Bundesliga discusses ownership changes as revenue record set

16 February 2018 | Finance & Regulation
Bundesliga discusses ownership changes as revenue record set
The German Football League (DFL) has reported that the 36 clubs from its top two domestic soccer leagues, the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, have generated a record €4.01 billion (US$5 billion) in revenue during the 2016/17 season, while Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert has announced that club ownership rules will be debated.

The 2018 DFL Report finds that revenue increased by 4.2 per cent from the 2015/16 season, with the figure marking the first time the competitions have surpassed the €4 billion revenue barrier. It is the 13th consecutive revenue record posted by the DFL.

The Bundesliga alone generated €3.37 billion of the overall amount, which represented an increase of around four per cent on last season’s campaign and almost three times the total revenue of 2003/04.

The DFL also said that 14 of the 18 clubs in the top tier were each able to post revenue of more than €100 million in 2016/17. Of the top flight, only Hertha Berlin and Hamburg made a loss last season.

Teams in the 2. Bundesliga generated a total of €635.2 million in the 2016/17 season, which was an increase of 4.4 per cent from the 2015/16 campaign, and represented a new record for the German second tier.

“We are the league with the second-highest turnover in the world; to sum up, the league is absolutely healthy,” said Christian Seifert, chief executive of the DFL. “In the coming years, the Bundesliga alone will approach the €4 billion mark.

“Of course, the English have more money. But we have to make the best of our possibilities. Some do, while others have room for improvement.”

Meanwhile, Seifert has confirmed that there will be a transparent debate on whether to modify the ’50 plus one’ ownership rule that serves to effectively bar big investors from taking over clubs.

The rule functions in effect to prevent commercial entities from owning more than 49 per cent of German clubs, with the rest held by club members, and is widely perceived to have contributed to a fan-focused soccer culture in Germany, helping to maintain low ticket prices and high matchday attendances.

Exceptions to the rule have been granted for Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg - who are owned by pharmaceuticals firm Bayer and carmaker VW respectively and were founded as works teams within those companies - and for Hoffenheim, whose billionaire majority owner Dietmar Hopp, the co-founder of SAP, has held an interest in the club for over 20 years and set a precedent through his takeover in 2014. RB Leipzig is also owned by energy drinks giant Red Bull, which bought the team outright when they were playing in the fifth tier and which has funded a rapid rise.

Some German sides are concerned that they lack the financial heft to allow them to compete with rivals in England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, with the rule discouraging rich individuals and large corporations from investing in German clubs as they cannot buy a controlling stake.

Seifert said the DFL’s board had begun a consultation about altering the rule, ahead of clubs voting on the changes in the next month.

Although the Bundesliga is the second-highest revenue-generating soccer league in the world, only three of its clubs - Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 - are among Europe’s 20 richest teams, according to Deloitte.

Seifert said the DFL’s clubs would discuss compromises to the 50 plus one rule, such as the right to block changes relating to ‘football culture’ by club members, team colours or stadium moves. He also warned that a failure to reform could lead to legal challenges to the rule by minority investors impatient at their lack of control.

24 of the 36 clubs in Germany’s top two leagues must vote in favour for a rule change to be carried through.

"It will be a general debate without backroom commissions," said Seifert, while presenting the Bundesliga’s financial report for the 2016/17 season. "The clubs can form their opinions and then report back. We will also consult the competitions' office, where appropriate, and the European Commission."

“We need to start an honest discussion […] We need at least to figure out if between radical positions - keep the market as it is, or blow it away and open up the market completely - there is a way in between.” 

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