The year is 1979. The average attendance at Bayern games in Olympic Stadium is 35,000, the games aren’t even always broadcast on television, and the offices of Bayern only employ 20 people. On May 1, recently retired Uli Hoeness takes over as a manager.
Fast forward to today.
The revolutionary Allianz Arena consistently holds 75,000 fans, the value of the club has reached $3.1 billion, and the aforementioned offices now employ 1,000 people. That’s extraordinary growth. The man behind it all? None other than current President Uli Hoeness.
You were 27 when you became a player manager after the early end of your career. Did you have any concerns about the size of the task?
Hoeness: I suffered my first serious knee injury in 1975 in the European Cup final in Paris against Leeds United when I was 23. A meniscus injury was no small thing back then. Today you suffer a small tear, and the player is fit again in 14 days. I had a lot of time to think back then. And I wanted to be a manager anyway, coach was out of the question for me.
Hoeneß: I’ve always had a special relationship with the economic side of football. I could always look over Robert Schwan’s shoulder. As a player, he already considered me his “Mini-Manager”. When we were in South America and there were hotel bills to settle or flight transfers, he’d always take me.
The commercialization of FC Bayern towards becoming a global player in football is probably your most important achievement.
Hoeneß: I saw my most important task as making Bayern less dependent on audience revenue. When I started out, that made up 85 percent of sales. Today, at almost 700 million euros in sales, it’s still 18 to 20 percent.
And how did he go about this financial transformation? Hoeness says that he looked to places like the U.S. and the UK, where big business already was. In fact, his inspiration for a fan shop came from California:
When I was in San Francisco, I was supposed to bring a leather jacket from Joe Montana, the quarterback, for my son. I was in a 49ers team store in the city and I told my wife: If on a Monday morning, people, not just classic fans but also bankers and business people, are shopping at FC Bayern stores for their children, then we’ll have made it.
In addition to merchandise, Hoeness is known for his forward-thinking in regards to television broadcasting:
I was laughed at for [pay-TV]. I founded an interest group with Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, the then president of VfB Stuttgart. The name was “Action 50 Million”. We really wanted to get that much from TV. At that time, all in all, we got 20 million marks. We were berated for it.
Despite the immediate setbacks, the obstacles proved to be temporary. At first, Bayern got 20 million marks. Now, just last year, Bayern made $636 million off of broadcasting alone. That’s a 5,530% increase. That’s the kind of money that funded the building of the Allianz Arena in 2002. Because of Uli Hoeness’ endeavors, we have what we consider to be norms of the Bayern Munich world, whether that be the Allianz Arena, state of the art training facilities, or that advanced fitness technology Niko Kovac loves.
The pattern of employment at Bayern seems to involve former players going on to either coach or manage in some other way. CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, coach Niko Kovac, in addition to president Uli Hoeness all fall under that category. Hoeness believes that is key to Bayern’s successes:
It’s helpful if you can install people in important positions who have the background, who have absorbed the DNA of Bayern as a player. This isn’t an essential requirement, but it’s helpful. But it’s clear: At some point Karl-Heinz and I have to leave our places here. Also, I had no idea how to do it when I first started at age 27. But I learned it. That was learning by doing. The chance also exists now for young ex-players. Hasan Salihamidzic, for example, does a very good job as a Sporting Director.
As for Hoeness’ smart business decisions, he still has plans for the future. He struck down the idea of a Superleague and instead gave a different idea:
The Board and Supervisory Board of FC Bayern have determined that the Bundesliga is the most important element in our club policy. We’ve rejected the Superleague. On the other hand, we’re in favor of a club World Cup every two or four years. The critics forget that we are not considering an additional burden for the players, but a competition instead of the Confed Cup. The Confed Cup requires that we let our National players go and get nothing in return. This is why we like a club World Cup, where we really earn money. As a businessman you have to understand that.
He’s been at Bayern for 40 years and is still showing no signs of slowing down or falling a step behind. That being said, all good things must come to an end. Here’s his plan for deciding whether or not to continue in his role:
After the season, I’ll sit down with my family and decide by the end of June whether to start again or not. Everyone knows this timetable in the club. There is just so much work going on. We have so many issues to tackle. I’m thinking of the entry of BMW for Audi or the buildup of the new team. I’m totally relaxed in the matter. But one thing is also clear: you can’t imagine that you’re irreplaceable. Everybody is replaceable.
Whether he stays or not, as supporters of Bayern we’re going to owe Uli Hoeness for the success we enjoy for years to come. Still, it’ll be strange to not see him and his Bayern scarf celebrating in the box seats.