In the US, it is common for teams to sell the rights for their stadium names. Now the craze has hit Germany. Generic terms like "Olympic stadium" are passé. First and foremost, clubs are looking for cash.
Out with the old Olympic stadium, in with the new Allianz Arena (back)
This Saturday's game will be the last Bayern Munich ever play at the Olympic stadium. In the space of 30 years, Germany's most famous soccer club has made the transition from a run-of-the-mill provincial team to a money-making, championship winning squad contesting the big prizes year in and year out. It all happened in one of the world's most unusual but striking sports venues.
"The Olympic stadium gave the club a financial cushion," goalkeeping legend Sepp Maier commented. "The stadium rewrote the history books."
History has been good to Bayern since the stadium was built. They will celebrate their 19th Bundesliga title one last time in the stadium that looks more like a circus tent than a top-notch soccer stadium when league official's hand over the championship trophy to them again after Saturday's match. As of the end of May, Bayern's new home will be the Allianz Arena, named after the German insurance giant based in Munich.
The (re)naming of sporting venues is not just a matter of pride for the company whose name decorates the stadium or arena. There is big money involved. There are few soccer stadiums in Germany without a sponsor name. Starting in the north with Hamburg's AOL Arena, moving south to the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg, the BayArena for Bayer Leverkusen, fans will be hard pushed these days to find a stadium sporting the name of a club legend or a reference to local history.
Schalke general manager Rudi Assauer (right) was the man who built the stadium formerly known as the Arena AufSchalke. As of July 1, it will be called Veltins Arena
The Arena AufSchalke, the ground of Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, financed on its own the building of the high-tech stadium that opened in 2001. It was a project that the management, under the cigar-chomping gaze of general manager Rudi Assauer, were proud of.
Yet grand ambitions to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan have forced the team to swallow its pride and sell the name. The brewery Veltins won the auction and as of July 1, the Arena AufSchalke will be called the Veltins Arena after 110 million euros ($138.9 million) changed hands.
"Veltins is the ideal partner for us. One with whom we have had a good partnership," said Assauer.
For Veltins, the close relationship with Schalke is natural. "The Arena is the world's largest and most beautiful bar," said Veltins business manager Michael Huber.
Fans have a different opinion
And what do Schalke fans think of the corporate deal? They view the matter with a bit of scepticism. On FC Schalke 04 Supporterclub e.V., a fan Web site, they clearly understand the rationale behind such moves. "The money is more or less a present that we have to accept," one contributor wrote.
Because it is not an official DFB or FIFA sponsor, the tourism group LTU had to cover the name on the LTU Arena in Düsseldorf for a German friendly in February
But the supporters are cynical. Reacting to comments from Assauer, who also does commercials for the brewery, that Veltins is a part of the soul of Schalke 04, the site's authors make clear that this is by no means true.
"No Rudi, for you and how you look at Schalke 04, Veltins may be a part of the club's soul. For us, Veltins is -- as good as it tastes -- certainly not a part of Schalke's soul."
Yet as much as Schalke fans rue the fact that corporate sponsorship is taking a part of the team's identity, it's an unavoidable phenomenon that has swept the Bundesliga.
The rights to name Dortmund's Westfalen Stadium will be on the auctioning block in the future
Schalke's rival, BVB Dortmund, who also once had great thoughts of being a top European club, desperately need money. The club is heavily in debt. Anything and everything that can bring in badly needed capital, is being sold. Just this week, Dortmund's general manager Hans-Jürgen Watzke announced that with the right offer, BVB's traditional Westfalen Stadium would be renamed. That's a promise that the club made to creditors, he said.
Bayern Munich's shrewd management is not acting out of desperation though. They will be receiving additional revenue from the new stadium and continue to add on to an almost unsurpassable advantage over its underfinanced competition.
So when the final whistle blows on Saturday and the last fan has filed out of the Olympic stadium in Munich, another icon of German soccer will be lost. In the future when people talk about Germany's Olympic stadium, then they will mean the one in Berlin. One of the last without a corporate sponsor.