Bayern eclipse Barcelona thanks to blue chip backers and loyal Bavarian fan base
Financial muscle that enabled club to assemble star studded team from home and abroad reflected in Ballon D’Or nominations
Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich coach accompanied by CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (L) and President Uli Hoeness as he steps up to the pitch of the Allianz Arena stadium. Photo: Alex Hassenstein/Getty
Bayern will announce its results for last season next month at a meeting of shareholders, many of them fans, but the club’s Director of Communications, Markus Horwick, told a group of visiting media organisations, including The Irish Times, last week that revenues will definitely top the €400 million mark on the back of their Champions League success.
That’s a substantial rise on last year’s €368 million and possibly enough for them to overtake Manchester United, who currently lie third in the game’s rich list behind Real and Barca.
Bayern chief executive, Karl Heinz Rummenigge, though, laughs at the very idea of the list. “I would change the word rich,” he says. “Sure, revenues are growing but in my office I have a rich list of the European clubs and I look at it and think that of the top 10 maybe eight are not so rich at all.”
With Bayern, though, there can be little doubt. The club’s finances appear to be rock solid with €85 million coming from merchandising and €95 million from a select group of sponsors that includes Adidas, another nine per cent stakeholder, Audi, and Deutsche Telekom who signed a new four-year, €30 million per annum deal at the start of the summer.
The win over Hertha Berlin at the weekend was the 229th straight home game in Bundesliga to sell out the Allianz Arena – that’s roughly 70,000 per game – and even if the cheapest season tickets are remarkably affordable, things average out rather nicely due to commercial and top end sales.
Almost inevitably, not everyone is happy with some supporters’ groups claiming they are being marginalised in what they see as a home ground robbed of its atmosphere by the presence of so many corporate and high -end ticket holders.
The row has rumbled on almost since the stadium opened around the time of the 2006 World Cup and became exacerbated this year when Bayern tightened up on tickets for its own travelling supporters after the club was fined €150,000 for the use of flares at Wembley, an incident it blamed on holders of away season tickets.
The whole thing drew a typically forthright response from another member of the 1970s team, Uli Hoeness, now club president, who accused those who complained of peddling: “populist bullshit,” and told the critics that: “You, and you alone, are responsible for the bad atmosphere, not us. The €7 we charge you for tickets. What do you believe we do to make that possible? You are financed by the people in the VIP boxes.”
Rummenigge, somewhat more diplomatically, suggests that the club is working to make affordable tickets more accessible to ordinary supporters.
But the numbers element of it all is tricky enough to argue with and it’s no great surprise that he looks supremely confident a few minutes later as he sits at the club’s Säbener Strasse training ground and coolly observes: “We have an expensive team but we can finance it 100 per cent.”
In recent years it has become a good deal more expensive. Until 2006 or so, the club has a reputation for spending more conservatively than its major European rivals.
Success at home could be achieved anyway and the club, which had dominated on the international stage back in the early 70s thanks to a spectacularly talented side that included Rummenigge, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, seemed willing to accept that victories like the one in 2001 over Valencia in Milan would be the exception if the books were going to be balanced.
As their financial base has strengthened, however, the philosophy has shifted and the club has spent in order to achieve wider and greater success.
In 2007 Luca Toni and Franck Ribery were acquired for a combined €36 million and a year later Arjen Robben arrived for €25 million.
Since then they have struck upon a remarkably potent mix of locally grown talent, leading German players and the odd superstar import.
Things came together rather memorably last April and May in the Champions League semi-finals when they simply blew away a Barcelona team regarded by some not so long before as the game’s best ever. The score over two legs was as astonishing 7-0.
The home-grown players, like Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller and Bastian Schweinsteiger, have all come through the academy at Säbener Strasse, an impressive but compact facility in the suburbs of Munich where kids could be glimpsed training on adjoining pitches to the revered first team.
There are only five pitches plus some administrative offices, press and other facilities at the training ground and academy. The club’s historical attachment to the site, which is now surrounded by housing that makes expansion impossible, has apparently prevented a move to a new location out further from the city despite the fact that land was acquired for the purpose some years back.
As it is, Säbener Strasse is well known by locals, several hundred of whom turn up to seek autographs on the day we are there and during the school holidays up to 3,000 or so are allowed in to watch open training sessions. Few could argue with the success of the academy which is home to 11 teams and around 185 players, including a dozen or so from overseas who can be living on-site at any one time.
The likes of Götze, meanwhile, can be acquired from Bundesliga rivals who, even when they can afford to turn down the huge fees on offer as Borussia Dortmund have on a couple of occasions, still lose out due to a mix of Bayern’s allure and salary structure (Ribery is rumoured to be on €14 million a year).
On top of which, the team’s remarkable recent success combined with Guardiola’s arrival has made Munich all the more marketable to foreign stars weighing up where they might best make their best move to.
If it were all intended to instil a sense of supremacy in the players already there then there are times when the likes of Müller suggests they are succeeding and yet, for all the confidence that the team and everyone associated with it seems to exude, there is nothing like the sense of arrogance that seemed to dog the place during the tumultuous “FC Hollywood” days.
And while the success of the club itself obviously predictably inspires an ABB (Anything But Bayern) cohort there is a fair bit to admire about the German champions.
Its financial independence is, for a start, something for those rivals dependent on oligarchs or sheikhs or good old fashioned accumulated debt to marvel at and envy.
And its history is a proud one too. Bayern wasn’t born with a silver spoon in its collective sporting mouth. The club lost out to rivals several times when big decisions had to be made with TSV 1860 Munich, for instance, admitted to the Bundesliga before it. It suffered too in the early days of the Nazi regime when it was known as a club with Jewish links.
The club has shown considerable generosity to rivals at key times too, bailing out 1860 more than once and even helping to save arch modern-day rivals Dortmund barely a decade ago with an unsecured €2 million loan when last season’s beaten Champions League finalists couldn’t pay wage bills.
So Bayern are entitled to their day in the sun.
The challenge now, as Alex Ferguson might put it, is for somebody else to knock them off their perch just they have done, for the moment at least, to Barcelona.