Bayern supporters protest with a banner reading "No to investors!"...

Bayern supporters protest with a banner reading "No to investors!" during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday Feb. 10, 2024. Credit: AP/Martin Meissner

DUESSELDORF, Germany — The protesting German soccer fans claimed victory Wednesday when the league abandoned plans to sell a stake in its media rights income to an outside investor.

The league, known as the DFL, said its board decided not to proceed with the deal. Private equity investor CVC Capital Partners was the only remaining prospective buyer for a 20-year slice of broadcast and sponsorship revenue in return for an up-front payment.

Protests by fans throwing objects such as tennis balls onto fields have caused lengthy stoppages at games for weeks since the clubs in the top two men's divisions voted in December to proceed with talks on the investment plan.

Some protests have involved fans using remote-controlled cars and airplanes to stop games and in one case attaching bicycle locks to the goalpost.

“A successful continuation of the process no longer appears possible in view of current developments,” said league supervisory board chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke, who is also chief executive of Borussia Dortmund and was a key backer of the investment plan.

Watzke said “major confrontations” were causing unrest at the league's member clubs. This, he added, was affecting games and potentially even threatened “the integrity of the competition.”

“From the perspective of active soccer fans and all members of the clubs in Germany, this is obviously a big success," Thomas Kessen, spokesperson for the Unsere Kurve fan group, said in comments to Germany’s dpa news agency. "It shows that German soccer is member-based, is democratic, and that you have to bring these members with you in landmark decisions like this. Today is a good day for Germany's soccer fans.”

Dortmund's goalkeeper Gregor Kobel kicks tennis balls thrown on the...

Dortmund's goalkeeper Gregor Kobel kicks tennis balls thrown on the field by protesting supporters during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and SC Freiburg in Dortmund, Germany, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Credit: AP/Martin Meissner

Abandoning the investment plan means Germany is going against a trend of increased private equity involvement in European soccer. CVC already has investments in the Spanish and French leagues. Another prospective buyer in the German deal, Blackstone, withdrew earlier.

The league covers the top two men's divisions in German soccer with a total of 36 member clubs.

The league had wanted to agree on a deal by the end of next month ahead of a planned auction of new TV rights for the 2025-26 season and beyond. The investor would have been able to acquire a share of up to 8% of the league’s commercial rights, including TV and league sponsorship income.

The league argued the deal would help to modernize how the competition is marketed around the world and would free up money for clubs to invest in their infrastructure.

Berlin fans throw tennis balls on the pitch to protest...

Berlin fans throw tennis balls on the pitch to protest the German soccer federation, during the German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and 1. FC Union Berlin at the PreZero Arena in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. Credit: AP/Jan-Philipp Strobel

Fans had been especially concerned an investor might seek to influence game kickoff times or push for some games to be played outside Germany, something the league denied.

It is not the first time that fan protests have affected the German league's decision-making. Past protests played a role in forcing the league to abandon Monday night games, which were unpopular with fans.

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