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Bundesliga clubs reject private equity investment in media rights business

DFL’s plan fails to secure two-thirds majority vote from German soccer’s top two tiers.

25 May 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • Advent, Blackstone and CVC were circling ‘12.5% stake’ in DFL’s media rights business
  • Clubs first broke off talks in May 2021
  • Latest rejection raises questions about the rights coming up for sale again

German soccer clubs have rejected the German Football League’s (DFL) plan to sell a stake in the Bundesliga’s media rights business to private equity firms.

The proposal failed to secure a two-thirds majority from the 36 clubs across the country’s top two leagues

“The majority of the clubs voted in favour of the project, but it was four votes less than the two-thirds majority desired by the DFL executive committee, and to continue the talks with the investors,” said Borussia Dortmund chief executive and DFL supervisory board head Hans-Joachim Watzke.

The development means it is the second time Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs have halted talks with private equity firms, having initially done so in May 2021. At the time, Bridgepoint, CVC Capital Partners and KKR were reportedly in the running for a 25 per cent in the DFL’s international broadcast rights business, which was expected to value it at roughly €2 billion (US$2.2 billion).

However, it was reported in January 2023 that discussions were set to resume. This time, CVC, as well as Blackstone and Advent International, were purportedly in contention to buy a 12.5 per cent stake in the media rights business. If the two-thirds majority had been secured, negotiations with the bidders would have been able to continue.

According to the Financial Times, the failure to secure the majority took some of the interested private equity firms by surprise, raising questions over whether the rights will come up for sale again.

Even if the bidders were taken aback by the decision, the potential for private equity backers has divided opinion among fans and clubs. The opposition to external investment partly stems from the preexisting, and fiercely defended, ‘50+1’ regulation, which means German soccer teams cannot be majority owned by independent parties, such as an external investor, thus ensuring a club and its members retain overall control. The DFL is understood to be trying to tighten those ownership rules.

But with private equity talks now once again on ice, the Bundesliga joins Serie A in failing to sell a stake in its media rights business The Italian top flight was set to sell a share to a CVC-led consortium in a deal worth €1.7 billion (US$1.8 billion), only for multiple clubs to push back on the plans. In contrast, Spain’s La Liga and France’s Ligue 1 have sealed investment agreements with CVC.

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