Donata Hopfen has resigned as chief executive of the DFL, the German top-tier soccer league structure, by mutual agreement.

In a statement released yesterday (December 7), the DFL gave the reason as differing ideas between the two parties about the further strategic direction of the company.

Axel Hellmann and Oliver Leki have today (December 8) been announced as managing directors (or co-chief executives) of the organization to take over the duties of Hopfen on an interim basis until June 30, 2023.

Hopfen said: “We have achieved a lot and initiated a lot in the last few months. We have developed a viable future strategy for German professional football, initiated large cooperations such as the one with the NFL, and closed important gaps in marketing.

“The NFT deal worth € 170 million should certainly be mentioned here. We've also made good progress internationally, as the contracts in Mexico and the Middle East and North Africa region show. The relationship with the DFB is better today than ever. I'm grateful for the time and the work with the clubs and my team.”

She continued: “The national leagues and professional football are an important anchor for German society. I wish those responsible for the necessary courage and will to change, not only to react to the growing challenges, but also to actively shape them. And of course the necessary little bit of luck as well. It was an intense time, I got to know and appreciate a lot of great people. I leave knowing I've started the right things.”

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By GlobalData

Hans-Joachim Watzke, chairman of the supervisory board of the DFL , added: “I would like to thank Donata Hopfen for her great commitment and the intensive months in which we worked together very trustingly. With her perspective, coming from the outside, she provided important impetus for the Bundesliga. Even if we don't continue along this path together, I wish her the very best for the future.”

It was reported earlier this week that DFL was preparing to replace Hopfen, with concerns about progress on 50+1 ownership issues, digitalization, and media rights having been cited.

A reported delay to 2023 to key discussions about selling a stake the DFL's media rights business appears to have been a tipping point.

Hopfen has only been in the role since January 1 this year, having taken over from the outgoing Christian Seifert.

She became the DFL’s first-ever female chief and had signed a contract until December 31, 2024.

Speaking at the Leaders sport business conference in September, Hopfen had argued the insisted Germany's top-flight Bundesliga needs to be “more present” and “more creative” to grow its brand internationally and compete with other major leagues in Europe.

Her comments had come on the back of the Bundesliga and second-tier Bundesliga 2 suffering a decrease in revenue of more than €1 billion ($999.1 million) over the last two seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hopfen had said: “We have a lot of potential to close the gap there, I see us being among the top three leagues, and I want us to close the gap. We do have a big opportunity here to be more creative and also to be more present when internationalizing our Bundesliga story.

“We are in a time of change and transformation and trying out new things early on and being innovative. We have lots to win and little to lose so when it comes to digital and international, Bundesliga has potential and has chances to close the gap.”

Hellman and Leki will fulfill Hopfen's role while a permanent managerial solution is put in place. Both were already members of the DFL's executive committee, while Hellmann is also the chief executive of the Bundesliga's Eintracht Frankfurt and Leki is a board member of Freiburg, also of the Bundesliga.

The two will continue to perform their roles for their respective clubs in addition to carrying out the leadership duties at the DFL.

Of their appointments, Watzke said: "We would like to thank Axel Hellmann and Oliver Leki for taking on responsibility in a phase in which the course is being set for German professional football. My thanks also go to Eintracht Frankfurt and SC Freiburg, who lived the idea of ​​solidarity and made this dual leadership solution possible in the first place.

“Through their previous work as committee members, Axel Hellmann and Oliver Leki are thoroughly familiar with the structure of the DFL, key issues and projects, as well as with the management level, the workforce, and the work of the subsidiaries. I am positive: with their experience and expertise, they will successfully tackle the current challenges together with the DFL team in the interest of all clubs in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. Appropriate measures will be taken to avoid any conflict of interest, for example on issues such as licensing, organization of the competition, and confidential club records.”


Image: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images