- Turmoil at Bayern Munich’s Annual General Meeting
- Dispute Over Bayern’s Relationship with Qatar
- Contrasting Ownership Models: Bayern vs. Manchester United
Thursday, November 25, 2021, was an infamous day in Bayern Munich’s annals. Uli Hoeness, club legend and patriarch, described it as “the worst event I have ever encountered at the club.” Not even a ball had been launched.
As the clock in Munich’s Olympiahalle moved past midnight, club president Herbert Hainer adjourned the annual general meeting. Inferno burst loose. Members of the club booed and whistled in fury, yelling through their masks. “We are German. Not you,” they chanted repeatedly. “We are the admirers you do not desire. “Hainer is out”
The immediate cause was that Hainer, who was Adidas’s chief executive officer before becoming Bayern’s president in 2019, had concluded the meeting without allowing several members to speak. It was a fitting end to a night – and months of campaigns, protests, and debates – in which Bayern’s values and sense of democracy were criticized by their fans.
Bayern’s relationship with Qatar was at the core of the dispute, beginning in 2009 with annual winter training camps in Doha and culminating in 2018 with a shirt-sleeve sponsorship with Qatar Airways. Rarely did a home game pass without some form of fan protest, whether large or minor, highlighting human rights abuses in the Gulf state and objecting to Qatar’s use of the perennial German champions for sportswashing.
In January, critics organized a panel discussion with migrant laborers from Mexico and human-rights specialists.
Bayern was requested to dispatch a delegate. None arose. Instead, a Bayern shirt was draped over an unoccupied chair. For Michael Ott, a lawyer-in-training from Stuttgart and a member of Bayern Munich, this was the last straw. Before the 2021 annual general meeting, he introduced a motion to prevent the club from extending its contract with Qatar Airways. Controversially, the motion was denied, but Ott spoke anyway.
“I slept poorly the previous night; my legs were shaking. When he took the stage alongside Hainer, the then-chief executive Oliver Kahn, and other senior club figures, he says he was apprehensive. “However, I realized quickly that the room was on my side.” Ott’s motion did not explicitly succeed in terminating the Qatar Airways partnership that evening, but the tumultuous AGM paved the way for Bayern to end the partnership when the contract expired in June 2023. Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, the son of a former Qatari foreign secretary and prime minister, had submitted a proposal to purchase Manchester United by that time.
United and Bayern, Manchester and Munich: two clubs and cities inextricably linked by a shared history of triumph and failure on the pitch and tragedy and camaraderie off it. However, they are also very distinct clubs that exist in very different realms.
In December 2022, Manchester United boasted that its club membership scheme had attained a “world record” of 330,000, surpassing “Bayern Munich’s equivalent program,” according to a club statement. However, it is not the same. Manchester United is almost entirely owned by the Glazer family, whereas Bayern’s 300,000 members own 75% of the FC Bayern München AG, the Aktiengesellschaft or joint stock company that administers the football side of the club.
Since 2005, this has not prevented United supporters from demonstrating against the unpopular ownership in various forms and with varying degrees of vigor.
However, they ultimately have no voice. “The Glazers can do whatever they want with their club and sell it to whichever dictator they want,” says Alex Fischer of Club Nr. 12, the umbrella organization for Bayern Munich’s most ardent and engaged fan groups. “This is the reason why German fans are so protective of the 50+1 rule.”
Most German clubs, including Bayern, have split off their professional football operations into commercial entities. The 50+1 rule requires parent clubs to retain at least 50% of voting shares in commercial enterprises. The rule provides German football supporters with a much more tangible sense of collective ownership, as well as a sense of agency and participation that can be exercised at annual general meetings. However, this is not always the case, as Ott discovered during the Qatar debate.
“When professional football operations were outsourced [in 2001], Bayern chose to form an AG to limit the parent club’s influence as much as possible,” he explains. They are continually attempting to erect additional barriers.
Members of Bayern Munich elect the club president, who then chairs the supervisory board of the joint-stock company. However, neither the board nor operational decisions such as sponsorship agreements are subject to their direct influence.
They may submit motions to amend the club’s constitution from a broader sociopolitical perspective. Such as the Qatar agreement, but the board has attempted to exert control over their acceptance.
Ott states, “They fear too much participation.” “It is nearly impossible for the average devotee to make sense of it all. And they count on the majority of members finding the whole thing too dull to bother.”
Fischer believes that it is sometimes preferable to take direct action. “We can exert much more direct influence through private conversations and protests at games,” he says, citing the 2021 abolition of Monday night Bundesliga matches due to widespread protests. “The league eventually capitulated after Eintracht Frankfurt fans caused such chaos on television,” the sentence reads. This is how you acquire them: marketing.”
With the 50+1 rule providing some legal support, German fans can conduct such campaigns from a stronger position than their English counterparts, and the next battle could be around the corner in Munich. Bayern’s contract with Qatar Airways has been terminated. So when United visits the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, the advertising boards will display the message “Visit Rwanda.”