Fear and loathing: The Leipzig story

RB Leipzig

Written by Paul Tregunna (@tregunnasport)

We witnessed a minor footballing miracle this season. A team formed just 11 years ago was one game away from playing in club football’s biggest game – the UEFA Champions League final.

RB Leipzig were living a footballing fairytale when they laced up to play PSG in the 2019/20 Champions League semi-final, but reality is a much grimmer tale.

Leipzig aren’t the plucky underdogs their situation may suggest. Granted – rising from the fourth tier of German football to the Bundesliga in six seasons is an impressive story. Naturally, such meteoric progression is guaranteed to earn respect from German football fans alike, right? Wrong.

Confusing to the unaware onlooker, the intricate reasons as to why RB Leipzig are the most hated team in Germany are relatively complex. But the basic solution is this: The 50+1 rule.

The Bundesliga describes the 50+1 rule as such: “Clubs – and, by extension, the fans – hold a majority of their own voting rights.

“Under German Football League [DFL] rules, football clubs will not be allowed to play in the Bundesliga if commercial investors have more than a 49 percent stake.

“In essence, this means that private investors cannot take over clubs and potentially push through measures that prioritise profit over the wishes of supporters. The ruling simultaneously protects against reckless owners and safeguards the democratic customs of German clubs.”

RB Leipzig, however, have exploited an apparent ‘loophole’. To understand how this could have happened, it’s paramount to travel back to 2009.

SSV Markranstädt, a football club based in Leipzig, were plying their trade in the German fifth division until a certain Austrian energy drink came knocking.

Red Bull (current market value of around $20 billion) purchased SSV and it’s playing licence.

Here’s where the first flagrant manipulation of the DFB’s (German football federation) rules took place.

The DFB prohibits sponsors in the club name, so how are they able to be called RB Leipzig?

Everyone assumes that RB stands for Red Bull – exactly what the company knew would happen. Annoyingly a clever marketing tactic and way around the parameters, RB ‘officially’ stands for Rasenballsport (Lawnball Sport).

So, (Lawnball Sport) RB Leipzig were formed. Cheeky branding alone is enough to annoy opposition fans, but it’s not the 50+1 loophole that has caused the loathing of Leipzig.

For context, Bayern Munich has in excess of 290,000 official club members at the cost of just €30 – €60 per season. Members are the people who vote on how the club is run.

Leipzig by comparison has 17 members.

17 members who get the deciding vote on how the club is run. At what price?

A €100 joining fee. And… an €800 annual fee.

Most of the 17 members happen to be coincidentally be employed by Red Bull.

Technically the 50+1 rule is being adhered to, but the company is clearly taking liberties.

In short, RB Leipzig stand against the core traditions and values that make German football such a special entity. Leipzig’s success is a kick in the teeth for the clubs who value their fans over profit and it’s clear to see why they are so desperately despised.