German football league ends private equity talks after mass fan protests

Feb 22, 2024 4:12 am | News

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The German football league has called off talks over a potential investment from private equity after mass protests from fans, the third time it has failed in its efforts to bring in outside capital.

Deutsche Fussball Liga, which operates the top two tiers of German football, had been hoping to sell a €1bn stake in a new company that would control broadcast and commercial rights. It initially attracted interest from several large private equity firms.

But many fans oppose inviting global capital into the domestic league and several matches have been delayed or disrupted in recent weeks by demonstrators throwing chocolate coins, sweets and tennis balls on to the pitch. At a match between Hansa Rostock and Hamburg last weekend, stewards had to chase remote-controlled cars loaded with smoke flares around the pitch.

The money raised from investors would have been used to improve broadcast operations, including a possible new streaming platform. Many German football executives worry the league is falling behind rivals in Europe because of a lack of international interest in the matches.

However, at an extraordinary meeting in Frankfurt on Wednesday, clubs voted not to proceed with the investment negotiations.

Hans-Joachim Watzke, chair of the DFL steering committee, said the battle over investment “threatened to undermine the integrity of the competition”, and meant the league could not guarantee that any contract signed with an investor would be “sustainable”.

Stewards had to chase remote-controlled cars loaded with smoke flares around the pitch at the Ostseestadion last weekend
Stewards had to chase remote-controlled cars loaded with smoke flares around the pitch at the Ostseestadion last Saturday © Joern Pollex/Getty Images

“Returning to orderly game operations must be the DFL’s primary goal,” he added.

The investment plans ran into fierce opposition from German fans, who were concerned that the arrival of global capital would undermine the traditions of the domestic game. German football already has rules that limit the involvement of outside investors in team ownership.

Daniel Mittler, the managing director of German consumer finance lobby group Finanzwende said the DFL’s decision was “good news for all football supporters”.

There had been growing doubts among club executives about private capital investment in the DFL. The chief executive of league leaders Bayer Leverkusen told the Financial Times this month that there were more effective ways of boosting the league’s appeal, such as allowing individual clubs to bring in outside investment.

Last week CVC Capital Partners was left as the only bidder still in the process after Blackstone decided to withdraw. CVC, which has investment deals with the Spanish and French football leagues, declined to comment.

The collapse of the current round of talks follows two previous failed attempts to bring in outside investment. Clubs voted against a far larger investment proposal last year that could have raised more than €4bn.

Additional reporting by Will Louch in London and Olaf Storbeck in Frankfurt

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