Corporations owning football clubs isn’t new, even if Red Bull are taking it further than any of their rivals have before…
Red Bull Leipzig, and its American sibling the New York Red Bulls, are not, of course, the only teams named after their corporate sponsors. In the Netherlands, there is PSV Eindhoven. Ranked among the nation’s big three, clubs along with iconic Ajax and Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven was founded in 1913 as a team for employees of
Dutch technology conglomerate Philips. Last season, the team, currently led by former player Mark van Bommel, finished top of the Eredivisie and although their foray into this year’s Champions League was a frustrating enterprise, they will be again dominant in domestic affairs.
Meanwhile, Germany has been a hotbed for company-owned clubs, with some hostility. Wolfsburg, owned by auto giant Volkswagen, Bayer Leverkusen, property of pharmaceutical concern Bayer, and Hoffenheim, owned and financed by mogul Dietmar Hopp, have been the target of opprobrium from opposition fans, the Press and even officials from other clubs. They’re variously accused of lacking ‘tradition,’ ‘history’ or ‘real fans.’ Supporters of the clubs in question dismiss the other side as sour grapes.
In neighbouring Austria and Red Bull Salzburg — known as FC Salzburg in UEFA competition due to sponsorship restrictions — the opposition to the corporate takeover was so strong that some supporters split and formed their own club, taking the discarded SV Austria Salzburg name.
Although the ‘new’ Austria Salzburg play in the amateur tiers at a stadium that seats around 1,600 people, a long way from the days when the club finished top of the Austrian Bundesliga, for these most die-hard of fans, that doesn’t matter. They would rather follow a team with what they see as a true identity, rather than one ‘controlled’ by a corporate giant.
But the corporate model isn’t going away any time soon, and has even been replicated in a fashion by Manchester City’s owners, the City Football Group, which controls clubs in England, North America, Spain, Japan, Australia and Uruguay. It’s a model that clearly pays dividends for those running it, and any fan complaints are often quieted by trophies. This marriage of football and business is something we might see far more often in coming years.