Club Battles

In Hamburg, Sports Fans View Sponsors’ Growing Power with Suspicion

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The high-profile wrangling between sponsors and managers at Hamburg’s sports clubs reflects the complexities of securing financing for sports clubs and managing them.

  • Facts


    • Executives and sponsors are jostling for power at two soccer clubs and a handball club in Hamburg.
    • The complicated negotiations are part of the larger question of securing financing for sports.
    • Fans resent sponsors’ growing power and the conflicts reflect questions about how clubs are run, who finances them and who manages them.
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Money and power are always big parts of running sports clubs and both are stealing the headlines this summer at three of Hamburg’s top clubs just weeks before their seasons begin.

Not even one week into his new job, Dietmar Beiersdorfer, president of HSV, the soccer team that just barely retained its position in Germany’s Bundesliga, has locked horns with a key sponsor over who has the final say.

Money talks, and since HSV has little of its own and depends on support from sponsors, the club will have to find a way for management and its sponsors to work together.

Martin Schwalb
Martin Schwalb, trainer at Hamburg’s handball club, watches his team play. He and the team’s sponsor have not seen eye to eye in the past, the path forward is not clear. Source: DPA


Then there is Martin Schwalbe who lost his job as president of the HSV handball club. He was fired by the sponsor, Andreas Rudolph, then reinstated after suffering a heart attack. Rudolph has invested € 4.5 million ($6 million) in the club to keep the team in the top division.

Schwalbe has won the German championship and the  European Champion’s League with the club. He has a successful track record.

Whether the kindhearted move by Rudolph will keep Schwalbe from suffering another heart attack when he is back in the hot seat remains to be seen: The sponsor simply doesn’t like the president.

Stefan Orth, president of another Hamburg soccer club, St. Pauli, which competes in Germany’s second division, was surprised to learn the team sponsor decided against renewing his contract despite his successful work for the team. Orth, who has run the club for four years, made profits in the millions and successfully coordinated plans for the construction of a new stadium and training center.

But the club’s supervisory board thanked Orth for his work –  and told him he can pack his bags when his contract expires in November. Many fans wonder why sponsors are making such decisions and are up in arms.

German sports clubs, which were once funded from membership fees, ticket sales and local sponsors, have become big businesses. Hamburg’s HSV fan club, the “Chosen Few,” is protesting the corporate-like structure of the club. The handball fan group “Deep Blue Generation” has distanced itself from the club, saying it doesn’t want to follow a team in which a sponsor dictates what happens.

It has been a summer of upheaval at Hamburg’s big sports clubs, and fans say they have had enough.

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