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Uli Hoeness opens up about his role at Bayern Munich

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He's been an integral part of the club for over four decades.

Jupp Heynckes Returns To Bayern Muenchen As Head Coach Photo by Jan Hetfleisch/Bongarts/Getty Images

In an exclusive interview with DW, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness offered plenty of insight on his role at the club and how hard he's worked over the years to make Bayern a global brand. A man who's often blunt, Hoeness has certainly experienced his fair share of ups and downs. There's no denying the fact that Hoeness has been a massive influence behind the club's rise to power over the past four decades.

Remaining humble

When asked about how he feels being referred to as "the soul of Bayern Munich," Hoeness remained grounded, and made sure to praise others who've also been influential for the club.

“Well, it makes me extremely happy, but you can't expect me to make a judgement about whether its true. That is up to others. But it's nice if that is your opinion. I also hope that the way that I work and help form the team makes me worthy of that description. We have, of course, profited greatly from the fact that we have had and still have charismatic people who played soccer here themselves: Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Breitner, Gerd Müller and Sepp Maier all did their part to build up the team after they ended their careers as players.”

Although there's a long list of distinguished ex-players that have returned to serve the club in some capacity, Hoeness remains one of the longest-standing servants to Bayern having become sporting director at the age of 27 after a career-ending knee injury. He's been involved with the club ever since, assuming numerous roles, though he did take a brief hiatus in 2014 when he was sentenced to two years in prison for tax evasion — an experience he feels hinders him from speaking as freely as he used to

Transformation into a global brand

When asked about what his vision had been for Bayern Munich when he took over as sporting director in 1979, Hoeness explained how he wanted to turn the club into a global brand, reaching far beyond the borders of Germany and Europe. At the time, Bayern were, financially speaking, much smaller compared to some of the other teams in Europe’s top leagues. Hoeness wanted to change that.

“I was always of the opinion that Bayern could be transformed from a small team into a global brand...Back then, Bayern had an annual revenue of about 12 million Deutschmarks (roughly €6.1 million today). 85 percent of that came from ticket sales. So one of the first things we did was to try to lessen our dependence on ticket sales. Today, ticket sales make up about 10 percent of our €630 million ($740 million) turnover. “

He even took his research overseas to take a look at how other top leagues in different, respective sports were so financially successful.

“I tried to make the club financially independent from the start. I flew to the USA to take a closer look at the NFL and the NBA. I flew to Manchester as well, because at the time Manchester United had an especially good merchandising concept.”

Still, though, Hoeness is incredibly proud of the fact that Bayern were able to avoid having to rely on major sponsorship and outside investors for financial growth, akin to the business model a lot of the so-called “larger” clubs had been adopting.

“Today we have three stakeholders that each own 8.3 percent of our shares, but that is the only outside money that flows into our coffers. We are extremely proud of the fact that members own 75.1 percent of the team. That allows us to make our own decisions, and nothing happens in the club without input from team management.”

In a modern day transfer market that’s grown increasingly over-inflated Hoeness, along with the rest of Bayern’s hierarchy, have remained firm in the stance that top clubs around Europe should be under strict scrutiny by Financial Fair Play. Earlier this week, Rummenigge pressed UEFA to enforce more consequential repercussions to teams who are in breach of FFP, which he believes currently pertains to a handful of clubs.

Using power properly and ‘Mia san Mia’

It’s often times easy to perceive the working relationship between Hoeness and Rummenigge as a power struggle at Bayern Munich, as the two have certainly had their fair share of disagreements. Regardless, Hoeness believes this balance of power is necessary to run a football club successfully and how its conduciveness to “Mia san Mia” has helped Bayern utilize its power beyond the realms of just football.

“[Power’s] a word which has a lot of negative connotations in our society – but I don't see it that way. When you use power responsibly, it can be a good thing because, without it, you can't decide things or change things. Power – well-intentioned, humane power – is everything. Not just in society, not just in politics – but also in a football club.”

Speaking on what he believes “Mia san Mia” truly stands for in Bavaria, Hoeness highlighted the collective feeling of camaraderie, but also having the will to question something that’s not right:

“It's when you're in a beer garden and people don't say ‘No, sorry, this seat is taken’ but rather ‘Sit down, we'll all budge up.’ It's having a beer with complete strangers and enjoying a nice evening together. ... It's this willingness to help on the one hand but to grumble on the other –- to grumble about oneself and question oneself — that's really important. ... We do not regard Bayern just as a football club anymore, but also as a social organization, which for many people is a home or a replacement family.”