– Criterion of “substantial support” not fulfilled
– DFL consults German Federal Antitrust Office with respect to the overall application and interpretation of the 50+1 rule.
18.07.2018 – The Board of DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga e.V. today unanimously rejected the request by Hannover 96 and Mr Martin Kind for the approval of an exception to the so-called 50+1 rule. Under the existing rules of DFL , Mr Martin Kind is therefore not permitted to acquire a majority interest in “Hannover 96 Management GmbH” (namely the company conducting the club’s business). The Board had extensively discussed the topic in recent months, including hearing the arguments of the applicants at joint meetings. In its final analysis, the DFL Board came to the conclusion that the criterion of “substantial support” as a prerequisite for the approval of an exception to the 50+1 rule is not fulfilled in the case at hand.
The request submitted by Hannover 96 and Mr Martin Kind referred to Section 8, No. 3 (5) of the DFL Statutes, which provides: “The Board of DFL e.V. shall decide on exceptions to the requirement for a majority interest of the parent club only in cases in which another legal entity has supported the football activities of the parent club uninterruptedly and substantially for more than 20 years.” In 2014, the predecessor to the DFL Board, the “Board of the League Association”, had issued guidelines for interpretation in order to clarify and define in greater detail the legal terms contained in the DFL Statutes. These guidelines were presented at a members’ meeting on 4 December 2014 and made available to all of the clubs by way of a circular and were subsequently applied in relation to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
The interpretation of the criterion of “substantial support” set out in the guidelines states that “the level of the financial commitment in each season of the 20-year period must at least correspond to the average share of the budget attributable to the main sponsor of the club, i.e. the most significant individual sponsorship volume.” In the view of the DFL Board, the contributions that Mr Martin Kind has indisputably made over the past 20 years are not sufficient to justify an exception to the 50+1 rule as defined in the DFL Statutes. As a member of DFL e.V. subject to the DFL Statutes, the resolution provides “Hannover 96 GmbH & Co. KGaA” with the option of submitting an appeal to the permanent arbitration court of the professional football leagues in Germany.
DFL President Dr Reinhard Rauball: “This decision was far from simple for the Board. We have examined the situation intensively and comprehensively over several months in the interests of the applicants as well as the community of all 36 DFL clubs. As the competent body, the final analysis of the Board systematically applies the DFL Statutes in a way that is consistent with the uniform interpretation set out in the guidelines, including with a view to upholding the principle of equal treatment.” Hannover 96 and Mr Martin Kind had submitted the request for the approval of an exception to the 50+1 rule on 4 August 2017. The request was temporarily suspended by the applicants on 5 February 2018 and reactivated on 11 May 2018.
Independently from the specific decision on the request by Hannover 96 and Mr Martin Kind, the DFL Board has submitted a request for a decision in accordance with Section 32 c of the German Act against Restraints on Competition (GWB) to the German Federal Antitrust Office (Bundeskartellamt). This involves an examination of the potential concerns regarding the overall application and interpretation of the 50+1 rule under antitrust law.
Dr Rauball: “The request for examination by the German Federal Antitrust Office is independent from the Board’s latest decision on the request for an exception submitted by Hannover 96 and Mr Martin Kind. There has been an intensive public debate on the 50+1 rule in recent months. This step is intended to provide clarity for all concerned.”