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DFL abandon outside investment plans amid fan protests

The Bundesliga media rights once again will be up for grabs with new terms

The German men’s soccer league body, Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL), has once again been forced to abandon plans for private equity investment due to widespread fan protests. This marks the third time that the DFL has sought outside investment in its media rights, with previous attempts also abandoned following fan opposition.

The DFL had been in talks with CVC Capital Partners about taking a stake in future media rights sales. The proposed deal would have seen the private equity firm acquire up to an 8% share of broadcast rights for Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga matches over a span of 20 years, amounting to around €1 billion ($1.1 billion). However, these plans have now been discontinued despite CVC Capital Partners being shortlisted as a potential partner after similar tie-ups with Spain’s LaLiga and France’s Ligue 1.

Despite many top-tier clubs' boards favoring outside investment, fans vehemently protested against it. Fan protests against external investment disrupted several matches recently. Supporters expressed their disapproval by throwing tennis balls and other objects onto the pitch during high-profile fixtures featuring some of Germany's biggest clubs.

Increasing fan protests led to the downfall of CVC's investment

Hans Joachim-Watzke, supervisory board chair at the DFL and Borussia Dortmund chief executive stated that "given current developments, a successful continuation of the process no longer appears possible." This statement followed an emergency board meeting convened due to escalating fan protests.

Hans Joachim-Watzke, Supervisory board chair at the DFL, said:

“Even though there is a large majority in favor of the economic necessity of a strategic partnership, German professional football is facing an acid test with divisions not only between clubs within the league but also inside the clubs themselves between players, coaches, officials, boards members, and fan groups. Matchday operations, games themselves, and the integrity of the competition.”

German soccer fans have always been skeptical about private equity firms' involvement in league operations. They are fiercely protective of the league's independence from large corporate interests.

Most German clubs adhere to a strict fan ownership model known as the ‘50+1 rule’. German fans are among Europe's most organized when protesting actions they perceive as detrimental to the league's integrity.

Fans feared that an outside partner might introduce measures to appeal more to foreign broadcasters, such as changing kick-off times, which could negatively impact match-going supporters. Despite this setback, some clubs continue advocating for outside investment.

Bundesliga will again have to remodel to compete with EPL

The primary goal behind seeking external funding was to secure more lucrative broadcast deals for Bundesliga and keep it competitive with English Premier League and other top European soccer competitions. The league planned on using 40% of generated revenue for digitalization, 45% towards improving infrastructure across all teams while leaving remaining 15% at discretion of individual clubs.

In November last year majority of DFL’s supervisory board voted in favor seeking new strategic marketing partnership which was further supported by twenty-four out thirty-six Bundesliga & second Bundesliga clubs in December.

Clubs like Dortmund and champions Bayern Munich have been strong proponents for external funding. However, with fan protests showing no signs of abating and previous attempts ending similarly, it remains uncertain whether these plans will ever come to fruition.

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