After 25 years of unofficially running Hoffenheim, billionaire Dietmar Hopp is finally being allowed to take ownership of the club. Soon he won’t only be paying the bills, he’ll be calling the shots.
From July 1, Bundesliga club Hoffenheim will belong to just one man: Dietmar Hopp. The development is causing quite a scandal in Germany, although the fans' hatred of Hopp has abated somewhat recently. Instead, the influence of companies like Red Bull and Volkswagen is now a greater concern. By comparison, Hopp seems more like a normal, but very rich fan, walking a line between tradition and modernity.
DW: Mr Hopp, what are your links to Hoffenheim?
Dietmar Hopp: I was born in Hoffenheim in 1940, so I'm going to be 75 soon. Right from the start, I loved sports. At that time when I was a boy, six or seven years old, my life was all about football. Football in Hoffenheim. I played for the club. Initially in the youth squad, then in the first team. I was usually a striker.
Is it true that farmers here gave you and your teammates a jar of liver sausage for every goal you scored?
Yes, one of them did. He loved football and knew that I loved homemade paté. Every time I scored, I got a jar. My friends at the student dormitory in Karlsruhe thought it was great when I came back with one, two or in rare cases three jars of the stuff.
Why did you decide to support the club financially?
I maintained my ties to the club even after I stopped playing football. I became CEO of SAP in 1989. I was successful, financially successful, so I could support Hoffenheim. At first, it was a modest sum, at least relatively modest. All told it was 350 million euros which went toward putting together a team, a working organization, a stadium and training and administrative center for the club.
Mr. Hopp, why do you think so many German fans resent your commitment to the club?
That was a new experience for me. Some clubs stand out in a special way. Some fans don't accept that we're in the first division and behave as if we're stealing someone else's spot.
Many German fans think that tradition should be the measure of whether a club belongs at the top or not. Can you understand them?
What is tradition? Take Cologne for example. That club is said to have a real history, but it was only founded sixty years ago. Hoffenheim have been around far longer and have been playing in the upper divisions for about, well 15 years, since they moved into the third. What's the difference? Give us 10 more years on top, and then we'll probably be able to call ourselves a club with tradition too, because there'll be other clubs around that are younger. I put no stock in that argument, it's a dead end.
For many people, football is about competition. The ones who belong on top are the ones who are managed well and perform well and have clawed their way up through hard work and not through a big cash injection. What do you say to them?
I'll tell them that there's not a single team in the Bundesliga that can survive without injections of money. Many get it directly from the state. Others have sold shares to investors - companies, insurers, or whatever. Others went public, meaning they're owned by shareholders. That's the reality and anything else is just a fairytale. In Hoffenheim, everything can be hung on a single person. But professional sports would not be viable at all without the support that makes football today so financially attractive for the players. It's why the real top talents stay here.
Can you explain to our international audience what the difference is between Dietmar Hopp and Hoffenheim and a French or English club that's owned by a sheikh.
I don't want to offend anyone, but my commitment is based on a love of football. It's based on the fact that I played for this club myself.
So to paraphrase, a fan and patron like you is the best thing that could happen to German football in the future?
Yes, I'd probably agree with that.
Would you agree that football is the most commercialized spectacle in the sporting world?
In Europe, absolutely. Without a doubt.
Is that the reason why many fans will always be disappointed: because football cannot stay pure as the driven snow?
What is pure as the driven snow anymore? Amateurs who play for a jar of liver sausage? They don't exist any more. Football has developed over time and has turned out the way it has because a majority of people want it that way.