Standing out at all costs
Ever since the Red Bull beverage company hurtled into the ring in 2005, Austrian club Salzburg have been sweeping everything before them. Brandishing a very energetic marketing policy, the club is now nurturing international ambitions.
The bass notes are booming away relentlessly and bright spotlights are drowning the thousands of visitors in a sea of color. All of them are waving white cloths – not from desperation but in sheer delight. Anyone venturing into Salzburg’s football stadium enters new territory. Of course, in Salzburg the penalty area is where it should be and the goals are the same size as everywhere else, but off the pitch anything can happen in the Wals-Siezenheim EURO Stadium ever since Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz discovered a passion for football a year and half ago. “You just can’t avoid football any more because it’s the most important sport in the world and it’s enjoying a boom,” explains the boss of energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull during an interview with the “Kurier” daily newspaper.
Since top club and three-time Austrian champion Austria Salzburg changed its name to Red Bull Salzburg in 2005, not one week has passed without it hitting the headlines, either because of staff appointments or because its very own stadium – the legendary bullring – where show business is the order of the day, including rave music, disco lights, graffiti and fireworks. Red Bull means the opposite of bedroom. “Stand out at all costs” is the company’s policy and that has now been incorporated in the style of football. Whoever would have believed that Giovanni Trapattoni would one day be sitting on an Austrian coaches’ bench and working in a country occupying 65th place in the FIFA Coca-Cola World Ranking? A culture shock? Far from it.
Bus with parquet floor
“It doesn’t matter where we play, whether in Ried or in Milan, in front of 100 or 120,000 spectators. I’m never in the wrong place,” comments Trapattoni, the team’s joint coach alongside Lothar Matthaus since July 2006. “I have always enjoyed challenges in life and have also taken them on. I like the conditions at this club.”
Red Bull Salzburg is a miniature paradise for a football coach. The coach’s word is the team’s command. The dressing room wing is decked out as a luxury temple complete with every gadget. The players can even watch television from the comfort of the whirlpool. The luxury team bus is fitted out with a parquet floor and all of the staff drive an Audi car. In the 20 months in which the new club directors have been in place, a modern training center has sprung up and a youth academy is already in the offing.
The Salzburg club leaves no stone unturned trying to tempt famous footballers to the “Red Bulls”. Former Bayern Munich stars Thomas Linke and Alexander Zickler moved to Salzburg thanks to a little help from Franz Beckenbauer, who, as a good friend of Mateschitz, is always a hand for advice and assistance. Linke is regarded as Austria’s top defender whereas Zickler is going all out to win Austria’s top goalscorer crown, having already struck 16 times in 21 matches this season alone. Other illustrious names are Croatia’ national team captain, Niko Kovac, Czech Republic international Vratislav Lokvenc and the young Swiss talent, Johan Vonlanthen. It is a motley crew calling the tune in Austrian football and heading the table – not least thanks to their home advantage. The teams play on artificial turf in the Salzburgstadium and no opponent managed to win on this unusual surface during the 2005-2006 season.
Last winter, the unconventional Salzburg club landed another surprise transfer – two Japanese internationals in the shape of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Alex. It was a move prompted not only by sporting tactics, as Trapattoni desperately needed to boost his left wing, but also by economic motives. In order to break into the Japanese market, the two Asian footballers, who enjoy cult status back home, are the ideal advertising banners for Red Bull. Dozens of Japanese journalists traveled to Salzburg to witness Miyamoto’s presentation to the general public. The jerseys that Alex and Miyamoto wear have since been selling like hot cakes, with thousands of advance orders pouring in from Japan. And Red Bull Salzburg’s matches will, in future, be broadcast live in Japan.
Academy in Ghana
But even the most ubiquitous marketing is worthless unless it leads to sporting success. Although the Salzburg Bulls are razing everything to the ground in Austria, the club is still waiting for its big international breakthrough. Regardless of Trapattoni or Matthaus. In the Champions League qualifiers, they came up against a brick wall in the shape of Valencia and were overcome by Blackburn Rovers in the group stage of the UEFA Cup. Nevertheless, the top Italian coach is confident that his team will soon be making music with the maestros. “I want to win international honors with this team,” he asserts. “We can certainly manage that feat in the not-too-distant future.” That fits in neatly with Mateschitz’ plans. “In five to ten years, we could be rubbing shoulders with the top 15 in Europe.”
The Salzburg club is therefore investing heavily in young talent. There are plans afoot to build a football school for 60 talented youngsters not far from the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The aim of expanding to Africa is to help prepare the best young hopefuls from West Africa (Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali) for the big leap to a future career in Europe. The football school is intended to serve as a model for other regions, which are already being earmarked. After all, Red Bull owns more than one football club. The company manages another famous club in the USA – namely, Red Bull New York. Longtime US national coach Bruce Arena now oversees the action in the Big Apple and, in January, the club signed US international Claudio Reyna, who represented his country 112 times, as a high profile team leader.
Football has undergone an unprecedented boom in Salzburg thanks to Red Bull’s activities. The fever is spreading – to such an extent that, after EURO 2008, the number of seats in Salzburg’s stadium will no longer be reduced from 30,000 to 20,000, as previously planned. So that, in future, even more spectators will be able to bask in the bullring’s blinding spotlights and wave their white clothes about wildly.