Workers, Their Clubs, and 50+1 Exception: VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen

There is an exception to the 50+1 rule for majority ownership for teams that have been funded by a corporation for longer than 20 years. An example of this exception is from the ownership and history of VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen.

VfL Wolfsburg—The city of Wolfsburg was found in 1938 in order to house the autoworkers from the Volkswagen  company. The workers created the team, BSG Volkswagenwerk Stadt des KdF-Wagen, which played in the top division up until World War II. After World War II, the workers played under the team name of VSK Wolfsburg then soon after workers left to play at 1. FC Wolfsburg. From 1945 until 1959, the club moved throughout the Regional leagues. In 1963, the first professional football league, the Bundesliga, was created; VfL Wolfsburg was in the Regionalliga Nord and were not promoted to the Bundesliga until 1997. The club went on to win the Bundesliga in 2008-09 season, the DFB-Pokal in 2015, and the DFL-Supercup in 2015. Now, VfL Wolfsburg (“Wolfsburg”) is owned by VfL Wolfsburg-Fußball GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen Group.

Bayer Leverkusen—In 1903, 170 workers of Friedrich Bayer and Co. signed a letter asking their employer to support a sports club. On July 1, 1904, the company supported the workers and Turn-und Speilverein Bayer 04 Leverkusen was founded; the separate football department was formed in 1907. The team moved up and down the regional leagues and 2. Bundesliga until 1979-80. The team went on to win the DFB-Pokal in 1992-93 and the UEFA Cup in 1987-88.

Both of these teams have a long history of connection to their parent companies. For this reason, the current 50+1 rule has an exception to the majority fan ownership for teams that are have been funded by a company for more than 20 years.

With the loophole in the 50+1 rule done by RB Leipzig, where “fan” owners are also employees of Red Bull and the cost to become a fan owner nearly triple other teams, the rule, in practice, is no longer preventing the corporate takeovers of clubs that it was meant to prevent.

The ownership of RB Leipzig resulting in a large influx on money and resulting in a real challenge for the Bundesliga title (RB Leipzig are currently in first place in their first ever Bundesliga season), the 50+1 rule has continued to come under vocal criticism by club coaches and CEOs.

Oliver Mintzlaff, the head of global soccer at Red Bull said that the 50+1 rule should be abolished to enable the Bundesliga to remain “competitive.” Also, belief in the longevity of the 50+1 rule has declined, as Frankfurt sporting executive, Fredi Bobic, as said “We will fight for a long time but 50+1 will fail. There are no two ways about it.” In contrast, Borussia Dortmund CEO, Hans-Joachim Watzke said “The 50+1 rule does significantly more good in Germany than harm.”

This leads to why this series of blogs started in the first place: Is the 50+1 rule in need of updating or will the rule ultimately be removed?

In the following two blogs we will examine ways and the pros & cons to tighten or relaxing regulations on teams regarding the 50+1 rule. Specifically, limitations on employees of companies and ownership, extending the length of time on the 50+1 rule,

Additional Reading:   (German link)

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