German men’s soccer’s DFL league body has had to once again abandon plans to bring in private equity investment, following mass fan protests.

Yesterday, the DFL announced its plans to bring in an outside equity partner – which would have taken a share of up to 8% in the broadcast rights of the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga over 20 years, for around €1 billion ($1.1 billion) – will be discontinued.

This news comes with the DFL having narrowed down potential partners to only CVC Capital Partners (who already have similar tie-ups with Spain’s LaLiga and France’s Ligue 1) over the last couple of weeks.

However, widespread fan protests against the prospect of outside investment in the DFL have been taking place over recent matchdays, with supporters having disrupted matches – including several high-profile fixtures featuring the country’s biggest clubs – by throwing tennis balls and various other objects onto the pitch, to register their disapproval of the plans. This is despite many of the country's top-tier clubs – at a board level – being in favor of outside investment.

Now, Hans Joachim-Watzke, supervisory board chair at the DFL (and also the chief executive of heavyweight top-tier Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund has said that “given current developments, a successful continuation of the process no longer appears possible.”

This statement came following an emergency board meeting, with Watzke commenting that “even though there is a large majority in favor of the economic necessity of a strategic partnership, German professional football is facing an acid test with divisions not only between clubs within the league but also inside the clubs themselves between players, coaches, officials, boards members, and fan groups.”

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He added that the scale of the protests and disruptions were in danger of affecting “matchday operations, games themselves, and the integrity of the competition,” and that the decision to discontinue the talks was unanimous amongst the board.

The DFL had been aiming to use the investment and presence of a major financial backer to springboard the Bundesliga to a more lucrative broadcast deal to keep it in step with the English Premier League and other top European soccer competitions.

The league had hoped to use 40% of the generated revenue for digitalization and 45% to improve the infrastructure of the 36 teams. The remaining 15% would have been free to use by the individual clubs.

A majority of the DFL’s supervisory board had voted in favor of seeking out a new strategic marketing partnership in November, with Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga clubs then supported the idea – 24 out of 36 Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga clubs voted it through – in December.

Overall, this process marked the third time that the DFL has sought outside investment in its media rights – with the prior two attempts (the last concluded in May 2023) also abandoned following fan protests.

The prospect of private equity firms being involved in any aspect of the running of the league has always been hugely unpopular with a large swathe of German soccer fans, who are fiercely defensive of the league’s independence from large corporate interests.

Bar a few unpopular exceptions, German clubs adhere to a strict fan ownership model known as the ‘50+1 rule’, and German fans are among the most organized in Europe when protesting actions they deem as detrimental to the integrity of the league.

Fans had feared that any outside partner would attempt to take various measures that would be hugely unpopular with matchgoing supporters, to build the appeal of the league to foreign broadcasters – they were worried, for example, about the possibility of kick-off times changing, and being altered to be more suitable to foreign audiences.

Over the last few days, various clubs have backed a proposal by Bundesliga side Cologne. They had called for a final, transparent, vote on any CVC proposal agreed with the league’s hierarchy to be held amongst the clubs.

However, this measure will now not be necessary.

The last failed attempt to secure outside investment, last May, led to the resignation of the interim DFL co-chief executives at that time, who were then replaced by current incumbents Marc Lenz and Steffen Merkel.

Both the latter executives have since been strong advocates for the concept of outside investment, as indeed have clubs such as Dortmund and champions Bayern Munich.