German Bundesliga club Werder Bremen has invited fans upset over their new title shirt sponsor to voice their grievances. Several supporters have terminated their membership over animal cruelty concerns.
Bremen officials Monday presented poultry producer Wiesenhof as its new title sponsor, two days after fans and animal activists protested. The German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that thousands of fans and animal welfare activists have become involved in the dispute. More than 21,000 fans have joined an online petition against Wiesenhof, which has been accused by animal rights group including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) of animal cruelty.
Wiesenhof's sponsorship is worth a reported 10 million euros ($12.34 million) over two years.
Some supporters have also cancelled their membership in the club, which has four Bundesliga titles and was founded in 1899.
"There have been (membership) resignations," said Werder Bremen marketing manager Klaus Filbry. "We will hold talks with everyone to present our motives. Everyone is free then to stick with their decisions."
Werder Bremen CEO Klaus Allofs said the club was "not blind" to the controversy, stressing the club's commitment to fans.
Wiesenhof has been accused of treating the poultry in its care cruelly and keeping them in inhumane conditions. The company, which slaughters an estimated 4.5 million chickens per week at a variety of facilities, was the subject of a German documentary last year.
It is not the first time the club have been involved in such a sponsorship spat. Previous shirt sponsors Citibank and economy clothing label Kik were also greeted with dismay by fans.
Werder Bremen begins its 2012-2013 Bundesliga campaign Friday, August 24, traveling to face reigning champions Borussia Dortmund in the season-opener.
bm/msh (AP, dpa)