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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Fan Power in European Soccer Grows As German Football Deal Scuttled 

  • Weeks of increasingly strident protests lead to the end of a proposed private equity deal.
  • League officials cite integrity risks to competition in the wake of numerous match stoppages.
A Bundesliga camera operator during a match
DFL/Bundesliga

The fans won. 

The German Football League (DFL) has abandoned long-discussed plans to sell part of its media rights for roughly $1 billion to private equity, a decision made in the wake of increasingly strident and disruptive fan protests that included throwing objects on match fields such as tennis balls, chocolate coins, and remote-controlled cars filled with smoke flares.

CVC Capital Partners had been the only remaining bidder to invest after fellow finalist Blackstone dropped out of the process earlier this month. 

“It appears that continuing the process successfully is something that is no longer possible,” said DFL executive board spokesperson Hans-Joachim Watzke, who is also the president of the Bundesliga’s Borussia Dortmund. “German football is in the midst of a crucial test of its strength, and this topic has given rise to considerable conflict. … That conflict is increasingly putting match operations, specific matches, and thus the integrity of the competition at risk.”

The private equity effort—which would involve an upfront investment in exchange for up to 8% of future media and sponsorship revenues over the next two decades—had been intended to help boost the DFL financially, secure larger media rights deals around the world, and keep up with major entities in the sport such as England’s Premier League. 

Instead, the end of the plan represents a major escalation of fans’ power in European soccer that already has seen massive protests in recent years against clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and the original Super League. Numerous German matches experienced stoppages due to fan protests. Pro soccer in Germany has long featured a “50+1” ownership rule limiting the role and power of outside investors. Though the potential CVC deal would not have violated that provision, the possibility of outside investment was coldly received by fans from the start. 

“The comprehensive but very peaceful and very creative protests were ultimately the key to success,” said fan group Unsere Kurve.

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