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German football fans don’t want to play ball with PE

Soccer fans have put paid to CVC’s plans for Germany’s Bundesliga.

The latest private equity shot for a slice of the broadcasting rights of Germany’s top-flight football league has hit the crossbar again.

On Wednesday, Germany’s Bundesliga caved to fan pressure and abandoned plans to sell a stake in its media rights to CVC Capital Partners. It’s a major setback for serial sports investor CVC, which has been wooing the league since at least 2021—when players such as KKR and Apollo Global Management were also eyeing a stake. However, following a series of protests, pitch invasions and stalled matches, it was abundantly clear that fans were unhappy and the plans were unworkable.

The whole debacle echoes the fate of the Super League—an ill-fated attempt by a group of investors to form a breakaway league including only the most profitable European clubs. Again, fans across Europe dissented, forcing club owners and their backers into a humiliating climb down. While the Super League was a different kind of deal and did not feature prominent PE backers, it was a lesson on the importance of getting the fans on board.

European football fans are not anti-investment. There is already a lot of private capital swishing around in the game, and PitchBook data shows that more than a third of European football clubs in the “Big Five” leagues have private market backing.

However, fans can be suspicious of outside investors they perceive to be messing with the beautiful game. This was true in the case of the Super League, which sought to undermine the meritocratic aspect of the relegation system that many Major League Soccer fans would be unfamiliar with. While CVC’s plans for the Bundesliga were relatively benign by comparison, this isn’t the first time German football fans have been hostile to outside investment.

“The deal was seeking a minority investment for what was most likely a passive stake in broadcasting and commercial rights,” explains PitchBook analyst Nicolas Moura. “It wasn’t exactly a game changer, but the funds would have helped build the Bundesliga brand. Perhaps it will take the Bundesliga dropping behind La Liga and Serie A in terms of revenues to open the private equity floodgates.”

Featured image by Jürgen Fromme /Getty Images

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