From abroad, the Bundeslia’s 50+1 rule world leaves many a mouth watering, especially from here in the U.S., a land of sports franchises, portly serving of nachos, $10 beers, pulsing entertainment music filling every second of downtime, and old fart team owners. Take the commonly fetishized (at least by me) fact that Bundesliga locals in Germany “own” their clubs (i.e. their ownership stake is at least 51%), sit on club boards, and attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM or die Jahreshauptversammlung), that seeming promise land of supporter participation. Tocquevillean visions of small associations and democracy in action dance in my imagination when I think about these gatherings. Obviously, the German situation is the envy of the football world.
Or so my imagination tells me.
But what actually happens on the ground during these fabled AGMs? Wouldn’t I like to know … Luckily, I found out by getting in touch with Marie Schulte-Bockum, a German-American, based in Munich, who writes in German for Focus Online about the Bundesliga.
You see, Marie actually attended Bayern Munich’s 2018 Jahreshauptversammlung in late November. All three hours plus of it. Marathon-level stuff. Trust me. After talking with Marie, I can conclude that these three hours were no pleasant picnic + badminton bash on the lawn. Hardly. Instead, think work meeting. Think achingly long agendas. Think PowerPoint slides projected on a white surface. Think seat that starts to bite into your butt and lower back. Think mind mostly wandering and occasionally engaged. Think boredom. We’re talking about a three hour meeting after all.
But with complimentary Bier at its conclusion. At least there’s that. Oh, plus a North Korean flag, and a guy named Johannes Bachmayr.
I can assure you that Marie spoke knowledgeably and without a ounce of snark or implied boredom about Bayern’s recent Jahreshauptversammlung. She was a good sport, providing an insider perspective that Bundesliga lovers in the U.S. like me simply don’t have (e.g. you can watch Bayern’s AGM on YouTube, but were there? Did you gaze for minutes at that North Korea flag? More on that later …). Marie patiently answered my questions about the meeting and even sent some images for mood setting.
Thank you, Marie!
First, die Jahreshauptversammlungen in the Bundesliga are simply a form of annual general meetings, much like what you’ll find in organizations and companies around the world. Theoretically, these meetings, hosted by the board, update stakeholders about a given entity’s past year—major events, finances, leadership changes, member voting, etc. Bundesliga clubs typically hold their AGMs toward the end of the Hinrunde (e.g. Bayern’s occurred on Friday, November 30th). Given the Bundesliga’s famed 50+1 rule, these meetings are an annual high point for symbolizing the prominent role supporters seemingly play in German Fußball clubs.
Or let’s at least start with this premise.
Some basics: Bayern’s AGM occurred on Friday night, November 30th. The meeting started sharp at 8pm and ran till about 11:30pm in Marie’s reckoning. Bayern hosted its AGM in the Audi Dome, the 7,000 seat multipurpose arena mostly used by Bayern Munich’s basketball team. Marie guesses 2,000 attended the meeting—tops.
I asked Marie to describe the scene: “The Audi Dome is a mini-version of any U.S. basketball/multipurpose arena with a ring of popcorn and beer stands outside the stands; you climb some stairs to get into the main arena with the basketball court and spectator seats circling the court.” Marie explained that anyone could simply walk in and that—fun fact!—-Thomas Müller’s lookalike brother, Simon, a fan liaison, checked her press credential at the door.
Amazingly, a North Korea flag with the message “Not my president” hung above one of the twelve entrances to the seating area. Marie is pretty sure the sign was directed at Bayern club president Uli Hoeneß. She summarized the details, in case you’ve been out of the loop: “Obviously Hoeneß has been in the news a lot recently. He targeted Juan Bernat publicly, claiming his play almost cost them the Champions League. He called Bellarabi retarded. And he had that press conference where he lashed out at the German media, and where Rummenigge claimed the media was violating the German constitution by not affirming the grace and dignity of the individual players.” Rummenigge here is referring to Das Deutsche Grundgesetz, specifically Artikel 1, which asserts that defending basic human rights is the foundation of governance in Germany.
For regular Bundsesliga followers, this laundry list of indignities is familiar. However, it’s unclear why a North Korea flag best symbolizes one’s dislike for a Wurstverkäufer who can’t shut his big mouth. I mean, how do the analogies specifically work in this case? Or is pulling out a “North Korea” comparison the equivalent of pulling out a “Hitler” comparison in online debates?
Humorously, the banner remained in plain sight during the entire meeting.
More scene setting: Marie explained that supporters took the seats surrounding the court, while “the Bayern Munich bosses and board sat on an elevated podium up front.” Fellow Americans, think college or high school graduation set ups—ad hoc podium sitting on the hardwood.
