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Published on July 19th, 2013 | by Seb

A tale of two Salzburgs

The Yorkshire Evening Post are reporting that Leeds United are in talks with Red Bull regarding a sponsorship deal. Have a read of Ben Cullimore’s article from issue four about Red Bull’s takeover of SV Austria Salzburg in 2005.

With club names and kits changing at the drop of a euro, the Austrian Bundesliga is no stranger to the commercialisation of football. In their last five years of existence, the 2003 Intertoto Cup finalists originally founded as ASKÖ Pasching in the northern state of Upper Austria in 1946 changed their name twice due to sponsorship reasons, first going under the name SV PlusCity and soon after changing their name to FC Superfund. They eventually folded in 2007 when the club was fused together with SK Austria Kärntenand and they were relocated 151 miles away to Klagenfurt near the Italian border.

Similar is the story of SC Untersiebenbrunn; formed in 1932, the small side from Lower Austria made it to the second tier of Austrian football in 1998 before their success resulted in their name being changed to SC in 2001 at the behest of their new sponsors, the Vienna-based betting company Interwetten. Like “Superfund”, “Interwetten” folded also when, at the end of the 2004/2005 season, the Austrian Football Association refused to grant them a place in the league for the following season and the club’s owners threatened to dissolve the club as they weren’t happy with playing in the lower leagues of Austria. The FA didn’t back down and the club was disbanded, leaving a group of locals and a youth team of just ten children to restart as FC Untersiebenbrunn in the lowest tier of Austrian football.

Sadly for ASKÖ Pasching and SC Untersiebenbrunn, their stories are largely unknown outside of Austria, but one Austrian club with a history marred with crass commercialisation that the entire world of football is aware of is last season’s Bundesliga winners, Red Bull Salzburg.

Formed in 1933 as SV Austria Salzburg, Salzburg’s Red Bull takeover wasn’t the club’s first experience of the ruthlessness of commercialisation in sport; after operating under their original name for almost fifty years, sponsorship from the gambling corporation Casinos Austria led to the club being rebranded as SV Casino Salzburg in 1978. Sponsorship then saw a further remodeling that took the club further away from its origins when financial services and real estate company Wüstenrot-Gruppe forced another change and renamed the club SV Wüstenrot Salzburg in 1997, before Red Bull GmbH bought Salzburg in 2005 and rebranded it from head to toe.

The company’s handling of the transitional process from SV Wüstenrot Salzburg to FC Red Bull Salzburg was nothing short of ruthless. After the takeover had been completed, Red Bull changed not only the club’s name but also all of its management and backroom staff, whilst deleting seventy-two years of history by issuing the club with a new crest (including, embarrassingly, wings to tie in with their motto: “It gives you wings”) that stated that the club had been founded in 2005. But what was most shocking and void of any respect for SV Austria Salzburg and its loyal fan base was the new authority removing any trace of violet from anything to do with the club, changing the side’s kit colours from its traditional violet and white to red and white home shirts and blue and yellow away shirts to fit in with their parent company’s image.

Of course, and rightly so, the fans were not happy, but that was of little concern to the owner and co-founder of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, who dismissed their criticism and unrest as “kindergarten stuff”. Franz Beckenbauer, brought in by Mateschitz as an advisor to the club, further stated that “whether you play in purple, blue or green is irrelevant; the only thing that matters is the team being successful”. When the traditional supporters tried to resist Red Bull’s brazen attempts to rebrand the club that they love beyond all recognition, they were shot down by the powers that be, and the “Violet-Whites” – a fan group that refused to support the rebranded club, as opposed to the “Red-Whites” who placed their faith in their new owners – downheartedly stated that talks with the owners had broken down and efforts to reach an agreement would be terminated.

From the takeover up until this point in September 2005 the owners’ ruthlessness had reached new levels. A prime example of this was in June of that year when Salzburg fans wearing any traces of violet and white were refused entry to a pre-season friendly against Croatian side Hajduk Split. Protests from the Violet-Whites continued throughout the summer, leading the new manager Kurt Jara to say that any fans that wanted to play in violet should form their own club. So they did.

1,500 Violet-Whites walked out of a home game between Red Bull Salzburg and Austria Vienna, and on October 7th 2005 the Violet-Whites successfully registered the club’s original name and emblem with the Austrian FA. They then attempted to form a new unified team with the football section of the Salzburg sports club PSV Salzburg known as PSV Schwarz-Weiβ, who played in the fourth tier of Austrian football, for the 2005-2006 season, but talks came to nothing and they were forced to form a completely new team, entering 2. Klasse Nord – the seventh tier – and subsequently winning the championship and promotion to 1. Klasse Nord at their first attempt. After achieving three more successive championships and promotions, SV Austria Salzburg have been playing in the Regionalliga West – the third tier – since the 2010-2011 season, most recently finishing in eighth place and currently sitting in second, two points behind leaders Liefering (ironically, Red Bull Salzburg’s “farm team”), as we enter the new year.

Promotion from the Regionalliga West to the First League will see them just one tier below Red Bull Salzburg, and it wouldn’t be unrealistic to speculate that we could see an Old vs. New/Fake vs. True clash in the near future. The two sides are yet to meet under any circumstances since the re-launching of SV Austria Salzburg, but the side have met Red Bull Salzburg’s second team on several occasions, as both teams have been playing alongside each other in Regionalliga West since SV Austria Salzburg were promoted to the division three seasons ago. The clashes are, as expected, fiery occasions, with Austria Salzburg’s fiercely loyal supporters making their feelings towards Red Bull and its “fans” loud and clear.

As of 2012, Red Bull now owns three other football clubs, the most famous of which being New York Red Bulls, as well as Red Bull Brasil in Brazil and RB Leipzig in Germany. Alongside this, Red Bull have their greedy fingers in many other sporting pies, the most well known being their two Formula 1 racing teams, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, as well as EC Red Bull Salzburg, a top-tier ice hockey team, and Team Red Bull, a former NASCAR team. As their acquisition and handling of FC Red Bull Salzburg showed, the ruthless nature of Red Bull GmbH when it comes to something as important and passionate as a football club knows no bounds.

Beckenbauer may have said that “whether you play in purple, blue or green is irrelevant; the only thing that matters is the team being successful”, but the Violet-Whites, as well as AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and countless other fan-owned clubs, have shown that this is not the case at all. Their message is clear: All football clubs should operate in the interest of those that are most important: the fans.

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