Fans protest against RB Leipzig

RB Leipzig have entered the Bundesliga 2 with a bang, managing to secure 7 points from their first three matches in addition to a famous win over Bundesliga side SC Paderborn in the first round of the DFB Pokal. However, those who have followed the close up shots from the fan blocks on match day 1 of the Bundesliga and the Bundesliga 2 a couple of weeks earlier have probably noticed banners protesting the presence of RB Leipzig within the Germany football community. Most of those banners are closely tied to the initiative “Nein zu RB“(No to RB), which was started by a number of fans of second tier clubs.

At the Olympiastadion in Berlin, the Werder fans rolled out a banner stating:

Nein zum Kunstprodukt RB

This phrase translates to ‘No to the artificial product RB’. TSV 1860 München’s fans rolled out a banner a week earlier, stating that those who “followed a stupid idea with their eyes shut were even more stupid than the idea itself”. On match day 1 of the new season, VfR Aalen’s fans refused to make the trip to Leipzig, because they didn’t want to fill RB’s coffers with more money than the team already has at its disposal.

There’s no doubt that most fans have been rubbed the wrong way by the DFL’s decision to grant the club a license for the second tier. The organisation was reluctant at first, stating that the logo and the membership structure of the club had to be changed before the team could compete in the Bundesliga 2.

However, after a few cosmetic changes to the club logo and a promise of changing the membership structure by the start of 2015 the club were given a license for the second tier.

A long list of grievances

The fans themselves feel betrayed by the DFL, stating that the organisation should have stood by their initial stance on the matter. Logos shouldn’t be advertising boards according to the initiative. However, there are even more far reaching problems when it comes to RB if the fans are to be believed.

“It’s not a miracle that RB managed to get from the 4th tier to the Bundesliga 2 within 2 years” the fans write on their blog, stating that the club has the financial resources to outmuscles most Bundesliga clubs, never mind third and second tier sides. RB Leipzig have approximately spent 12 million Euros during this summer’s transfer window alone, and they even managed to secure the signatures of Marvin Compper and Ante Rebic from the Italian Europa League side Fiorentina. These two signings were first and foremost a reaction to the injury crisis the club was facing at the time. Furthermore, RB was also amongst the suiters for national team keeper Ron-Robert Zieler’s signature this summer. There’s little doubt that no other team in the second tier could compete on the transfer market with RB.

There should be financial fair play within German football according to the fans. Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has already stated that RB’s progress would be stopped if the DFL should decide to include financial fair play as a criteria during the licensing process. However, as long as this isn’t the case the soda maker can spent their money on the transfer market as they see fit.

Another thorn, in the eyes of the initiative, is the fact that RB Leipzig and the other Red Bull owned clubs seem to move players around between the clubs at free will. The fact that several clubs can move their players around without any obstacles is a great thing when it comes to planning a new season, meaning that RB have an easier time adjusting to the challenges of a higher division than, for instance, Heidenheim who were promoted from the third tier alongside with them. When RB Leipzig secured the signature of Austrian international Marcel Sabitzer, they were helped by a buyout clause in the 20-year-old’s contract which stated that he had to be sold for no more than 2 million Euros. In the end, the former Rapid Vienna player was loaned to RB Salzburg, who compete in the same division as Rapid. If RB Salzburg would have approached Rapid, this clause wouldn’t have applied. There’s certainly room to discuss whether or not this was an ethical move from a business point of view.

Finally, the membership is another point of discontent. Right now, the club RB Leipzig consists of 14 members, all of whom have a connection to the Red Bull headquarters in Austria. The membership fee is a steep 800€ per season and RB can reject any membership application without giving the applicant a reason for their refusal to accept the membership request. Compare this situation to Hoffenheim, a club which has been criticised for its handling of the 50+1 rule, and you’ll see a very different picture. Die Hoffe has a membership form on its website and the club has 6,200 members at the moment. Furthermore, the club charges 55€ per year (or 745€ less than RB Leipzig).

There’s little doubt that the democratic culture, which the 50+1 rule sets out to protect, doesn’t exist in Leipzig. If RB are going to change their fees and rules in order to allow fans to enter the discussion of how their club should be run stands to be seen.

The DFL walking a tightrope

Throughout all of this story, a lot of criticism has been directed towards the DFL. However, there’s little doubt that the DFL faces a tough balancing act when it comes to handling this matter. A few years ago, Hannover’s president Martin Kind threatened to take his protests to the European Court of Law, because he deemed the 50+1 rule to be against European law.

As it turns out, most legal experts tend to agree with Mr. Kind’s interpretation of the law. As it stands, the DFL seems to be reluctant to risk a potential trial that could unravel the 50+1 rule, meaning that they do have to play their cards well if they want to enforce the rule effectively. On the other hand side this means that a club like RB Leipzig have a chip they can use when it comes to facing the DFL over disagreements.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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