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Oct 7, 2008

The struggle for shirt sponsorship

I know from your e-mails and comments that you're not necessarily interested in the latest gossip from the Bayern Munich camp and that many of you quite like stories about smaller clubs or tales from times past. So let me rewind the clock roughly 35 years back now.

Actually, what follows is in some roundabout way connected to the last column, about Dietmar Hopp's Hoffenheim. You may recall that I mentioned two other well-known former patrons in that piece, Fortuna Cologne's Jean Löring and Wattenscheid's Klaus Steilmann. Now, I could have named a third man and maybe I should have, because he played a far greater role in the larger picture and the evolution of German football than those two. I didn't for two reasons.

The first is that this man's role was more complicated than the one played by Löring, Steilmann and, yes, Hopp. Because while this man did gift his club a lot of money, he also expected something in return. The second reason is quite simply that I wanted to save him up for this column.

This man was born in 1926 in Braunschweig (that's Brunswick to you, but I prefer to stick to the German word, if you don't mind.) His name is Günter Mast, and when he was in his mid-20s, he joined his uncle's company and eventually came to run it in the 1960s. You will know this company because its most prominent product is Jägermeister, the famous digestif.

Mast had no personal interest whatsoever in sports (unless that term includes hunting), but he was a clever businessman and as such he noticed that more and more companies were sponsoring sporting events - such as Martini, which created a Motor Racing Team in 1968. In early 1972, Mast decided to draw even, and soon Graham Hill was sitting in a Jägermeister car.

Yet only a few months after Mast's initial move into motorsports, in May, something else caught his attention. He'd been invited to a party alongside a few other powerful men, but as the afternoon dragged on, they all seemed to disappear. Mast went looking for them and finally found all those bigwigs in the kitchen - watching a football international. "That's when I realised my idea that German football was a sport rooted only in the lower classes was wrong," he later said. "Through football, you could reach all sections of the population."

But how could you get into football, considering it was impossible to buy a club or, as Mast had done in motorsports, simply create a professional team? And how could you then use football, considering the German FA (DFB) was an amateur body and had strictly anti-commercial rules?

Back then, even shirt sponsorship was a no-no almost everywhere. Peñarol, from Uruguay, are generally considered to have pioneered this form of fund-raising in the mid-50s, and the French league, badly in need of money, followed suit a decade later. By the time Mast got going, shirt sponsorship was also legal in Austria and Denmark, but that was it. All the big leagues were strongly against it. In 1967, for instance, second-division Wormatia Worms, almost bankrupt, had asked the DFB for permission to endorse Caterpillar, the manufacturer of construction equipment, on their shirts - and were told to bury that idea in a deep hole. The only logos players could have on their shirts were club badges.

Hm. Club badges? Now, wait a moment ...

While Mast was thus thinking things over, his hometown club was having money problems. Five years after their shock league championship, Eintracht Braunschweig were suffering from the repercussions of the bribery scandal more harshly than bigger, richer teams. Club icon Lothar Ulsaß and key player Max Lorenz were suspended, the team struggled on the field. The fans stayed away and, as one of the few clubs which owned their ground, Eintracht were also burdened with the stadium's upkeep.

It isn't entirely clear whether club president Ernst Fricke got in touch with Mast or vice versa or whether it was, as the story goes, indeed a chance meeting that set the stage for eight months which rocked German football. Even the exact details of Mast's offer are shrouded by the mists of time. Most accounts say he agreed to pay the club 500,000 Marks over five years for a co-operation, others say it was 800,000 Marks, still others maintain Mast got all that priceless publicity for an initial payment of 160,000 Marks.

Whatever the price, publicity was what he got. In August of 1972, the club asked the DFB for permission to endorse Jägermeister on the shirts. As was to be expected, this request was denied. And so Mast and Fricke switched to Plan B. In early January of 1973, the club members voted on a petition to replace the traditional red lion in the club badge by - a deer's head. There were only seven dissenters, the vast majority voted yes.

In the years that followed, Mast would often say that the DFB got duped by this ploy because the governing body didn't realise the deer's head was the Jägermeister logo. That seems unlikely, though, as the new club badge even sported the glowing cross between the antlers so distinctive of the Jägermeister sign. More probable is that the DFB simply didn't know how a club could be stopped from modifying its badge.

And the DFB was equally helpless when Eintracht then enlarged the size of the badge to a whopping 18 centimetres - and moved it from the place above the heart to the middle of the players' shirts. This new kit was supposed to make its debut a mere nineteen days after the vote, on January 27, 1973, for the home game against Offenbach.

On the day before the match, league secretary Wilfried Straub phoned Braunschweig's treasurer and asked him to call the revolution off. But Eintracht remained steadfast - and received an official telegram a few hours later that prohibited the use of the new shirts "until all submitted documents have been examined by the league committee". Klaus Gerwien, then a player, later recalled that the club decided to relent because it was presumed "that referee Eschweiler had been instructed to not start the match if we'd wear an irregular kit".

But that was just a delay. Sooner or later, the league committee had to "examine the documents" and there wasn't much it could do. Except silly nit-picking, that is. The DFB informed Eintracht that the new logo was too large and had to be reduced to a size of 14 centimetres.

Which is why, on March 24, 1973, referee Franz Wengenmayer brandished a measuring tape as Eintracht lined up to take to the field against Schalke. He carefully checked the size of the logo-cum-badge, phoned the German FA again just to make sure - and then let the game go ahead. It was the beginning of a new era.

Seven months after that day, the DFB officially sanctioned shirt sponsorship (probably to prevent a deluge of new club badges). Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Hamburg quickly struck deals, the rest of the league soon followed. UEFA would ban such endorsements for its European competitions until 1982, when Standard Liege had the cheek to reach* the Cup Winners' Cup final in shirts promoting "Maes Pils" (a Belgian beer), forcing the matter.

(If you allow me an aside in a column that is already way too long: UEFA reacted by deciding to allow shirt sponsorship in European games - apart from the finals. But the very next year, 1983, Anderlecht contested the first UEFA Cup final in shirts carrying a huge "G", for Generale Bank. Those Belgians must have had an anarchistic streak.)

Mast continued to sponsor Eintracht. In 1983, he was made president and immediately asked the members to vote on changing the club's name into "Jägermeister Braunschweig". Again he won a majority, again the DFB balked, again there was a prolonged struggle. But this time Mast didn't get his way - and so he got out of football in 1985. Two years later, the deer's head was removed from Eintracht's badge and the red lion returned.

* This is a correction. See comments.

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