Against Red Bull Football

The Champions League Final in 2013 was a celebration of all things German, as the top two sides in the Bundesliga contested Europe’s biggest prize. 2012/13 was the season that football in Germany finally got the recognition it deserved, but just days after Arjen Robben won the trophy for Bayern, German football came together once more – to oppose the growing threat to the game which is Red Bull.


Top text reads “divided by the colours, united by the cause.” You can probably guess what the bottom bit says.

Fans from many different clubs all over the country came together to support Sportfreunde Lotte, the side taking on Red Bull Leipzig in the playoffs for a place in the third tier of German football. Despite several thousand fans from countless German clubs coming together to support Lotte against the corporate plaything of Leipzig, Red Bull eventually won 4 – 2 on aggregate after extra time. Following on from the proudest moment in German football history for many years, the promotion of Red Bull Leipzig served as a reminder that even the best league in Europe for fans has its problems.

Football clubs have been owned by the rich for some time, with Manchester City and Chelsea recent examples from England of investment leading to success. So what makes Red Bull football particularly odious, and why do they need to be stopped from expanding their football ownership further still? This is the story of how the energy drink manufacturer is helping to spread all that is wrong with modern football.

ajaaz8An Ajax banner demonstrating against Red Bull football

When looking at the inspiration for a Red Bull owned club in Germany, thoughts instantly turn to  Hoffenheim, a largely unheard of side with few supporters which received a great deal of investment from software entrepreneur Dietmar Hopp. The money put in to Hoffenheim by Hopp resulted in the club achieving promotion to the top division and challenging for the Bundesliga title in their very first season. Demba Ba was one of the talented players who helped Hoffenheim top the table at the winter break, but a decline in form and a spate of injuries saw the newly rich side eventually finish seventh. Still, it had been proved that it was possible to perform well in the German top flight if you had backers willing to throw enough money around to promote their ‘brand’. The season Hoffenheim challenged for Bundesliga glory was 2008/09. RB Leipzig were founded in 2009.

RB Leipzig came into existence when the energy drink company purchased the license of SSV Markranstädt, a small team who played in the fifth tier of Germany. Red Bull announced that RB Leipzig were a completely new team and would be in the Bundesliga “within ten years.” A club created purely to make money and promote the owners, RB Leipzig averaged crowds of 7,401 last season, playing in a stadium capable of holding over 44,000. The money pumped into the club allowed Leipzig to rapidly climb through the leagues, overtaking genuine clubs with history and tradition. As you will see as I delve further into the murky world of Red Bull football, history and tradition are considered dirty words to the suits at RB Towers. For the true scale of what Red Bull are prepared to do to a club in the name of money and marketing, simply cross the border to Austria.

salzburg-v-red-bullFor every cloud a silver lining – Austria Salzburg prove rebel football is alive and well

Red Bull’s Austrian invasion

Red Bull Salzburg are arguably the least likable club in world football, only rivalled on British shores by MK Dons. The Austrian Bundesliga side were purchased by Red Bull in the same way as their franchise in Leipzig, with the only part of the club the new owners truly cared about being the license to play. The violet and white colours of Austria Salzburg were replaced with a kit more suitable for the marketing of ‘the brand’, with supporters’ protests completely ignored by the clubs hierarchy. Also gone was the clubs traditional badge, once again replaced by a tawdry Red Bull infected logo without a shred of pride or passion. As supporters protested furiously for the return of Austria Salzburg’s soul, Red Bull’s offered a so-called compromise. “If colours are so important to the supporters, the goalkeeper can wear violet socks” said Red Bull. It was at this stage SV Austria Salzburg was born, a phoenix club in the style of AFC Wimbledon, a fan owned football team with the motto – Never changed passion for glory.

140Austria Salzburg fans in action

Red Bull also control three further teams in Austria, FC Anif, FC Pasching and FC Liefering, with these sides acting as ‘farm teams’ to the main marketing project in Salzburg. In 2013, third division FC Pasching won the Austrian Cup, defeating Bundesliga champions Austria Wien (known as Austria Vienna in English) 1 – 0 in the final. Normally this kind of triumph would have been embraced as “magic of the cup”, however it produced the same kind of reaction in Austria as if MK Dons were to win the FA Cup. With Liefering winning their division in the same season, 2012/13 was a very good year all round for Red Bull football, and very bad news all round for lovers of football tradition.

rb-austria_salzburg_14Austria Salzburg fans taking over the stadium for an away game versus Red Bull owned FC Liefering

A worldwide threat

While Red Bull’s reach in Europe is so far limited to Austria and Germany, there are three further Red Bull clubs across the globe, with the New York Red Bulls the most well-known. How NY RB came into existence is a sadly familiar story, as the license to the New York Metrostars was purchased by the company, with a complete rebranding and renaming of the club an inevitable consequence. While the money pumped in to the New York Red Bulls has not yet seen them lift the MLS Cup (a 2008 defeat in the playoff final the closest they’ve come so far), it has allowed them to sign players such as Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Tim Cahill and Juninho, players far beyond the reach of many other American clubs.

