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German soccer league approves plan to sell share of TV rights to investor despite fan protests

FILE - Fans hold up banners protesting against investors in German soccer during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 8, 2023. German soccer clubs voted Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, to approve a plan to sell a share of its broadcast revenues to an outside investor, a plan which is bitterly opposed by many fans. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

FILE - Fans hold up banners protesting against investors in German soccer during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 8, 2023. German soccer clubs voted Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, to approve a plan to sell a share of its broadcast revenues to an outside investor, a plan which is bitterly opposed by many fans. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — German soccer clubs voted Monday to approve a plan to sell a share of broadcast revenues to an outside investor, a plan which is bitterly opposed by many fans.

The so-called “strategic marketing partnership” would involve selling a share of revenues — German media reports have estimated around 8% over 20 years — to an investment firm. German fans are strongly opposed to any outside commercial influence on the league and have been protesting with banners at Bundesliga games for months.

The league’s co-chief executive Marc Lenz said that 24 of the 36 teams in the men’s first and second divisions voted for the plan, with 10 against and two abstaining. That meant it only just reached the needed two-thirds majority of clubs. Even so, Lenz said it was “a very good basis for us to be able to act.”

Lenz said the league will now start detailed talks with possible partners and would aim for a decision by the end of March.

League officials argued the deal would allow it to modernize how the competitions are marketed, especially to foreign audiences, and adapt to a market increasingly focused on streaming services. They said investors will not get a say over league matters like kickoff times and won’t be able to push for German league games to be played outside of the country. The league also played down the chances that TV broadcasts would get more access to teams.

“We are perhaps a different product to the leagues in the U.S. which open up the locker rooms and are there for the coaches’ team talks, and it’s going to stay that way in the Bundesliga for now,” co-CEO Steffen Merkel said. “That’s not realistic and it’s also not our intention. It is, however, clear, and this was expressed in the proposal today, that we definitely need to develop further in some areas. That doesn’t mean that we are opening ourselves up completely to commerce or only to entertainment.”

The deal was presented as a more limited version of a plan which failed to pass in May. That was for a 12.5% share of domestic and international TV rights over 20 years. It got 20 of 36 votes, short of the needed two-thirds majority.

Hans-Joachim Watzke, chairman of the supervisory board of the league, said at the time that the “topic is closed from today.” Just three months later, he heralded its return in a modified form when he called for a “revised and redesigned” version of the project.

One prominent club opposing the plan was Union Berlin. Its president Dirk Zingler warned that Germany, where most clubs are controlled by their members, risked losing its distinctiveness in a futile attempt to compete financially with wealthy club owners in other countries.

“The cultural significance and the social rootedness of our soccer are the most valuable things that we have,” he wrote in an open letter to the league’s other member clubs published Sunday. “That means we must take the greatest care with it.”

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AP soccer: /hub/soccer