A banner criticizing UEFA for allowing two Red Bull franchises to compete in the Europa League was displayed ahead of kickoff between RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig. Hardcore Bayern Munich supporters were behind the stunt.
As the Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig players lined up ahead of kickoff in their Europa League Group B clash on Thursday evening, a banner resembling a traditional scoreboard was unveiled in the stand behind them, level with the halfway line.
"RB Fuschl-am-See (S) vs. RB Fuschl-am-See (LE)" read the fake scoreboard – referring to the Austrian village which is home to the headquarters of energy drink company Red Bull. The letters S and LE refer to Salzburg and Leipzig – the locations of two of the football teams, which serve as marketing vehicles for the brand.
"With the cordial permission of a double license von UEFA," read the next line of text – a reference to the 2017 decision by European football's governing body to allow both Red Bull Salzburg and RasenBallsport Leipzig to compete in European competition simultaneously, despite both clubs owing their existence to significant financial support from the Austrian soda manufacturer.
A similar banner, upon which two euro currency symbols were used in place of a regular scoreline, was unveiled at the Allianz Arena by Bayern Munich supporters in the wake of the UEFA decision in October 2017, reading: "Mateschitz wins, the sport loses" – referring to Red Bull founder and owner Dietrich Mateschitz,74.
And DW can confirm that the same supporters were behind the stunt in Salzburg.
While the protest banner hung over the halfway line, the Red Bull Salzburg fans displayed a prematch choreography reading: "Where it all began: the original, in Salzburg since 1933."
The date refers to the foundation year of SV Austria Salzburg, the three-time Austrian champions whose tradition and history was officially eradicated by Red Bull following the takeover of the club in 2005.
"No compromises, this is a new club," read a statement from Red Bull Salzburg in August 2005. "There is no tradition, no history, no archive."
SV Austria Salzburg was refounded by supporters in 2005 and climbed up to the second division before dropping back down to the fourth tier, where they still play in the club's traditional colors of violet and white.
Protests against Red Bull's engagement in football have been commonplace in Germany and elsewhere ever since the company got involved in Salzburg, but intensified after the establishment of a German franchise in Leipzig in 2009. While some – although not all – fans in Leipzig have welcomed the opportunity to watch top-level football in the city, many supporters elsewhere view the two clubs as the embodiment of the over-commercialization of the game.
Hardcore supporters of several Bundesliga teams, including Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, have refused to travel to their teams' away games in Leipzig. In February 2017, anti-RB feeling spilled over into violence in Dortmund.
When RB Leipzig qualified for European competition in 2017, UEFA's Club Financial Control Body ruled that the two Red Bull-backed clubs were sufficiently detached to avoid violating Article 5 of the federation's rules and regulations, entitled "integrity of the competition," which state that "no individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition."
As part of the internal reshuffle, Red Bull cut back its involvement in Salzburg to that of a "principal sponsor" rather than outright owner, but the company maintains a 99 percent stake in RB Leipzig. The remaining 1 percent – but 100 percent of the crucial voting rights – belongs to the club's 17 members, all of whom have close links to Red Bull, enabling the club to circumvent the Bundesliga's 50+1 rule.
With both teams drawn together in Group B, there had been fears of internal collusion – particularly in Glasgow where Scottish champions Celtic are also fighting for qualification. But those fears proved to be unfounded after the performances delivered by Red Bull Salzburg over both games discounted any thoughts of Formula 1-style "team orders."
On Thursday, a 1-0 win for RB Salzburg took qualification out of RB Leipzig's hands when they face Rosenborg on the final day of the Europa League group-stage.