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In German football, the fans are stronger than the investment funds

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In German football, the fans are stronger than the investment funds

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In recent weeks in Germany, men’s first and second division football matches have frequently been interrupted or postponed for a few minutes, to tidy up the pitch afterwards. fans’ protests. Since December, fans have been throwing various objects on German pitches in coordinated protests: there was the tennis ball phase, the chocolate coin phase and even some experiments with marbles and chains and padlocks closed around the posts and nets. of the doors. To the more traditional protests, such as watching the match in silence (called a “fan strike”) or occupying entire sectors of the stands with protest banners, more creative ones have been added: the Hansa Rostock fans brought two remote-controlled cars, each with a smoke bomb attached.

The protests began to contest the approval by the German Football League (DFL) of a collaboration agreement with some investment funds, designed to develop the German leagues, the Bundesliga and the second division. They had an effect: on Wednesday after an emergency meeting the League gave up on the project.

The agreement provided for the entry of private investors into the League, to encourage the development of the marketing of the championships, especially on the foreign market. Concretely, in agreements of this type, which have already occurred in Spain and France, the leagues give up a portion of their future revenues to immediately obtain funds and therefore liquidity. Specifically, in Germany the transfer of 8 percent of the revenue from the sale of television rights and sponsorships for the next twenty years was envisaged, in exchange for an investment by a 1 billion euro fund.

Various companies had participated in the negotiations: after an initial interest from the Swedish EQT fund, the US group Blackstone and the British CVC Capital Partners had moved to a more advanced stage. CVC had previously completed similar operations with the Spanish and French leagues, which organize La Liga and La Liga respectively Ligue 1: the Spanish championship had been the first to take this path, also to respond to a complex financial situation of many clubs, which were heavily in debt (the worst situation was that of Barcelona). CVC also owns shares in the Six Nations rugby tournament and the rugby circuit tennis women’s WTA.

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Stewards collect objects on the Wolfsburg pitch (Photo by Cathrin Mueller/Getty Images)

In Germany, however, coordinated and frequent protests began immediately. In Germany, fans are particularly influential, much more than in other major European countries. They are organized in a sort of transversal “union”, called “Unsere Kurve” (Our Curve), which has already in the past promoted lively protests against the increase in ticket prices and what is defined as the “distortion” of football traditions German.

But above all, the characteristic that makes German football different is the so-called “50+1” rule: it establishes that the majority shares of each professional club must be owned by the members, therefore by fans and supporters, and not by a single entity . This rule is considered to be the basis of the great attachment of German fans to their teams, even the lesser-known ones, and therefore of a large audience presence in the stadiums. It also ensures the solidity of balance sheets through prudent spending and effectively prevents the big German clubs from being bought and sold by foreign investors and funds. Critics see this rule as a brake on the movement’s growth, but a recent reform proposal has also been rejected.

The fans protested against the agreement for two main reasons: one of merit, one of method. Firstly, they feared that the entry of funds into the German League would cause an increase in ticket prices, which would lead to the staging of matches abroad and change the starting times of the matches, an issue on which German football is remained more traditionalist than other European leagues. The agreement officially only included investments in marketing, the creation of a streaming platform for the broadcast of matches and the incentive for promotional tours abroad, but the DFL’s reassurances were never considered sufficient.

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A banner of Stuttgart fans (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Unsere Kurve, but also the clubs that had voted against, then contested the holding of the vote. The 36 football clubs that are part of the first two championships had approved the agreement in December with 24 votes in favour, two abstentions and 10 against: thus the two-thirds majority necessary for the internal regulations had been reached, but with the minimum of votes. A subsequent reconstruction of the votes revealed that Martin Kind, CEO of the second division team Hannover, would have voted in favor despite the mandate obtained from the club’s assembly to express a negative opinion. According to those who animated the protests, this “betrayal” of the will of the shareholder fans represented a violation of the “50+1” rule itself, because it shifted decision-making power from the shareholders to a single entity.

Chocolate coins on the Bochum pitch (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

Since the championships resumed after the winter break in mid-January (another peculiarity maintained in Germany compared to other European countries, albeit shorter in duration), the protests have become more intense, causing many delays in the holding of the matches, especially when fans replaced tennis balls with chocolate coins, which are less quickly removed from the court.

Werder Bremen goalkeeper Michael Zetterer among tennis balls and remote-controlled cars (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

The Blackstone fund has decided to withdraw from the possible partnership in mid-February, leaving CVC as the only option. On Wednesday, amid growing demands from many clubs, the league held an emergency meeting. At the end, Hans-Joachim Watzke, spokesperson for the DFL executive and CEO of Borussia Dortmund, announced that he was abandoning the project: «It is no longer viable, the protests endangered the holding of the matches and the very integrity of the competition» .

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