Red Bull’s Global Brand Expands: RB Leipzig Launched

Red Bull has rebranded yet another club in its attempt to establish itself as a global football power. Red Bull are the backers behind the rebranding of SSV Markranstädt as RB Leipzig, who will begin play under that name next season in the fifth tier of the German league.

Markranstädt is located a few miles from Leipzig, the largest city in the Saxony state in eastern Germany, and home to a World Cup venue (Central Stadium)  in need of a top tier tenant — though Leipzig is a region rich in football history, it has no team above the fourth tier of the German league. Red Bull’s aim is to become the dominant power in east German football through RB Leipzig, and build the club into a Bundesliga force playing at Central Stadium.

Red Bull branding kit

Red Bull branding kit

The takeover of Markranstädt will mark Red Bull’s fourth investment in and rebranding of a football club worldwide. Their investments so far have produced mixed results on and off the field. Their first takeover — and erasure of a club’s existing history — came in Austria near the company’s headquarters in Fuschl, where  SV Austria Salzburg were rebranded as FC Red Bull Salzburg in 2005 . The takeover and rebranding was the subject of a strong fan protest by the Violet-Whites supporters, who founded a new club, SV Austria Salzburg. Red Bull Salzburg have been successful on the field, last month clinching their second Austrian championship since the takeover.

In 2006, Red Bull took over and rebranded the New York MetroStars as Red Bull New York. Since then, the team have continued their historic mediocrity on the field, having failed to win any silverware. Poor results this season will be of concern to Red Bull ownership ahead of the team’s much delayed move to Red Bull Arena next year. The new stadium looks impressive, a doppelganger of the stadium Red Bull Salzburg recently moved in to.  So far, Red Bull New York have failed to win a strong fanbase in America’s largest market, and it’s open to question if the new stadium will prove to be the magic elixir or not.

Red Bull Arena

Red Bull Arena

A lesser known third Red Bull franchise is also located on a third continent: Red Bull Brasil were founded in Sao Paulo in 2007, and have since struggled to advance from the Segunda Divisão Paulista. Red Bull seem to be following in the footsetps of that last move with the takeover of Markranstädt, who have a much lower profile than the two clubs taken over in Salzburg and New York respectively, whilst also allowing them to establish the club under Red Bull auspices outside of the Bundesliga’s tight licensing and regulation procedures.

An attraction of starting smaller is that the relatively weak Markranstädt’s fanbase will find it hard to resist Red Bull, (though some minor graffiti protest has already appeared at the club’s stadium) whose “masterplan” includes pumping in $100M over the next ten years into the club and an aim to reach the Bundesliga within eight years.

In a break from the previous Red Bull franchises, in order to meet future Bundesliga rules on membership ownership (of at least 51% of the club) and on sponsor naming, Red Bull will not own the whole club or name it as Red Bull Markranstädt. Instead, it has been renamed oh-so-subtly as RB Leipzig and the current “members” of the club are reported to all be affiliated to Red Bull. The North German Football Association (NOFV) recently approved the changes.  It’s likely that such a blatant skirting of the rules would not have washed had Red Bull taken over a well-known Bundesliga team in the same manner.

The undoubted appeal of Markranstädt to Red Bull is their location and the troubled recent history of football clubs in Saxony that leaves an opening for an ambitious franchise to fill. No club in the region is currently above the fourth tier in the German system, despite the popularity of the sport in a city with a population over 500,000 and the historic links to the game locally. As well as hosting the 2006 World Cup draw and several WC2006 games at Central Stadium (Zentralstadion), Leipzig was the birthplace of the German Football Association (DFB)  in 1900.

According to reports in Germany, Red Bull plan to move the club from their current home, the 5,500 capacity Stadion am Bad, to Central Stadium a few miles away from the 2010-11 season on.  Central Stadium is an impressive venue built for the 2006 World Cup with a capacity of 45,000 but without a club that can currently come anywhere near to filling the stadium.

Zentralstadion

Zentralstadion

Red Bull has reserved naming rights for Central Stadium from 2010 on, when the team has (they hope) won promotion to the Regionalliga, the fourth tier in German football. The stadium operating group, led by Michael Kölmel, initiated talks with Red Bull earlier this year, and SSV Markranstädt was determined to be the best choice to take over tenancy of the stadium with Red Bull’s backing.

Central Stadium most recently played host to the now insolvent FC Sachsen Leipzig, a club who only averaged a crowd of around 5,000 in the huge stadium.  It is notable that Red Bull considered investment in Sachsen themselves a couple of years ago, but due to early and active resistance from supporters of the existing club, they quickly looked elsewhere (it was the same story with Saxony Fortuna Dusseldorf, another prospective Red Bull target). To avoid large-scale fan resistance, Red Bull and Kölmel settled on smaller but promising prey in nearby Markranstädt.

The only other significant team locally is Lokomotive Leipzig, formerly VFB Leipzig, a team with a proud history but considerable present troubles.  VFB won the first national championship in 1903, and under their new name Lokomotive Leipzig, did well in the postwar years with support from the East German regime, managing some notable runs in European competition, including reaching the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1987.  But the fall of communism brought hard times on Lokomotive (who reverted to their original name, VfB Leipzig) and the club went bankrupt in 2004. Shortly after, the club was refounded by fans as 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig and is now slowly working its way up from the lower reaches of the German pyramid.

The goal, therefore, is wide open for Red Bull in Leipzig to build a powerhouse in Saxony, with a ready-made world class Red Bull-branded stadium available for use and a huge potential fanbase for a top tier team. However, whether football supporters in Germany will buy into the rebranded team in any meaningful manner remains to be seen.

Photo credit: Floelz Photography on Flickr.


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