When two Red Bulls collide in Europa League, the sponsor wins
LEIPZIG, Germany - When two Red Bulls clash in the Europa League on Thursday, it will only be possible because their sponsor has tried to ensure that the two "brothers" are not quite as similar as they appear.
RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg wear the same colours. Their shirts carry the same sponsor and almost identical club badges, all showing the charging bulls logo of the Austrian energy-drink company. The two clubs symbolise the rising power of football franchising designed to enhance both squad and brand building.
UEFA, the governing body of European football, introduced a rule to protect the "integrity of European club competitions" in 1998, after British holding company ENIC bought, or took stakes in, half a dozen clubs: Tottenham Hotspur, Slavia Prague, Glasgow Rangers, Vicenza, Basel and AEK Athens.
Two clubs with the same owner cannot play in the same competition, yet on Thursday two Red Bulls collide. That is possible because, "following a long investigation" completed in June 2017, UEFA decided they did not share an owner.
They accepted that Austrian drinks billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz had surrendered direct control of Salzburg, remaining only as the shirt and stadium sponsor. Yet Salzburg still appear to function as part of a supply chain which also includes the New York Red Bulls of the MLS and Red Bull Brasil, which plays in the Sao Paulo state league in Brazil
Since the start of 2015, 12 players have gone from Salzburg directly to fast-rising RB Leipzig, who under German rules cannot officially be called "Red Bull", in the bigger Bundesliga. They include Naby Keita, who moved from Salzburg to Leipzig for 15 million Euros in 2016 and then to Liverpool for an estimated 75 million euros this summer.
Red Bull are not alone. Professor Simon Chadwick of the University of Salford in England told AFP that there are "between 15 and 20 entities" who have embarked on a multi-club strategy.
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) September 19, 2018
They range from AS Monaco, which has bought Cercle Brugge of Belgium, and the Italian Pozzo family which owns Udinese of Italy's Serie A and Premier League Watford and also owned Granada FC in Spain, to the global ambition of Red Bull or the City Football Group.
The Abu Dhabi owned company largely avoids problems with UEFA by controlling clubs in different continents: Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay, although it has stakes in Yokohama Marinos in Japan and Girona of La Liga.
"Purely in football terms, as football clubs, this is very much about building a talent acquisition network," Chadwick said. "To win football matches, you need the best possible talents and to get the best possible talents, if you operate on a network basis you have more people in more places watching more games, scouting more players"
But Red Bull, which is also heavily involved in motor sports, ice hockey, extreme sports and sailing, and the City group have bigger aims. "It's about brand visibility" and "trying to cultivate a new type of global fan" who supports an entire network of clubs, Chadwick said. Commercially, whatever the final score when Leipzig play Salzburg, Red Bull will win.