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DFL investor deal threatens to collapse – crisis meeting of Bundesliga bosses

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DFL investor deal threatens to collapse – crisis meeting of Bundesliga bosses

Fans of VfB Stuttgart protested last weekend against a possible DFL investor. picture alliance / press photo pack | Herbert Rudel

After the ongoing fan protests in the Bundesliga, the investor deal for the German Football League (DFL) is in danger of falling through.

This Wednesday the DFL presidium will meet for an emergency meeting. Calls for a new vote on an investor are increasing not only in the fan curves, but also among the clubs.

The reason is the unclear vote of the managing director of Hannover 96, Martin Kind. He may have voted for a deal in December even though his club was against it. Kind apparently doesn’t shy away from another vote.

Gold coins, tennis balls and remote-controlled cars on the pitch: the Bundesliga is constantly experiencing new forms of protest in the struggle for an investor to join. The organized fans in the corners are putting the German Football League (DFL) under increasing pressure, and game interruptions are increasing. At the same time, the number of clubs that want to vote again on whether the Bundesliga should let a financial company share in its media revenues for a lot of money is growing. Is the planned billion-dollar deal in danger of falling through?

According to consistent media reports, the DFL Presidium wants to discuss the search for investors this Wednesday. According to information from the “Sports picture“ the management board meets for an emergency meeting to discuss how to proceed. There will be talks with the 36 first and second division clubs on February 28th and 29th, and another general meeting in March – to present the result of the negotiations with the only possible investor, CVC Capital Partners.

The league’s management had originally wanted to complete the controversial deal next month. The clubs no longer had to agree, the board should have had a free hand – actually. But the league bosses appear increasingly powerless in the face of resistance to their plan.

The DFL wants to collect one billion euros from a financial investor for a percentage share of its TV revenues. In return, the lender would receive a share in a subsidiary of the league, in which the marketing rights would be pooled. It’s not just this plan that is controversial, but also how the clubs’ vote for an investor deal came about. The necessary two-thirds majority was only barely achieved in the vote last December.

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Since then, there has been a suspicion that Martin Kind, managing director of second division club Hannover 96, may have cast the deciding vote for the deal – even though the parent club had instructed him to vote against it. That’s why the fan protests in the stadiums are also directed against a possible violation of the 50+1 rule, which is intended to ensure that the clubs have the say in professional football.

The voting question takes on a symbolic character because Kind has been fighting for years against the rule, which fans across Germany see as the last protection against the complete commercialization of the game. The hearing aid entrepreneur’s portrait was last seen in crosshairs in the Hanover stadium.

A threatening picture, but one that shows one thing above all: The conflict over a DFL investor has long been about fundamental things. While the decision-makers are in a crisis of trust, quite a few appear to be driven by their own curves. Both sides should agree: the Bundesliga is facing urgent questions about the future. The fan representatives that Business Insider spoke to in the past few days also see it that way.

National player Robin Gosens from Union Berlin collects tennis balls that fans threw onto the lawn in protest at the away game at TSG Hoffenheim. picture alliance / Eibner press photo | Eibner press photo/Wolfgang Frank

Child himself does not comment on his vote. “Only I know how I voted. Nobody knows that, everything else is speculation, and that’s why I refuse to discuss this topic,” he insisted on NDR Info. The 79-year-old also appeared on the ARD talk show on Monday eveningHard but fair“ elicit nothing. At the same time, Kind made it clear on the show that he would not shy away from another, this time public, vote. “I’m open to it,†he said.

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The Hanoverian no longer believes that the ongoing negotiations with a strategic partner will be successfully concluded. “They will all drop out,” Kind predicted in an interview on NDR’s “Sportclub” broadcast on Sunday evening. Until last week there were still two interested parties left – then the private equity firm Blackstone jumped ship.

Blackstone is said to be according to a report by Bloomberg feared that the deal with the DFL could drag on for a long time. It is unclear what influence the massive rejection of the fan scene had on this decision. What is certain is that the DFL set up high hurdles for participation in December after an investor deal failed last spring due to a lack of approval from the clubs. The attractiveness of a partnership has obviously suffered as a result.

None of this seems to deter one possible investor: CVC. So far there are no signs that the financial company with experience in sports could withdraw. But even if the only remaining candidate, CVC, maintains its offer, the outcome now seems completely open.

Headwinds from within the DFL’s own ranks are increasing

Because the headwind for the DFL is increasing not only from the fans, but also from within its own ranks. A number of clubs recently advocated for a new vote, which DFL executive committee spokesman and supervisory board chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke no longer wants to ignore as a clear supporter of the deal, according to information from the “Frankfurter Rundschau”.

However, after the weekend, the DFL had not yet received an official request to release the DFL Presidium from the final discretion granted at the general meeting with the necessary two-thirds majority. The umbrella organization of German professional football announced this on Monday at the request of the German Press Agency

1. FC Cologne had announced such a request and discussed its motives in a letter to the DFL. “Under no circumstances should the current fan protests continue in the long term or even increase,” the “Frankfurter Rundschau” quoted from the letter on Monday. With a new debate between all clubs with their own members and fans as well as a new vote, “German professional football would document this solidarity with its base of respect and greatness”.

In their demand for a new vote on the investor deal, the clubs are primarily concerned with legally securing the process. Their arguments also revolve around the question of whether Hannover boss Kind followed the will of his club. “These suspicions must be completely dispelled,” Cologne’s sports managing director Christian Keller confirmed again on Sunday. It is primarily about “ensuring legal certainty and acceptance.”

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The fans, on the other hand, are hoping for a final end to the investors’ plans, which had already failed last May. If the massive protests and disruptions in the Bundesliga stadiums ultimately lead to this result, Martin Kind expects damage to German professional football.

“I am afraid it will also have an impact on the negotiations of television contracts in the future. And on sponsors,” said Kind, who is the majority shareholder of the corporation into which Hannover 96 has spun off its professional department. If an investor’s entry fails, this represents stagnation, said Kind. “And stagnation always means regression.”

When Kind talks about the “television contracts of the future”, he is probably referring to the allocation of broadcasting rights from the 2025/26 season, which should be completed before the European Championships in the summer.

Supporters of investors’ entry are convinced: If the DFL were to reach an agreement with a donor in the spring, it could improve the league’s negotiating position – because it would have a financially strong partner behind it. While there is widespread concern in the curves that those responsible could make too big concessions in future rights allocations under pressure from an investor.

This article was published on February 20, 2024 and was updated on February 21, 2024.


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