Football, democracy, private equity – a winning combination for success.

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In the Bundesliga, fans have successfully protested against private-equity investment, showing the power of the ’50+1′ club ownership rule. The narrow approval of a revised plan by the DFL led to creative protests in stadiums and ultimately the withdrawal of private equity firms. Civil society won the battle, highlighting the dangers of financialisation in football and society at large.

Fans of German football club FC Freiburg protested against the DFL’s plan to bring in private-equity investors for the global marketing of the Bundesliga, leading to a rethink of private equity’s role in society. The plan was initially rejected by fans due to fears of excessive influence by investors over key decisions, such as kick-off times.

Despite a revised plan with narrowed scope and promises of ‘red lines’ that investors would not cross, fans remained skeptical and continued their protests in stadiums. The two-thirds majority needed for the revised plan was only achieved by a slim margin, leading to public backlash against the DFL leadership.

Protests escalated with creative actions disrupting games and garnering widespread support from football fans and civil society. The involvement of major private-equity firms like Blackstone and CVC, using funds from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund, raised further concerns and scrutiny.

Ultimately, the protests were successful in stopping the private-equity investment in Bundesliga marketing after fans and clubs pushed back against the plan. The victory showcased the power of civil society in preventing financialisation in football and beyond, sparking a reevaluation of the role of private equity in society.

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