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At the end of June, German soccer's top-tier Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich let their commercial partnership with Qatar Airways (QA) expire.
The five-year tie-up was not renewed upon its expiry, by mutual consent.
The state-owned QA had been Bayern’s sleeve sponsor since the original tie-up in February 2018, with the Qatari airline then upgraded to platinum partner status at the end of 2017-18.
In a joint statement announcing the discontinuing of what was one of Bayern’s most significant sponsorships, the two parties said: “The connections that FC Bayern has been able to forge with its fans in the Arab world through Qatar Airways will remain. Both partners have actively promoted an exchange between cultures.”
The club now has around six weeks to put a new sleeve sponsor in place before the 2023-24 Bundesliga begins on August 18.
Why it matters
The Bayern – QA tie-up had been deeply unpopular with the vast majority of the Munich club’s organized fan groups for some time.
There have been regular banners and chants at Bayern home matches over the past few years condemning the partnership, with fans displaying their anger at a deal with a company from a state facing widespread allegations of human rights violations.
Qatar, which hosted men’s soccer’s 2022 FIFA World Cup, has been under scrutiny in particular because of alleged mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community, women, and migrant workers – many of whom worked on projects connected to the World Cup.
The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported in February 2021 that at that point, the number of migrant worker deaths in the country since it was allocated World Cup hosting rights had already come to 6,500.
The same year, Bayern fans attempted to table a motion at Bayern's annual general meeting in an attempt to force the club to let the deal expire this year.
In 2022, meanwhile, the club was pressured into responding to a series of fans’ questions on the subject submitted after a round-table event, insisting that progress on human rights in the Gulf state was being made.
While the AGM motion was not accepted, it would appear that years of in-stadium and social media pressure have finally led to the result most supporters of the Bavarian team were looking for.
Tanveer Aujla, analyst at GlobalData Sport, commented: “While the news that Bayern Munich have let their sleeve sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways wrap up without an extension will come as a surprise to some, it is likely to be reflective of the club’s willingness to distance themselves from a Qatari brand following the waves of negative headlines regarding human rights that surrounded the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“The tournament was mired in off-field controversy related to sportswashing and human rights, with many questioning the Qatari government – and associated brands – about their treatment of migrant workers, women, and the LGBTQ+ community in the modern age.
“While their motives for ending the deal can only be speculated upon at this point, it seems too coincidental for this deal to be ending so soon after the 2022 FIFA World Cup."
This is also another indicator of the power that fans can sometimes have in influencing clubs' thinking and commercial decisions – it has come during the same week as English Premier League heavyweights Chelsea have backed out of a deal to bring crypto casino and sports betting platform Stake.com on board as their front-of-shirt sponsor. That proposed agreement had been the subject of much criticism from the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust (CST) and other fan groups.
After initial reports of the deal surfaced, CST had accused the club of making a “total mockery” of work done by the Chelsea Foundation to help people with gambling addictions, going as far as to say that the proposed partnership would “eradicate any goodwill” earned by the club's new ownership group through their charity work so far.
GlobalData Sport understands that the annual value of QA’s Bayern sponsorship came to €13 million ($14.1 million now).
The chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, commented that the two parties “have had a fruitful partnership of years … We wish the team all the best for the future.”
Other top-tier Bayern sponsors include T-Mobile, Adidas, Allianz, and Audi, while the Qatari airline has tie-ups in place with a range of other premium sporting properties, including French soccer champions Paris Saint-Germain and motor racing’s iconic Formula 1 series.
It is also active in cricket (Royal Challengers Bangalore), rugby union (the United Rugby Championship and the European Professional Club Rugby body), and basketball (Brooklyn Nets).
In terms of how Bayern will look to fill the sponsorship slot left by QA, Aujla predicted that it is “unlikely that Bayern will target another airline given the only ones likely to pay a similar fee would also be from the Middle East.”
Currently, the Emirates and Etihad Airlines from the United Arab Emirates sponsor Arsenal and Manchester City – both of English soccer’s top-tier Premier League – respectively.
He added, from the airline’s point of view, meanwhile, that “this is unlikely to impact them substantially, given the presence of their enormous deals with Paris Saint-Germain and Formula 1, which are estimated to be worth a combined $125 million alone. Their position in the sports sponsorship sector is already strong so it’s distinctly possible that they will choose not to replace the Bayern tie-up with another soccer club.”
- Joint official statement
- The Business of the Bundesliga 2022-23