SINSHEIM, Germany (AP) — Hoffenheim’s billionaire backer is ceding control of the soccer club to bring it back in line with the German league’s 50-plus-1 rule limiting the influence of outside investors.
Hoffenheim said Wednesday that 82-year-old Dietmar Hopp, who made his fortune as a co-founder of the SAP software company, is waiving an exception to the rule that came into effect in 2015 and he will transfer the majority of his voting rights back to the club.
“It was never about power for me,” Hopp said in a Hoffenheim statement. “We always acted in the spirit of 50-plus-1 before the exception was granted. The special status was never intended to undermine or subvert this regulation.”
Hopp said he realized his majority stake had “caused mistrust and hostilities” and that he knows the 50-plus-1 rule “is a great asset in German soccer.”
The rule states that commercial investors cannot hold more than a 49% stake in a club. Hopp was granted an exception because he had backed the club as an investor continuously for more than 20 years.
Hopp’s financial support began 1989 when Hoffenheim, then a little-known club, was relegated to the German league’s lowest divisions. His millions in investments helped fuel the club’s rapid rise until it was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2008.
Hoffenheim was one of three clubs that were granted exceptions to the 50-plus-1 rule alongside Bayer Leverkusen, which has been backed since its formation by the pharmaceutical giant, and Wolfsburg, which continues to be backed by automobile company Volkswagen.
Leipzig, which was founded in 2009, gets around the rule by limiting its membership structure among members associated with its financial backer, energy-drink manufacturer Red Bull.
Germany’s Federal Cartel Office in 2021 cleared the 50-plus-1 rule under competition law but said it was “problematic that the rule’s uniform application and enforcement is currently not ensured.” The office said clubs that have exceptions to the rule have an unfair advantage.
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