Red Bull clubs like Leipzig face uncertain future after Dietrich Mateschitz’s death

On the field, it was the perfect week for RB Leipzig. A 3-2 win over Champions League holders Real Madrid on Tuesday puts them a point away from qualifying for the last 16.

Four days later, Marco Rose’s men managed to outpace Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 to extend their unbeaten run to nine games and climb within close proximity to fourth place. On top of that, even Timo Werner scored if he misquoted the famous England fan hymn. twice. “He’s fast, dangerous and a great personality important to the dressing room,” Rose said of the 26-year-old, who has improved so much after his second goal in many matches.

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Werner’s return to Saxony failed to pay big dividends in the first two months of the season. Now, though, there are signs that he found a little confidence and efficacy that seemed lost somewhere in the channel when he moved to Chelsea in 2020. The return of the German striker from the funk is one reason Leipzig haven’t felt so good about themselves and the team’s chances. Since winning the DFB-Pokal, their first title, in May of this year.

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But just as things began to sway again for the team, the death of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz on October 22 has raised troubling questions about the club’s future. In his native Austria and in Germany, dozens and dozens of newspaper articles have tried to ascertain what the 78-year-old’s death means for the soft drink giant (annual sales: €8 billion) and the list of sports teams he owns. The answer has always been the same: Nobody really knows.

In the corridors of RB Leipzig HQ via the Elster Channel straight from the Red Bull Arena, business as usual is feeling. Things will continue as they are, with Red Bull sponsoring the jersey and stadium naming rights at a cost of €40m (£34.4m) a year, staff were told. In the past, Mateschitz has made loans of close to 200 million euros, mostly to help Leipzig buy players.

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Debt and equity swaps – criticized as an unfair financial scam by clubs like Eintracht Frankfurt that did not have an artificial pope to fund it – saw Red Bull write off €100m in 2019.

Red Bull

Applause a minute before Leipzig vs Real Madrid (Photo: Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

Additional repayments reduced the club’s debt to the beverage company to 56 million euros. Their qualification for the Champions League in five out of six years at the top level and their profitable sales model to players put them on a fairly solid financial footing, with turnover of 370 million euros in 2020-21, more than Borussia Dortmund (340 million euros).

However, the club is so immersed in the Red Bull brand – not to mention the synergy of RB football group, with the vertically integrated cultivation of talented players like Benjamin Sesko – that it is impossible to see how they could even be remotely successful if the money dried up from The main office of Red Bull is in Fuschl, a small town near Salzburg.

Much will depend on who will be in charge next. In recent years, Mateschitz’s son Mark, 29, has been groomed to be his successor, but he will need the approval of the Euvidhya family, which owns 51 percent of the company. Mateschitz, who founded the company with Thai entrepreneur Chaleo Yoovidhya after finding his energy drink in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s, was allowed to run the company more or less as he pleased, but only owned a 49 percent minority stake. . There is a chance that Yuvidha’s family will pay in order to have a greater say. Will they share Dietrich Mateschitz’s enthusiasm for Formula 1, football, skiing and various extreme sports? Or could they decide that now was as good a time as ever to take advantage of it and sell it to a competitor, rather than bet that Mark Mateschitz would fill his father’s shoes?

But even if Mark Mateschitz ascends to the aluminum throne, there’s no guarantee that the company’s focus won’t shift away from sports sponsorship. He never talked about his plans and preferences.

Red Bull spends around 1.6 billion euros on marketing annually, of which 320 million euros is allocated directly to support teams and individual athletes. Top officials in Leipzig and elsewhere are comforted by the fact that soft drinks have become largely synonymous with sport. Why would we change one of the most successful marketing strategies since Coca-Cola chose Santa Claus nearly 100 years ago?

It will be some time before we know the future direction of the company with any degree of certainty. Those operating under the Red Bull banner are only hopeful that there will be no major changes in store, but that is impossible in some ways, as new leadership lines are bound to emerge. Until he started suffering from pancreatic cancer 18 months ago, the richest man in Austria (net worth 26 billion euros) was known for ambition. Whoever comes after Dietrich Mateschitz may be more intrusive or vice versa, much less motivated. In a place like Leipzig, that difference could translate into a more difficult push to challenge Bayern Munich for the top spot on one side and keep things going along the other side, as Volkswagen is doing at its club Wolfsburg.

Mateschitz’s death will also affect the deep animosity towards RB Leipzig within German football. Many ultras and supporters of traditional clubs not only disliked the club’s fabrication and the brazen cheating of the 50+1 rule of membership control. (Leipzig actively limits membership to a hand-picked group of employees.) They hated the man behind the can a lot, too.

Once a genius in the branding industry, Mateschitz knew that his personal opinions—from an unapologetic, populist, and reactionary originalist perspective—were anathema to a young, cosmopolitan sports company. Hence, it is rarely spoken in public. But his media companies have worked to publish people with questionable policies as well as epidemiologists obsessed with 4Chan degrees, and he personally once threatened to derail an investigative journalist.

When the employees of his television station Servus wanted to form a union, he told them he preferred to close the channel. For those who in principle detest investor-led clubs, it is probably a little more difficult to hate an unknown company than to hate the right-wing billionaire from the province of Austria.

Assuming Red Bull does indeed continue to be involved, Mateschitz’s death should at least go some way to detoxifying the RB brand within German football.

But the extent of any loosening of the attitude towards them will remain as uncertain as their athletic outlook in the medium term. If the past seven days have underlined how far Leipzig have come since Mateschitz founded the club in 2009, it has suddenly become wildly unclear what the next 13 years might look like.

(Top image: Jerry Andre ATPImages/Getty Images)


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