Home Private Equity Bundesliga scraps €1bn private investment plans amid fan pressure

Bundesliga scraps €1bn private investment plans amid fan pressure

The German Football League (DFL) has abandoned plans to bring in private investment to the Bundesliga’s media rights business.

  • Fans have caused significant disruption at games in protests against possible deal
  • Dispute over Hannover 96’s vote has represented a threat to ‘the 50+1 rule’

The German Football League (DFL) has abandoned plans to bring in private investment to the Bundesliga’s media rights business.

Last December, 24 of the 36 clubs in the Bundesliga and second-tier Bundesliga 2 voted to permit the DFL to commence negotiations to sell an eight per cent stake in its media rights subsidiary.

The investment would have been worth €1 billion (US$1.08 billion), with CVC Capital Partners the only firm in talks with the league. Earlier this month, Blackstone withdrew from negotiations, reportedly due to holding some concerns about a possible drawn-out process.

Following the vote in December, fan groups across the country have staged protests and disrupted games by throwing objects, such as tennis balls, onto the pitch. 

After an extraordinary meeting held earlier this week, the executive committee of the DFL have now unanimously voted to end the process of finding a strategic marketing partner.

“In light of recent developments, it appears that continuing the process successfully is something that is no longer possible,” said Hans-Joachim Watzke, Borussia Dortmund chief executive and speaker of the DFL executive committee in a statement.

“Although there was a significant majority in favour of the necessity of the strategic partnership from a business perspective, German professional football is in the midst of a crucial test of its strength, and this topic has given rise to considerable conflict.”

Fan discontent has centred on second-tier club Hannover 96 and the vote of their chief executive Martin Kind. Despite his team opposing the investment proposal, Kind is believed to have voted for the deal, which gave the DFL the two-thirds majority it needed to begin negotiations.

This has fuelled protests held over recent weeks, with supporter groups believing his vote goes against the ‘50+1 rule’ that gives fans’ 50 per cent of voting rights at German soccer clubs.

With protests ongoing, several clubs had called for a re-vote on a deal with CVC. Now this will no longer be required, with Watzke acknowledging the deal’s talks had caused significant division.

“This was not limited to within the Ligaverband association between the clubs but also, in some cases, within the clubs themselves: between professional players, coaches, club officials, supervisory bodies, members assemblies and fan communities,” Watzke added.

“That conflict is increasingly putting match operations, specific matches and thus the integrity of the competition at risk. The viability of a successful contract as regards to financing for the 36 clubs can therefore no longer be assured, given the circumstances.”

This was the closest the league had got to reaching an agreement to bring in an investor, having seen a similar concept voted down by clubs last year – with fan protests again a significant factor in that decision.

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