Should the 50 + 1 Rule be Brought to the Premier League?
The 50 + 1 rule, most famously found in German football, is the process that prevents private investors from taking over clubs. Rules in the German Football League states that commercial investors cannot have more than a 49% stake otherwise the club would not be allowed to play in the league.
This means that fans have a 50% ownership of a club and have the right to vote on all club initiatives.
Private ownership was strictly prohibited in German football until as late as 1998, maintaining the long-standing tradition of German teams being not-for-profit largely run by members.
With the introduction of private investment, the 50 + 1 rule was implemented in the same year. This rule has managed to keep debt under control and allows player wages and ticket prices to stay relatively low.
But would the 50 + 1 rule work in a league such as the Premier League where most clubs have a majority owner?
The 50 + 1 rule is an example of how a club’s respect for their fans can lead to better engagement. With lower ticket prices than a majority of the other top leagues in Europe, German teams see a consistently big turnout at games. In fact, Bundesliga teams make up ten of the top 30 average attendances in the European leagues.
Borussia Dortmund have an average attendance of 80,830 and rivals Bayern Munich have an average crowd of 75,000. These high numbers can be largely credited to German football refusing to price regular fans out of football.
The average price for the cheapest tickets in the Premier League are roughly £29 whereas the average price for a Bundesliga ticket is €10, with the most expensive being €18.50 for the most in-demand tickets in Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall.
The disparity is even greater with season ticket prices with the cheapest Premier League season ticket being £299 and the most expensive Bundesliga season ticket being just €240 at Borussia Dortmund.
The respect for fans is at the core of 50 + 1 with Borussia Dortmund CEO saying that if the German spectator gets the feeling that he’s no longer regarded as a fan but instead as a customer, "we'll have a problem”.
The European Super League
The explosion of conversation surrounding whether the 50 + 1 rule should be implemented in England was the European Super League.
Originally proposed as a seasonal competition that would feature football from only football’s top clubs. The 12 clubs that joined were Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. Notably, there were no German clubs involved, despite having some of the top teams in Europe like Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
The League, and chairman Florentino Perez, stated that a league such as the European Super League would help the economic growth of European football significantly and provide additional financial resources for the entire football pyramid. The league would have uncapped solidarity payments, appeal to the younger generation of football fans and improve key aspects like refereeing and VAR.
The creation of a league that had a primary goal of generating more revenue and didn’t have relegation, which guaranteed that the same clubs would continue to benefit financially, perfectly encapsulated the journey football had taken from a fan-led sport to a corporate money machine.
Fan protests ensued, with Chelsea fans getting their game against Brighton delayed after their protest outside Stamford Bridge held up the team bus and questioned Petr Cech. Following this protest, Chelsea became the first team to pull out of the Super League, with most of the other 12 following.
The overwhelming outcry against the Super League even caught the attention of the British government. In response, the government began to explore ways to give football fans more influence in their clubs in order to prevent more breakaway attempts that disregard what fans want.
A push like this from the government may be the only way for 50 + 1 to be implemented, as the Premier League has a different governing structure which could make it difficult for any changes.
Would it Work?
It is hard to say if the 50 + 1 rule would work in the Premier League due to the sheer number of clubs in majority ownership. These clubs would have a hard time shifting this ownership in order to accommodate a 50% share for fans. Along with this, the 50 + 1 rule also tends to push potential investors away.
However, the potential to have a league with sustainable ticket prices for fans and a better hold on debt for clubs would be a massive sign to fans that the game still cares about them rather than just their financial investment into the club.
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