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DFB and Infront reach settlement as contracts terminated

FC Bayern Munich face Bayer Leverkusen at DFB Cup final on July 4, 2020 in Berlin (Photo by Robert Michael/Pool via Getty Images)

Infront and the German Football Federation (DFB) have reached a settlement after the domestic football body’s moves to terminate a sponsorship and pitchside advertising rights sales contract with the agency following an investigation into alleged corruption.

In a joint statement announcing the settlement, the two parties said that their “current business relations” had been terminated “by mutual agreement” and that the “resulting financial obligations have been settled”.

The DFB announced its decision in June to end Infront’s contract to sell the commercial rights to the DFB-Pokal knockout clubs competition.

The Frankfurt-based body also sought to terminate a services contract with Infront for the delivery of the LED boards, and yesterday (Thursday) announced a two-year LED perimeter advertising supply contract with rival agency Sportfive.

The DFB moved to sever its ties with Infront in the wake of a commissioned report delivered by Esecon, the Berlin-based investigative agency. The allegations pertain in part to a contract awarded to Infront in 2013 to sell perimeter advertising for Germany’s national team matches, along with a deal to sell sponsorship and advertising rights at DFB-Pokal matches.

Infront vowed at the time to contest the termination of its contracts, saying it “firmly rejects” the corruption allegations and “will do everything it can to combat them”.

The joint statement issued today read: “During several confidential top-level meetings, Infront and the DFB have discussed the allegations, wherein agreement was not shared on all evaluated issues. Infront regrets that the DFB has been given the impression of unfair business practices.”

The statement continued: “With immediate effect, the DFB will market the DFB-Pokal itself. Should the DFB decide at a later date to put the marketing rights out to public tender again, this tender will be open to all market participants, including Infront.

“The DFB and Infront can look back on nearly 40 years of successful cooperation, during which the rights of the DFB were jointly developed and continuously enhanced, resulting in increased revenues for the DFB. The DFB thanks Infront for this work. Infront would like to thank the DFB for the trust it has placed in us over the years. Both parties wish each other well for the future.”

Read this: LED advertising | Why it took just one second to damage Infront’s reputation

Infront no longer sells perimeter advertising at Germany’s national team matches but still held the contract to sell pitchside advertising at DFB-Pokal matches. Infront has also been the long-standing international media-rights adviser for the DFB-Pokal.

The DFB’s relationship with Infront has been under the microscope since details of an ‘LED scam’ conducted by a former executive at the agency first emerged in May 2019. The executive in question faces a criminal investigation in Switzerland and the case has been the subject of an investigation by Infront with the agency having commissioned external lawyers.

The move by the DFB to end the contracts came after a report in German magazine Der Spiegel claimed the Esecon findings unearthed €40m ($45m) of financial damage caused at the federation.

It was alleged that Infront was awarded the national teams contract despite a competitor having offered €18m more and that the DFB Pokal pitchside advertising sales contract was awarded under questionable circumstances. Among other allegations are that the son of then DFB secretary general Helmut Sandrock was given a job at Infront at the same time that the agency was granted the national teams contract.

Infront responded to the report in Der Spiegel by saying that Esecon’s reported allegations are “not only highly construed but are above all unsubstantiated through any evidence” and represent “purely allegations for which Esecon provides no reliable evidence”. The Switzerland-based agency said that it had “severe doubts about the methods and motives” of Esecon.

Infront also responded at the time by stating that it looked forward to “any judicial assessment of the matter with composure” and was “very confident that the allegation of any ‘potentially damaging activities’ will prove to be unfounded”.

The agreement announced yesterday with Sportfive covers the supply of LED perimeter advertising at Germany’s international fixtures and televised DFB-Pokal matches. The sale of perimeter advertising (or sponsorship) was not included in the deal.

Commenting on the appointment of Sportfive, the DFB’s Holger Blask, managing director of marketing and sales, praised Sportfive’s “integrity and reliability”.