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German soccer league shuts down investment deal after fan protests disrupt games

The protesting German soccer fans got what they wanted Wednesday when the league abandoned plans to sell a stake in its media rights income to an outside investor.

The league, known as the DFL, said its board decided not to proceed with the deal. Private equity investor CVC Capital Partners was the only remaining prospective buyer for a 20-year slice of broadcast and sponsorship revenue in return for an up-front payment.

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Protests by fans throwing objects such as tennis balls onto fields have caused lengthy stoppages at games for weeks since the clubs in the top two men’s divisions voted in December to proceed with talks on the investment plan.

Some protests have involved fans using remote-controlled cars and airplanes to stop games and in one case attaching bicycle locks to the goalpost.

“A successful continuation of the process no longer appears possible in view of current developments,” said league supervisory board chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke, who is also chief executive of Borussia Dortmund and was a key backer of the investment plan.

Watzke said “major confrontations” were causing unrest at the league’s member clubs. This, he added, was affecting games and potentially even threatened “the integrity of the competition.”

Germany Soccer Bundesliga

Bayern supporters protest with a banner reading “No to investors!” during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Abandoning the investment plan means Germany is going against a trend of increased private equity involvement in European soccer. CVC already has investments in the Spanish and French leagues. Another prospective buyer in the German deal, Blackstone, withdrew earlier.

The league covers the top two men’s divisions in German soccer with a total of 36 member clubs.

The league had wanted to agree on a deal by the end of next month ahead of a planned auction of new TV rights for the 2025-26 season and beyond. The investor would have been able to acquire a share of up to 8% of the league’s commercial rights, including TV and league sponsorship income.

Fans had been especially concerned an investor might seek to influence game kickoff times or push for some games to be played outside Germany, something the league denied.

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It is not the first time that fan protests have affected the German league’s decision-making. Past protests played a role in forcing the league to abandon Monday night games, which were unpopular with fans.

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