While American sport is accepting of the franchise model, any success for the New York Red Bulls is a success for all that is wrong in modern football. Red Bull Ghana were founded in 2008 to market the company in Africa, while not even footballs spiritual home of Brazil is safe. Red Bull Brasil currently play in the third tier of Brazilian football, having secured a couple of rapid promotions thanks to the money put in to the club as part of the corporate venture.

So with numerous Red Bull owned football clubs around the world and an ambitious marketing team always preparing new stunts, how long before an English side takes the Red Bull money and runs? MK Dons and Cardiff City have shown that franchising in English football is more than possible, all it would take for the next step is one greedy owner. This is not a slight on Coventry City, and I hope the comments section does not fill with rabid Sky Blues, but the recent problems at the Ricoh would make the club a prime target for a Red Bull revolution. In serious financial trouble and looking as though they may not even have a stadium, would investors be welcomed  as heroes by some if they rode in not on a white horse, but a red bull?

For Coventry City, read Wolves, Stockport County, Portsmouth (before the fans stepped in to save the club) or Truro City. With Arsenal fans increasingly discontent at their lack of silverware and Tottenham Hotspur finding increasingly unlikely ways to fail at the end of a season, who is to say that Red Bull North London won’t be plying their trade in the Premier League in the coming years? All of this may sound like impossible scaremongering – but  the precedent is there. With Red Bull football clubs tasting success and rising up through the divisions, a united stand against Red Bull like the one taken by German supporters is more important than ever.

Would you accept Red Bull sponsorship and rebranding of your club if success and financial stability came with it? If, like Austria Salzburg, you choose passion over glory, what can be done to stop the menace of Red Bull football? Football without fans is nothing, but football with Red Bull might just be worse.

Posted on June 11, 2013, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Sky Blues fan here!

    I agree. Its awful. But considering the absolute clusterfuck of a mess we are in at the moment it honestly looks like an option.

    I know. Sad isn’t it?

    Hopefully it will never come to that, although it would be apt considering that Jimmy Hill had a plan back in the 70’s to change our name to ‘Coventry Talbot’ but the Football League didn’t let him.

  2. Sky Blues fan here!

    I agree. Its fucking awful. But taking into account the absolute clusterfuck of a situation we’re in at the moment, a situation which pretty much aroused in the 90’s and has ran and ran ever since, its one possible solution that I would possibly look at.

    I know, its bad isn’t it?

    Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but it would be pretty apt seeing as Jimmy Hill put forward this idea way back in the 70’s in wanting to rename Coventry City ‘Coventry Talbot’ for a few seasons, but the plan was knocked down by the Football League.

    • I really hope things work out for Coventry, and I’m glad using your club as an example didn’t offend. The problem is when people such as Sam Hammam and SISU are allowed to own a football club and get them in to such trouble, even the direst of options can suddenly become appealing. Here’s hoping it never comes to that of course, but I could honestly see it happening.

      • (Sorry for the double post, The first one didn’t appear the first time)

        You’re exactly right. When Sisu came in we were minutes from Admin. we didn’t have a clue who they were apart from the fact they were a hedge fund, which from the get-go should have rang serious alarm bells. But because we were desperate we just went along with it. The same goes here if Red Bull or someone like that comes in. The large majority of the fans won’t care at the start, but that would probably change a few years down the line

        The Administrator has said that a few of the bids ‘Have a football related backround’. Whatever that vaguely sounding phrase means, it could probably tie-in with Red Bull. Here’s hoping it isn’t.

  3. Bring it on the sky blue revolution will begin!!!

  4. As long as we stay playing in Sky Blue I honestly won’t mind. Desperate for investment.

    Pretty sure ACL would charge big cash for rent again though. Red Bull can’t exactly claim they’re short of cash

  5. Another Cov fan here, good read that, no offence taken in using us, as you say we must look ripe for picking! Desperate times call for desperate measures, but even if Red Bull brought us wins, its a no from me.

  6. Another City fan here. I think that the best thing about football is tradition and the fact that clubs represent the area they’re based and their citizens. For a club to be re-branded is just wrong; particularly the club’s name!

    It’s a no from me. I’d rather be proud of who we are than more successful sell-outs.

