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Blackstone withdraw from German football media-rights bid amid fan backlash

Media rights deal for DFL has already shown many twists and turns

Blackstone Inc., a leading investment firm, has withdrawn its bid for a contentious football media rights deal in Germany. The decision comes in the wake of significant backlash from fans who are critical of foreign capital's involvement in their beloved sport.

The Bundesliga, Germany's top football league, saw an escalation of protests against private equity participation over the weekend. High-profile matches were disrupted as fans expressed their disapproval by throwing sweets and bouncy balls onto the pitch.

In one instance, a game Hamburger SV vs Hannover 96 was interrupted when Hannover fans displayed a banner featuring Martin Kind, the club’s managing director, behind crosshairs.

Blackstone's decision has sparked rumors to theories

While DFL Deutsche Fussball Liga GmbH - German professional football’s governing body - did not disclose specifics about Blackstone’s withdrawal, insiders have shed some light on possible reasons. Concerns about how long it would take for the deal to materialize played a part in this decision. Additionally, structuring and economic factors made it difficult for Blackstone to envision how they could make such a transaction viable.

DFL released a statement:

“We confirm that, following good discussions, Blackstone will no longer be considered as a strategic marketing partner of the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 for various reasons, DFL and the clubs have always been aware that the key points and red lines adopted in December place high demands on potential partners.”

Despite these developments, discussions continue with CVC Capital Partners – another potential bidder already invested in French and Spanish elite football leagues' media interests. Both Blackstone and CVC representatives declined to comment on these matters.

Fans have been vocal against private equity involvement

The fan backlash is rooted in criticism against private equity firms like Blackstone and CVC that have been accused of sourcing funds from Saudi Arabia. This controversy has led some clubs to demand fresh voting on proposals related to external capital raising efforts by DFL Deutsche Fussball Liga GmbH.

Claus Vogt, VfB Stuttgart president called for "renewed transparent" voting regarding investor entry. This comes after allegations that the voting outcome was influenced by Hannover’s Kind, who voted in favor despite his club members' opposition.

The DFL's plan to digitize its content and secure more profitable rights deals both domestically and internationally is still on track. The goal is to compete with or even surpass the commercially successful English Premier League matches broadcasting deal.

However, this recent development underscores the challenges faced by foreign investors in navigating fan sentiment and local politics within German football. As negotiations continue with CVC Capital Partners, it remains to be seen how these issues will be addressed moving forward.

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