It has been a tough week for Wolfsburg. The story that Volkswagen had equipped 11 million of its diesel cars with manipulation software that could be used to cheat on emissions tests in the United States and the European Union has dominated recent news in Germany. In football there were also bad news for Volkswagen as their Werksteam (German for factory team) VfL Wolfsburg was trashed 5-1 by Bayern Munich.
With Wolfsburg’s dismal performance in Munich in mind perhaps it was just coincidence that Volkswagen’s CEO Martin Winterkorn stepped down just the day after VfL Wolfsburg’s nine minute meltdown in the Bavarian capital.
But while most of Germany’s press focused on Bayern’s striker Robert Lewandowski, whose five goals in nine minutes broke several Bundesliga records, the dismantling of VfL Wolfsburg at the hands of Bayern Munich’s striker Lewandowski was only worth page 2 coverage in Wolfsburg’s press digest. Even in the sport sections the crisis at Volkswagen dominated the news with some voices raising concerns on what impact Volkswagen’s current crisis could have on football.
After all Volkswagen’s former CEO Winterkorn was considered an avid football supporter, and the company sponsors several football projects not only in Germany but also around the world. In Germany aside from owning VfL Wolfsburg outright, Volkswagen’s daughter company Audi holds 8% per cent of Bayern Munich’s shares. Furthermore, Audi also owns 20% of the shares of the newly promoted FC Ingolstadt. In the Bundesliga Volkswagen is also an important sponsor at Schalke 04, and Werder Bremen, and furthermore the company also sponsors the second Bundesliga club Eintracht Braunschwieg, and lastly Volkswagen’s Think Blue initiative is the shirt sponsor of Munich’s second Bundesliga club TSV 1860. Lastly Volkswagen also sponsors the DFB Pokal (German Cup).
VfL Wolfsburg’s manager Klaus Allofs, however, does not believe that CEO Winterkorn’s departure will have a big effect on VfL’s ambition to become Germany’s new football power. “I am in constant contact with the management circle at Volkswagen, and we haven’t even discussed the current crisis at Volkswagen, and I don’t think we need to.” Allofs told Germany’s Kicker Magazine. Allofs further added that, “Volkswagen’s believes in the commitment to VfL Wolfsburg, and a crisis doesn’t mean that this commitment is questioned. We know the value that VfL has for Volkswagen [as a marketing vehicle], and I don’t think that value has changed now.”
Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. Hans-Gerhard Seeba a specialist on Germany’s car industry, and a former VW manager told 11Freunde that, “the current events will not affect VW football sponsoring commitments. After all Football sponsoring is an important part of the company’s corporate communication and marketing strategy. … VW is Germany’s largest company, and they will easily survive this current crisis. Therefore the company’s financial engagement in football will remain unquestioned. For the clubs the money from Volkswagen is important, but for Volkswagen the sums are merely peanuts — Volkswagen’s profit last year was €10 billion.” In fact the Volkswagen’s image “would be even further damaged if the company decided to end its sport sponsorship program.”
Financially Seeba’s assessment of the situation is good news for VfL Wolfsburg, but for Wolfsburg’s Brazilian dominated defence consisting of Naldo, Dante, and Luiz Gustavo — the last two were also involved Brazil’s 7-1 meltdown against Germany at the 2014 World Cup — the fact that Wolfsburg’s press may switch their attention back to events on the field could also mean uncomfortable days ahead, as the trio may soon be asked how to avoid Brazilian style debacles in the future.
About the author – Manuel Veth