues is evidence of the “long-term balance of competition in the Bundesliga,” the DFL added, according to ARD.
The league believes that the antitrust authority has not sufficiently considered some of the “arguments and facts” it put forward and is seeking a reassessment, ARD reported.
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