Tensions boiled over at Bayern Munich’s annual general meeting yesterday after a supporters’ group voiced their displeasure over the German soccer giants’ failure to address their concerns over the club’s sponsorship agreement with Qatar Airways.
Last month, Michael Ott, a club member, initiated a motion to instruct Bayern to cut ties with the airline due to the country’s human rights issues and called for the matter to be discussed at the team’s AGM in an effort to prevent an extension when the deal runs out.
However, ahead of the AGM, the Bundesliga club had blocked the motion to allow members to vote on the sponsorship deal.
Early on Thursday, a regional court in Munich had ruled that Bayern were "not obliged to discuss the further sponsorship by Qatar Airways" and the club’s hierarchy cited the legal ruling during the AGM.
The Bundesliga’s 50+1 rule, which is designed to ensure every club remains majority owned by supporters, means fans are able to vote on such matters but the court ruling gave Bayern the power to prevent it.
This led to an angry reaction by the club’s supporters’ group at the session with some publicly calling for president Herbert Hainer’s head with chants of "Hainer out!" as well as shouting "We are the fans you don't want!"
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With the backlash from some of their own members, senior Bayern officials sought to diffuse the matter by insisting there are better ways to influence the situation than not renewing the sponsorship deal. A large group of around 800 at the AGM reacted angrily to the fans.
Hainer stated that he “remains firmly convinced that dialogue is the best way to bring people together” and said the club had "by no means decided to continue" the controversial sponsorship deal, but admitted they will see out the five-year contract, which is not due to expire until 2023.
Qatar Airways, which presently serves as Bayern's official airline partner and sleeve sponsor in league matches in a deal worth around €20 million ($22.6 million) per year, is owned by the Middle East country's government, which has been accused of human rights breaches, including in its preparations for hosting the 2022 World Cup.
The airline has had a sponsorship deal with the German giants since the 2016-17 season.
Oliver Kahn, the Bayern chief executive, claimed the club did their due diligence before signing the deal, pointing out that the Bundesliga champions have "a very clear criteria for such partnerships. There are compliance requirements, as with any partner".
Former Bayern president Uli Hoeness, who was present at the AGM as an honorary president of the club, said he was “shocked” and “ashamed” by the scenes caused by the supporters and described it as "the worst event I've ever seen at FC Bayern."
Meanwhile, Bayern saw their annual revenue drop by more €100 million for the 2020-21 financial year due to the impact of Covid-19.
Turnover for the year fell from a record €750.4 million in 2019 to €643.9 million.
However, the team did still manage to post a profit of €1.9 million, although this was down from €52.5 million two years ago. In 2019-2020, the first season impacted by Covid-19, Bayern earned a net profit of €9.8 million.
The team’s sponsorship income grew by 5.2 per cent to €206.7 million this year, while television rights fell 5.6 per cent less to €114.4 million.