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"We win," says Bremen's Diego, but online bookmaker bwin is the big loserImage: AP

To Wear or Not to Wear?

DW staff (jdk)
August 20, 2006

The fight between online bookmaker Bwin and the German courts continues, creating absurd situations for clubs of all levels across Germany. Large sums of money are at stake for both the bookmaker and sport associations.


Nobody was quite sure how first-division side Werder Bremen would react. In their opening day match against Hanover, the northern team was not only treading on enemy territory in a sporting sense. Bremen were also in potentially deep legal waters.

Just three days before, on August 10, the eastern state of Saxony revoked the license of online bookmaker bwin, prohibiting the Austrian-based company from operating, and most importantly, from advertising in Germany. The Saxon interior ministry also announced that each and every German state was in agreement with the decision.

Lower Saxony, where Hanover is located, said it would enforce the Saxon proclamation, leaving Werder Bremen in a pinch because their jersey sponsor is bwin.

Reacting to the prohibition with a stiff upper lip, Bremen walked onto the Hanover pitch with "we win!" pasted on their chests, naturally in the unmistakable font of bwin.

Beware of what you're wearing -- and where

Ligapokalfinale 2006 Werder Bremen Bayern München
Bremen's Diego just a few weeks earlier in bwin kitImage: AP

Werder Bremen's alternative kit is only one example of the extent of the measures bwin is taking in the current legal fight with German states. The company also indirectly sponsors thousands of amateur clubs by providing them with inexpensive jerseys, naturally with the bwin logo splashed across the front.

Even those shirts, harmlessly being worn by weekend soccer seniors from Kiel to Garmisch, are best left at home. New iron-on "we win!" patches are being provided so even hobby players won't be prosecuted.

"By doing that we are taking the clubs out of the authorities' line of fire," said Jörg Wacker, bwin's marketing director.

But exactly who is in the crosshairs of prosecutors varies. The city-state of Bremen is siding with its famous club and Thomas Schaaf's players' home uniforms will have the bwin logo on it. The state of Bavaria has shown no leniency in the matter.

"That (betting) is criminal behaviour because it is illegal in Germany to bet privately," said the southern state's interior minister Günther Beckstein. Second-division 1860 Munich has been forced to wear the "we win!" variant at home.

Millions at stake

Sportwette Oddset
Oddset is the name of the state-run bookmakerImage: dpa - Bildfunk

Not only is bwin's presence at sporting events on the line in this struggle between a state monopoly and the proponents of liberalized gambling laws. The Internet gaming company spends close to 56 million euros ($71.7 million) on advertising, a large part on soccer, but other sports like basketball and handball, whose associations use the money for youth programs, could be negatively affected.

Television networks also might find large holes in their budgets. The German sports broadcaster DSF has reported that 15 percent of its revenue stem from bookmakers. Should the ban be upheld, then the marketers at Germany's only all-sports TV network will be putting in overtime hours looking for new advertisers.

To overturn the decision, bwin has taken the matter to administrative courts around Germany. When all is said and done, however, the European Court of Justice may have the final word. It has already ruled in favor of an Italian online bookmaker in a similar case, which could give reason for cautious optimism at bwin in Germany.

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