“No reason to indulge in horror scenarios”: The DFL respond to fan protests

After ongoing protests by fan groups across Germany, the DFL has responded to concerns about private investment in marketing revenue.

The agreement to enter into negotiations with a “strategic partner” from the private equity sector in a bid to boost the value of its international broadcasting rights was narrowly passed after 24 of the 36 clubs which make up the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, the two top divisions of German football, voted in favour of handing DFL co-CEOs Steffen Merkel and Marc Lenz a mandate to negotiate a deal which could see up to €1 billion ($1.08 billion) of investment in return for an 8% share of TV rights revenues over a period of 20 years.

Fans feel that the private investment threatens the integrity of German football that prides itself on community engagement and fan ownership.

Fans across Germany have responded with protests.

Last night, Borussia Dortmund’s 3-0 home win over Freiburg was suspended after fans threw tennis balls and chocolate coins on to the pitch at Signal Iduna Park. In Hamburg, fans attached bicycle locks to a goal, causing a 30-minute delay at Volksparkstadion.

With more protests expected this weekend, including Bundesliga’s highlight between league leader’s Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Bavarian giants, FC Bayern Munich, the DFL has called out to organised fan groups in a bid to halt the disruption.

“The DFL of course also accepts that issues such as the decision of Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs to enter into a strategic marketing partnership is viewed with scepticism by the active fan scene and that this is articulated in the stands. What is not in the spirit of football and fair play, however, is when protests act to the detriment of the teams and sporting competition and matches cannot be properly carried out. This affects millions of fans.”

The DFL Executive Committee has invited representatives of the nationwide fan organisations and fan alliances to open a constructive dialogue to resolve the concerns and commence talks this Thursday.

“The right to have a say is accompanied by the responsibility that we all have to deal with critical issues. Not every discussion guarantees that everyone will share the same opinion by the end. Both the DFL and the clubs respect the fact that fan groups may reject the model that has been chosen. Good sportsmanship, however, means listening to the other person’s arguments.”

The DFL statement clarified key points of criticism that have repeatedly been voiced by fans:

Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 rely on sustained positive development.

The DFL and the 36 clubs have the common goal of ensuring that the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 remain attractive and competitive leagues where the clubs are financially stable, and the conditions of the 50+1 rule and other positive features of German professional football are adhered to.

Ensuring this requires (1.) healthy economic development, and (2.) good international regulation of team costs and investor funds. The DFL has been working hard to ensure both of these points for many years.

The marketing partnership strengthens Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 and benefits all clubs.

The strategic marketing partnership will enable necessary investment in long-term development, in order to strengthen the central marketing of both the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. There will be long-term investment in the media product, digitalisation and internationalisation. This contributes to the financial security of all clubs, which receive up to 50% of their funds from central marketing, and helps to strengthen the Ligaverband.

We see trends in Europe that are moving in the opposite direction; towards weakened centralised marketing in some leagues and in the discussion of the Super League. As the DFL and Ligaverband, we are confronting this risk, in order to maintain strong cooperation and a model of solidarity.

Moreover, the capital generated through the planned marketing partnership will explicitly not be used to finance players and team costs. On the contrary, we are currently working on further national regulations to strengthen the financial stability of clubs. This point also distinguishes our aim of long-term development from the short-term focus of other associations and leagues.

A marketing partner will have no influence on sporting competition, kick-off times or venues.

The strategic partner will not decide or be able to decide on kick-off times, venues, the composition of the leagues or other sporting issues at any time.

The future partner’s role in jointly determining content is entirely regulated and extremely limited in the interests of the clubs and German football. Intervention in sporting matters is completely ruled out. Furthermore, the right to have a say on commercial matters is strictly limited. Representatives for the clubs also have clear majorities in all commercial decisions, hence only the clubs can make decisions on the direction of German football at given time.

The DFL highlighted that they are  not selling any shares.

The model envisaged for a strategic partnership is not a sale of shares in the DFL. Instead, the future partner will receive a percentage of future revenues over a limited period of 20 years. In return, the partner will contribute investment capital and value added to support development.

The DFL also sees improper commercialisation and team costs as a problem.

The DFL has been working very hard for several years to further develop the financial rules of the game throughout Europe. International financial regulations were strengthened in 2022 as a result of the DFL’s contribution. In December 2023, the DFL went one better and submitted concepts to UEFA in order to contribute to better football through an absolute cap on team costs, among other things.

The DFL statement concluded that German football thrives on clubs that are deeply rooted in their communities. There is no “selling out”, no loss of control and no departure from the 50+1 rule – and therefore no reason to indulge in horror scenarios. It is now upto the fans to demonstrate whether they agree with this conclusion.

GGFN | Oscar O’Mara


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