Football should make peace with RB Leipzig

Words By Joe Devine
November 22, 2016

Amidst the ever-changing landscape of modern football, a new beast has arisen. From the ashes of German football legislation, like a Belrock awoken by the dying screams of zero-private investment regulation, a consumerist force makes berth; Lawn Ball Sport Leipzig, better known as RB Leipzig, better known as the most hated football team in Germany.

Top of the Bundesliga, yet to lose a game, yet to not score in any game this season, the ripples of RB Leipzig’s achievements are extending around the globe. To the global community, who understandably have little knowledge of complex Germany football regulations, Leipzig represent hopeful change; “the new Leicester”, an overthrower of the establishment, FC Bayern’s unedified reign challenged at last.

To much of Germany’s football community, Leipzig largely represents the devil, the end times, the corporate invasion of art. Red Bull’s skirting of Germany’s proud 50+1 rule (a regulation ensuring that teams in the Bundesliga offer membership schemes, giving their supporters 50% + 1 share of voting rights) is a rather offensive two-fingers to sentiment.

Germany collectively decided in 1998 that its football league remain protected from external influence, it created a method of effective crowd-ownership, the envy of many other supporter-bases. Red Bull and Leipzig cleverly navigate this sentiment, to the horror of the wider community.

Yet, despite the animosity, there are arguments on both sides. Yes, Red Bull flout the rules, but the Bundesliga’s own regulation allows them to do this. Pre-1998, private investment was not allowed at Germany’s football clubs. In an effort to increase commerciality, the DfB allowed greater external influence, and introduced private investment. The 50+1 rule was proposed to keep this new power in check. By relaxing this law, they opened the door to monsters.

Yet, there are those who would use the current regulations to hinder movement. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chief executive at Bayern Munich, is one of the public critics of RB Leipzig’s actions. Rummenigge was one of many to point out Leipzig’s indiscretions, and to issue sanctimonious overtures regarding the values of German football. Bayern do boast significantly cheaper ticket prices than every Premier League club, yet their commercial income rivals Europe’s elite, as does their paying power. They might be fan owned, but their commercial dalliances make them the richest Bundesliga club by some distance.

Of course Rummenigge would complain about Leipzig’s rise. Any threat to Bayern’s total domestic dominance must be addressed, that’s his job. Yet, a wider perspective reveals that Red Bull represent a larger threat to the broader commerciality of the Bundesliga. The fan owned model not only protects supporter groups from external – potentially opposing – influences, it also creates the perfect environment for commercial sponsorship. Where supporter groups retain the ability to refuse sponsorship ties with whomever they please, the sponsors that fit the bill enter a less devalued advertorial landscape, and better yet, are welcomed by the very customers they seek to engage. Domestically speaking, this is good for business. Any threat to this system, as represented by Red Bull and Leipzig, is a threat to the commerciality of the entire league.

Whilst supporters might be deterred by the clear-cut, capitalistic intentions of Red Bull, clubs are threatened by devaluation of their own commercial entities, as well as league positions. Beyond fan ownership, the advent of a corporation starting a football team in order to sell products is enough to cause outrage within the footballing community. Yet, the line between what Red Bull are doing in Leipzig, and what Manchester United are doing in the Premier League, is practically non-existent. The two are separated merely by more easily understood circumstances, a bit of history, and a cloaked objective. In the age of the internet, Red Bull’s Leipzig operation can be seen as the large-scale trolling of German football. Clearly, the intention is to further expand the brand, leading to sales and profits. On the macro-level, it’s unclear how precisely that differs from what many football clubs in the Premier League, as an example, are already doing.

We exist in an era in which many people craft their opinions for greater levels of social media engagement, in which the only reason to make a home movie is to go viral on YouTube, in which charitable fundraising tends to exist merely as a reason to go sky diving. There’s always an unspoken ambition, why should it be any different with modern football? Make peace with RB Leipzig now, and try to enjoy the success of a young football team in a difficult league, for soon enough, every football team in Europe will exist to sell something.

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