In terms of atmosphere, Marie stated that she was a bit disappointed: “It was eerily quiet before the event; there weren’t many people; everyone was relaxed.” Now, while this atmosphere might sound perfectly lovely for sitting in a movie theater, pre-show, Marie was surprised, given the Hinrunde that Bayern had been having: “Given the turmoil Bayern had running up to the meeting, I was expecting, I don’t know, outcries, protests, chants, more people. Things like this.”
Yes, that North Korean flag hung above an entrance, certainly adding a protest element to the event, but Marie expected noise from the supporters specifically, at least as a preamble, for setting the meeting’s timbre.
However, some noise came later.
Like any other AGM, Bayern’s Jahreshauptversammlung adhered to a formal agenda, which was made available prior to the meeting. Marie sat next to Bayern’s own media folks in the press row, who shared their agenda with her.
According to Marie, the actual meeting flowed something like this. First, a “welcome” to the attendees, followed by a period to mourn club members who’d recently died. Next, the meeting kicked into brass tacks with speeches from the likes of Rummenige and Hoeneß. The really good stuff began with the financial report of the past season (transfer fees, player salaries, etc.), which as Marie points out “is actually really interesting and a unique element,” given that other foreign clubs are far more secretive about their finances.
The only voting that took place was about financial matters involving confirmations with members indicating their votes with hand-held placards.
Finally, at the end came the good stuff: the Wortmeldungen segment of the meeting in which members can submit questions or comments in writing ahead of time or walk up to one of the eleven stands to share a comment live.
And at this point, the meeting’s tone changed. Things got tense. Marie explained that “many of the fans were very critical.” Especially one guy: Johannes Bachmayr, whose lashing out episode was all over German media after the meeting. Bachmayr prepared written remarks ahead of time and, somewhat in the style of a good ol’ Wutrede, let everyone have it. Actually, Bachmayr’s triad is technically called a Brandrede (i.e. inflammatory speech).
The theme of Bachmayr’s Brandrede was direct criticism of Uli Hoeneß. It turns out, Bachmayr had been a childhood fan of Hoeneß and even pursued business studies, thanks to Hoeneß’s perceived business acumen. Thus, Bachmayr’s speech had a bit of a spurned lover tinge to it. The current tax lawyer listed a number of charges directed at not only at Hoeneß, but also at other club officials: officials treating the club as if it were their own property, Bayern’s duplicitous relationship with Qatari sponsors, Hoeneß’s own company (of course) winning the contract as Bayern’s stadium wurst provider, Bayern’s questionable transfer market strategy in recent years, etc.
Naturally, Bachmayr’s Brandrede is what made news headlines after Bayern’s AGM. Many defended him, while a minority claimed he was a plant or a glory-seeking performer. Also news-worthy was Hoeneß’s non-response response: the Bayern president simply refused to hold a public conversation with Bachmayr, claiming “he didn’t want to debate on this level,” as Marie recalled.
The Jahreshauptversammlung officially drew to an end with some perfunctory closing remarks by Hoeneß, who announced the joyful news that there was a round of free beer for all supporters present–a long-standing Bayern tradition.
While the meeting’s nuts and bolts would tax anyone’s attention, like any other long meeting, I asked Marie if the supporters present at the AGM felt the same way: “It’s something the Bayern members look forward to a lot – they get a free club night, free beer, and the chance to speak their mind.” Sure, meetings in general are a drag, but enduring this meeting is rewarding for Bayern’s supporters, because die Wortmeldungen and Bier are waiting. Not to mention their mere presence, acting as a massed reminder of what Bayern Munich, quantitatively, is all about. It’s about these supporters; this numerical fact is the calling card that German football has staked its identity on these past three decades.
For Bayern, these annual meetings serve as a localist lightning rod, grounding the club to its geographical and cultural roots. After all, it’s the Bavarian locals and all their local cultural eccentricities who attend the AGM. For one night at least, Bayern is the geographical entity it otherwise represents during globalized TV broadcasts.
Given Bayern’s immense reach as a globalized superclub, this moment—small as it is in the fluctuations of a sporting year—ironically retracts Bayern, aka GLOBAL SUPERCLUB, into its geographically localized self. A self that the likes of Uli Hesse documents through Munich’s alleyways and football pitches. A humbling night is the AGM. Perhaps even a humiliating night when the likes of Johannes Bachmayr take to the mic.
After hearing Marie’s report, I felt slightly more hopeful about the Bundesliga’s preserving its 50+1 cultural DNA, encoding supporter participation and literal ownership. The mere fact that Bayern Munich itself faces down a couple thousand of its own Bavarians is not insignificant. My guess is that the Jahreshauptversammlung has lingering and tacit effects on the club leadership and administration. What effects? I don’t think the answer to this question can be either concrete or quantifiable. Call this is a quietist conclusion. Yes, but even giants are not invulnerable to small touches.