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Clash of Philosophy in German Soccer

February 7, 2017


When Borussia Dortmund and Rasenballsport Leipzig met over the weekend, there was much more at stake than just 3 points. The two clubs represent a stark difference in philosophy. Borrusia Dortmund is part of German soccer’s old guard, a true Traditionsmannschaft (traditional team). Somewhat similar to what the Green Bay Packers or Chicago Cubs are in American sports. Dortmund boasts the biggest standing terrace in Europe, develops plenty of homegrown players, is a staple in the community and the region, and their vibrant fan-scene and culture is among one of the most respected in Europe. Rasenballsport Leipzig, playing in the Bundesliga for the first time in their short history, has caused outrage among German soccer fans.

The Austrian energy-drink maker Red Bull is behind the sudden emergence of RB Leipzig as a soccer power. The DFB (German soccer association) would not allow the club to name themselves explicitly after the energy-drink, so the club settled for another term, which would allow them to market their product. They settled on Rasenballsport Leipzig. Translated literally it means “lawn ball sport” and sounds equally silly in German as it does in English. The move allowed the club to call themselves RB Leipzig and adopt a club crest with an uncanny resemblance to that of Red Bull’s corporate logo. The company has bankrolled the club and managed to overthrow the traditional status quo in under 10 years, unseating historically successful clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, and VfB Stuttgart. RB Leipzig currently sit 2nd in the standings, just 4 points behind superpower Bayern Munich. If they hold their current position, they will play in soccer’s most prestigious competition next season, the UEFA Champion’s League.

To many Germans, Rasenballsport Leipzig, or RB Leipzig, represents everything they believe soccer should not be. For one, the club has circumvented the hallowed 50+1 rule, which makes the sport in Germany so unique. The rule ensures that the members of the club have majority control. This keeps commercial interests in check.  In Germany, for example, you could never have a situation like that of Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

RB Leipzig has managed to circumvent the 50+1 rule by making it extremely difficult to acquire a membership. Those who do go through the trouble and financial burden of attaining a membership still do not have voting rights. A select few members, who have direct ties to Red Bull, hold the voting rights.

Germans until recently had been immune to the commercialization of the sport, which has hit their neighbors Spain, England, and to a lesser extent France and Italy particularly hard. Red Bull Leipzig is a threat to this sense of traditional security. Other multi-national corporations have taken notice of what Red Bull has achieved, a marketing scheme wrapped up in the guise of a football club, a very successful one at that. The worry for fans is that RB Leipzig represents a crack in the foundation, and more like-minded clubs could follow suit, threatening the organic, traditional, fan-driven and fan-centric nature of the sport in Germany.

Over the weekend, Borussia Dortmund went on to defeat RB Leipzig 1-0 in front of their home fans, who were not shy about voicing their displeasure of what RB Leipzig has done to their beloved sport (see photo above.) Unfortunately, some resorted to extreme measures.


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