The dispute between the German Football Association (DFB) and one of Germany's leading players' agents, Roger Wittmann, is looping at European level.
The judges of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) decided to submit the DFB regulations on player brokerage to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This is to decide to what extent the European ban on cartels applies. The court announced that the BGH proceedings would be suspended until then.
Multi-million dollar market
The top antitrust judges in Karlsruhe are examining the extent to which the DFB can influence the agency business with its regulations. With their own regulations, the football associations FIFA and DFB wanted to ensure more transparency and control in the multi-million dollar market. A lawsuit has already been filed with the ECJ against the world football association FIFA.
Regulations of sports associations are not new before the ECJ. In a previous case on doping control rules, the Court ruled that the European ban on cartels does not apply to rules designed to ensure fair competition in sport. It is unclear to what extent this judgment can be transferred to the DFB regulations. "The Senate does not see itself in a position to decide this legal issue itself," said Chairman Wolfgang Kirchhoff.
"The European Court of Justice must now specify the scope of the exception for sporting rules from the ban on cartels," said Wittmann's lawyer Alexander Fritzsche. "This concerns in particular the question of whether the exception applies to the activities of sports associations if they do not regulate sport but - as here - economic activities in other markets."
"Apparent restriction of competition"
When the BGH decision was announced, BGH judge Kirchhoff emphasized that the requirements of the DFB lead to a "noticeable restriction of competition" in the player agency market. They are not aimed directly at the agents, but at clubs and players. "However, they mean that the players' agents have to align their behavior with the rules," said Kirchhoff.
Among other things, the DFB regulations provide for a registration obligation for intermediaries, who must also submit to the association's statutes. On top of that, there is a commission ban for certain transfers and for the placement of young players. The player consultant Wittmann sees this as a violation of the cartel ban. His lawsuit is supported by the German Football Players' Association (DFVV). In the lower court at the end of 2021, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court had agreed with the DFB in some passages and in other points with Wittmann's agency Rogon.
Players' agents thread professional contracts or transfers. In the Bundesliga, according to the German Football League (DFL), the clubs spent between 35.44 million euros (FC Bayern Munich) and 642,000 euros (promoted 1. FC Heidenheim) for brokerage services in the 2022 financial year. In the international transfer business, according to the world association FIFA, there was a total of around 586 million euros in 2022.