  7. ” any success for the New York Red Bulls is a success for all that is wrong in modern football.” yet it’s okay for Manchester City to make a team out there, thus having a franchise of their own.

    And again, what’s the problem with Red Bull owning a German team? If it’s their money then who is it to tell them how to spend that money, it’s that sort of way in anything, let alone football. You wouldn’t sell someone like Lord Sugar how to spend his money would you?

    And to even think Spurs or Arsenal would rebrand just for Red Bull is completely ludicrous, the reason Arsenal haven’t won the title is because of the debt hanging over the stadium which has now been resolved. Even with Spurs they don’t need to even consider that. Completely ludicrous idea. Caught up in your own world

  8. Interesting article. As another CCFC fan I’d take a Red Bull franchise over the helter skelter knightmare we are currently enduring.

  9. CCFC FAN: Play Up Sky Blues. Bring on Red Bull, Red Bulls suger free drink can is sky blue. so why not. About time Cov made it back to Top.

  10. Another CCFC fan here,

    i honestly wouldn’t mind to much if Red Bull took over, if SISU can pass a fit and propa test im sure Red bull could

  11. am not really sure what you’re so angry about. it’s a business that’s taken over a club and made it a feeder to other clubs across the world. kids in ghana can now play (in theory) in the mls and brazil will have a new team to challenge the traditional strongholds. what’s wrong with that? bayer leverkusen is a 100 years old, but at some point, bayer had a part to play in its inception and running… and what’s wrong with that? let’s look at real issues and not create ones that don’t truly exist. i’ll tell you what’s a shame: ticket prices in the premier league in england. now, that’s a real issue.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      I have actually written about the scandal of English ticket prices several times in previous articles, it’s one of the reasons why I believe football in this country is dying. However, I am also absolutely opposed to the destruction of history and tradition, which is a key element of what Red Bull do when they take over a club.

  12. Really, really great article.

    I am also absolutely disgusted at the way RB have infected my other great love, Formula One. Rising to the top through whatever means necessary with scant regard for history or tradition.

  13. Adam Etherington

    I do understand where this article is trying to come from, but I completely disagree.
    Your point on how Red Bull kill tradition – do you think tradition really still exists in football? I’d argue Man City buying American clubs as feeder teams is worse. All the money and sponsorship in the game now killed tradition, what was as you’d probably say “proper” football.
    – Also, you make it sound like Thierry Henry signing for your club would be a bad thing? Just because a Red Bull team bought him doesn’t mean it’s bad! He’s a top player, a legend, for a cheap/free transfer. Would you prefer an oil-giant to have him instead?

    I don’t understand the Red Bull vendetta myself. They’re successful in every sport. Why wouldn’t my team/other clubs want their sponsorship? I would not want ownership, changing the name truly changes identity. But to be involved with a massive company with massive ambitions? Yes please.

  14. I think that of red bull are allowed to take advantage and have rights to more than the stadium, then that’s where the problem occurs. Whereas if they were only allowed to have naming rights of the stadium, could there be more resistance to hold them off? This is only a question due to the increasing probability that Leeds are the first club to have red bull in their club

  15. interesting article. I agree with your point about history and tradition but at the end of the day the supporters do not own the club. If they are not happy with their clubs, they have all the rights to start their own like austria salzburg, fc wimbledon, united fc,etc. Or support another club. Nobody is forcing you to support a team you dont like. These are business man who see an opportunity and seize it. And it is almost impossible for a team with a good financial situation to be fully overtaken by a company or individual. All I get from your argument is that no new teams should be allowed to be created. How do u think all those teams with history and heritage started? Do you think they fell from thin air with a hundred year past behind them? No, they started small and grew as time passed. The only difference now is that teams owned by red bull have more financial power and know how and therefore do not need as much time to grow. Why is that a bad thing?

  16. What is the difference between say Red Bull Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen? Or is a pharmaceutical giant more acceptable than an Energy drink?

    • They are both shit, Neither club has supporters.

    • Bayer was grandfathered in as they were a traditional “works” team around when the existing rules were written. These rules were designed to prevent future Bayers. DFL needs to close the loopholes RB were able to exploit.

  17. They’ve been linked (tenuously) with Everton. God forbid.
    Despite how much we need the investment – I would not welcome being rebranded as “Everton Redbull”, possibly incorporating the vile colour red into our Royal Blue, etc.
    Being linked to them – does not give me wings. More likely we’d end up like Icarus – crashing and burning.

    • Everton being taken over by Red Bull would be a disaster, a club with such a passionate fanbase and strong history should be left well alone. Sadly, it’s just the type of club they’d go for. Really hope it doesn’t happen and that Everton fans find out just what Red Bull are really like, before it’s too late.

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