Football heroes

BMW unable to kick Audi off Bayern Munich’s sponsorship bench

fc bayern munich sponsorship audi bmw vw
It’s a little crooked. Source: DPA

Munich carmaker BMW had hoped to exploit Volkswagen’s shameful position in the Dieselgate scandal to become the main automotive sponsor to soccer club Bayern Munich, Germany’s most successful professional sports franchise.

FC Bayern Munich supervisory board member Edmund Stoiber has lobbied to send in BMW to replace Audi, VW’s luxury division, after the football team became unhappy with Audi’s role in the diesel emissions scandal. Mr. Stoiber is a former leader of the state of Bavaria, home to the soccer club, BMW and Audi (but not VW).

“BMW tried to exploit Audi’s diesel weakness but has failed,” a source within the club told Handelsblatt, confirming a report in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Officials in 2015 discovered VW cars could detect emissions tests and adjust their exhaust accordingly despite spewing out much higher levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants while on the road.

VW has since paid $25 billion in fines and settlements in the US as well as a €1 billion fine in Germany as part of the scandal. The investigation has now widened to include Daimler and Audi, whose CEO was arrested last month amid accusations of witness tampering.

Pay to play

The soccer club currently has three sponsor/owners, each with 8.33 percent of the club’s capital: Audi, sportswear maker Adidas and insurer Allianz. Rupert Stadler, the jailed former CEO of Audi, remains a supervisory board member of Bayern Munich, as does Martin Winterkorn, the former VW CEO who is wanted on four felony counts in the US related to Dieselgate, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating the Clean Air Act. The Bayern Munich role is the only one Mr. Winterkorn didn’t relinquish as his legal woes grew.

Audi has reportedly been able to thwart BMW’s ambitions by increasing its sponsorship contribution. New VW CEO Herbert Diess reportedly stepped in personally to support Audi’s deal with Bayern Munich, which has topped the professional Bundesliga German soccer league for the past six seasons.

BMW and Audi have tussled over the Bayern Munich sponsorship slot for years. In fact, BMW was last outbid in 2009 by Audi. Mr. Winterkorn was always an overt Bayern Munich fan despite VW’s involvement with VfL Wolfsburg, the professional football team that grew out of VW factory teams in the company’s hometown.

BMW and Audi refused to comment, and Bayern Munich would not discuss the size of Audi’s new financial engagement, though negotiations have reportedly been completed. Audi’s continued position with Bayern Munich will be underscored next year when VW replaces Daimler as the automotive sponsor for the German national team, which failed to pass the early stages of the World Cup this year.

Andrew Bulkeley, a Handelsblatt Global editor in Berlin, adapted this story in English. Martin-Werner Buchenau reports from Stuttgart as Handelsblatt’s Baden-Württemberg correspondent. To contact the authors: a.bulkeley@handelsblattgroup.combuchenau@handelsblatt.com

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