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Football clubs in Spain’s La Liga have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a deal with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, but only after the two biggest teams secured an opt-out in an eleventh-hour compromise.
The go-ahead came after a six-hour meeting on Thursday in which Real Madrid and FC Barcelona campaigned against the tie-up, with CVC changing the terms of the deal at the last minute to prevent them from thwarting it.
Of the 42 clubs across the first and second divisions, 38 voted in favour of the deal, La Liga president Javier Tebas confirmed. Real Madrid, Barça, Athletic Bilbao and one second-division club that asked to stay anonymous voted against. Those four would use the opt-out, a person familiar with the matter said.
Tebas, who said the CVC deal had been 10 months in the making, told journalists at a press conference in Madrid that Real and Barça had opted out because they were still in favour of forming a breakaway league for Europe’s elite clubs. He said CVC would invest €2.1bn rather than the originally planned €2.7bn because of the clubs that will not participate, but the implied valuation of La Liga remains at roughly €24bn.
Completion of the deal would mark private equity’s first foray into a major European football league. Recent attempts by buyout groups to invest in Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga fell through after opposition from clubs.
“CVC haven’t come along here to bail us out in any way at all,” said Tebas, who said that clubs would use 30 per cent of the funds to spend on players and pay down debts, with the remaining chunk going towards investment in stadiums and infrastructure.
CVC, Real Madrid and Barça did not immediately comment.
Under the terms of the deal, CVC will buy a minority stake in a new company whose revenues will come from La Liga’s broadcasting and sponsorship rights. The group also aims to increase the global audience for Spanish domestic games, swelling the value of those rights.
The buyout group would be entitled to 11 per cent of media rights revenues for the next 50 years, although it is likely to sell its stake before that time since private equity firms typically have a 10-year horizon for returns.
The last-minute changes would allow the clubs that opt out to pocket any additional revenue generated as a result of CVC’s investment, without handing money to the private equity group.
The deal does not prevent those that opt out from playing in the competition, with La Liga continuing to sell media and sponsorship rights for all clubs and all games.
Participating clubs will receive upfront cash from CVC in exchange for an 11 per cent cut of future revenues, but those opting out will receive neither.
The deal includes a clause that enables the league to be revalued if clubs make another attempt at a breakaway league. Barça and Real Madrid were part of the now-collapsed plans for a European Super League this year.
In the days running up to the vote, Tebas repeatedly clashed with Florentino Pérez, the Real Madrid boss, who argued the deal undervalued Spanish football and “mortgaged” its future. The club decided this week to launch legal action against CVC and Tebas to render the deal invalid.
Tensions are still high within Spanish football over Pérez’s failed European Super League initiative this year — an alternative money-raising gambit for the sport’s biggest club that was bitterly opposed by the league.
Barça blames the league’s rules for its failure to retain Lionel Messi, the world’s most celebrated player, who signed for Paris Saint-Germain this week.