Like a companion that cannot be shaken off, the protest has been quite striking for weeks. “The greatest danger to football is not a pandemic, but your greed.” “Death to the sick system”. Or as read on Saturday evening in the top game between Bayern and Leipzig: “DFL strategy for the future: Selling out to investors instead of sustainable solutions.”
There are messages from the football fan curve that describe the fears of supporters of an explosive vote.
Nationwide, they mobilize at the games of their clubs against a plan of the German Football League (DFL). It stipulates that an investor acquires 12.5 percent of the media marketing of the Bundesliga for a period of 20 years. This should bring fresh capital of around two billion euros to the league, 85 percent of which should flow into earmarked investments in future fields and to strengthen the stability of the DFL. Many fans fear, among other things, that an investor in the DFL could further fragment the game day. There is talk of heteronomy, of influence, of a danger to German professional football.
It’s not the only noise that hits the protagonists. Dirk Zingler, boss of 1. FC Union, and Hans-Joachim Watzke, managing director of Borussia Dortmund and also head of the supervisory board of the DFL, had already admitted in a joint interview with WELT AM SONNTAG at the beginning of April that there had been failures in the communication regarding the investor plans.
In the interview, however, Zingler also massively criticized the local Bundesliga rivals Hertha BSC, in which the company 777 Partners joined as a new investor after Lars Windhorst left. “Unfortunately, we have the worst example on our doorstep in Berlin when it comes to investors in German football,” said Zingler: “That destroys the whole issue because it shows how things shouldn’t actually work.” Football is becoming a commodity there.” Hertha’s partnership with Windhorst – he had invested 374 million euros, which did not result in sporting progress – ended after a good three years of misunderstandings in a dispute. The sporting blow to the neck followed on Saturday: Hertha was relegated to the second division.
A decline that is not exactly image-enhancing for the vote on Wednesday. Because in the capital it was shown in a dramatic way how an investor should not act. At the extraordinary general meeting at the airport in Frankfurt/M. From 11.30 a.m. it should be agreed whether negotiations should be started with an interested party. The process can only continue if there is a two-thirds majority from the 36 professional clubs in the first and second divisions.
In a survey conducted by the “Kicker” among the supporters of all clubs on May 9th, there was a clear vote: According to this, 67.65 percent across the clubs are against the entry of an investor, only 24.47 percent are in favor. Only the supporters of RB Leipzig, i.e. the club that owes its sporting rise in German football to the multi-million dollar donations from a brewing company, voted in the majority for the entry of an investor – 53.42 percent.
At the general meeting, the decision should now be made as to whether there will be more money in the future or not. For the entry of an investor, the DFL wants to set up a new marketing subsidiary for the sale of national and international TV rights – MediaCo GmbH and Co KGaa. The MediaCo should get a three-person leadership. According to the plan, 12.5 percent of MediaCo’s proceeds should be sold to an investor over 20 years for at least two billion euros. The investor, as many club bosses have made clear again and again in recent weeks, should not have any say in the matter. Union boss Zingler said that you know exactly what you don’t want: co-determination by investors. “There will be no one telling us when we play.”
Initial bids from three investors (up from six initially) will be presented to club representatives today: CVC (already an investor in Spain’s La Liga and France’s Lique 1), Advent and Blackstone. A two-thirds majority is required for the vote so that the DFL Executive Committee can finalize the offers. If there is a green light, the offer is reduced to two. The final decision of the clubs should be made in July. The DFL hopes to get two billion euros from the deal. According to information from WELT, however, all offers from the four candidates are below this desired sum – between 1.75 and 1.85 billion euros.
The sum that the DFL is aiming for should be divided into three pots.
Pot one (40 percent): Digitization and internationalization of the DFL. The money remains with the DFL. An online streaming platform for the distribution of content is to be set up and, above all, to appeal to fans abroad, especially younger ones.
Pot two (45 percent): Investment in the infrastructure of the clubs. The clubs should get money and invest in their stadiums, youth academies or offices, for example, but also in digitization.
Pot three (15 percent): Here the clubs should be able to invest in new players or reduce debt with the money to increase their attractiveness. There is talk of 300 million euros for the 36 clubs – spread over five years. That would only make 2.7 million euros per season for a Bundesliga club and 666,000 euros for a second division club. However, this would not significantly improve international competitiveness, but that is exactly what FC Bayern is all about.
According to Oliver Leki, CFO of SC Freiburg and interim managing director of the DFL until the end of June with Axel Hellmann from Eintracht Frankfurt, German football is dependent on money from investors to secure its future. “There is a need for investment in the league’s business model, in central marketing,” the 50-year-old said recently to the TV station BILD. The central marketing is the heart of the functioning of the association of the 36 clubs from the first and second Bundesliga. “The competitive environment is changing here.”
It would therefore be negligent if the committees did not at least deal in a very, very balanced and differentiated way with the question of how to position oneself so that one can go forward-looking into the next decade. “The players, the 36 clubs, have mostly recognized that it is difficult to continue, at least it would be extremely risky,” said Leki. One bows to necessities. “The topic is not a matter of the heart,” explained Leki, who understands the fan protests – and appeals for the topic to be communicated very broadly again and also to explain what is actually behind it. “A lot is still unknown. You can’t blame anyone for not really penetrating things and understanding that you initially reject them per se,” he said.
If the investor model fails, Leki sees the merger of the 36 first and second division clubs in the DFL threatened. The Ausschere of the Bundesliga would then at least be discussed. “I’m a big fan of the 36. I will do my utmost not to sacrifice this,” said Leki: “But I could imagine that the debate would take place.”
Those responsible for the DFL also have to deal with the rights granted to the investor. As reported by the ARD sports show, a document addressed to the clubs states that the new financier should be given the right to veto “particularly important transactions”. What exactly is meant by that was left unanswered by the DFL in a corresponding ARD request.
That the intended deal could burst is therefore entirely within the realm of possibility. Because many questions still seem to be open. For example, the second division club FC St. Pauli reported last week that they wanted more decision-making time. Club president and DFL board member Oke Göttlich emphasized that he was not opposed to the project in principle. However, based on the information available so far, he cannot agree in principle.
Even as a member of the DFL Executive Committee, he cannot currently say what the strategy for the coming years in the current process will actually look like. “A strategy comes before the process and not a process before a strategy,” said the 47-year-old. “As President of FC St. Pauli, I can already see a path that tries to solve challenges with money alone and in which central points such as a business plan, investment amount, governance, regulations or a distribution key are not finalized or discussed Aspects of due diligence do not agree.
However, that would most likely mean the end of any investor model. On the one hand, potential buyers would probably not be willing to wait that long. On the other hand, a new management would then have to get used to the DFL, since Leki and Hellmann will give up their interim offices on June 30th. The meeting on Wednesday will be highly explosive – especially since a simple majority among the professional clubs is sufficient to accept Göttlich’s proposal.
Other protagonists in the league are not so critical of the plans: Eintracht Frankfurt’s sports director Markus Krösche, for example, expects approval for negotiations on the entry of an investor. It would be “an important sign that the process can continue. I’m in good spirits that it will happen like this,” said the 42-year-old. “We have a lot of challenges.” Media usage behavior has changed and will continue to change, says Krösche: “Therefore we have major challenges in terms of competitiveness in Europe.”