Protests against Hoffenheim patron Dietmar Hopp took place in many stadiums in the Bundesliga. Why is the 79-year-old the number one enemy for many fans and ultras? And where is the fault of the DFB and DFL?
Who is Dietmar Hopp?
Dietmar Hopp is a successful German entrepreneur. After completing his engineering studies, he worked for a few years as a software developer and systems consultant for the computer and IT group IBM before founding the software company SAP together with four colleagues in 1972, where he was chairman of the board from 1988 to 1998. SAP became the third-largest IT group in the world after Microsoft and Oracle. In 2003, Hopp withdrew from day-to-day business, but still holds 5.52 percent of the shares (as of February 2020) of the most valuable German company by market value. The 79-year-old is a multi-billionaire and is considered one of the richest Germans. He has been doing charitable work for many years. In 1995 he founded the Dietmar Hopp Foundation, which since then has raised 600 million euros for charitable projects in the fields of sports, medicine, education, and social issues. Most of the Foundation’s activities are in Hopp’s home region on the Rhine and Necker in southwest Germany.
What does Hopp have to do with the Bundesliga?
Hopp’s best-known investment is TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the football club for which he previously played as an amateur. Thanks to Hopp’s patronage, the village association rose from 1990 to 2001 from the district league to the third-rate regional league. In 2005, Hopp announced that he wanted to bring the club into the Bundesliga. He hired coach Ralf Rangnick for his project, which with players that no other league competitor could have afforded, first promoted to the 2nd Bundesliga in 2007 and promoted to the 1st Bundesliga in 2008. Right in the debut season in the upper house, the TSG secured the autumn championship, but then fell back in the second half of the year. In addition to investing in the playing squad, Hopp has already financed two stadiums and a modern training center. In total, Hopp is said to have put over 350 million euros into the club. Thanks to high transfer revenues, Hoffenheim has been financially independent of Hopp for several years.
What enrages the opposing fans so much?
Fans of other clubs and ultras reject Hopp because he only bought the sporting success in their eyes. He violated the 50 + 1 rule that applies in German football, according to which no investor may hold the majority stake in a club. In addition – according to the accusation – he repeatedly intervened in the operative business as a financier. For his opponents, Hopp is the personalized commercialization of football. The TSG Hoffenheim, which they call “construct”, takes away a place in the Bundesliga from other clubs, especially traditional clubs.
The fans of Borussia Dortmund, in particular, kept working off their “hate object” Hopp. Already in 2008, the first poster with the portrait of Hopps appeared in a crosshair in the BVB fan block. BVB managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke was one of Hopp’s harshest critics at the time. He warned of “test-tube clubs” and asked the DFL to investigate in Hoffenheim.
The conflict reached the next level in 2011 when it came out that the Dortmund guest fans had been exposed to noise during their visit to the Hoffenheim stadium, which should drown out any swearing songs against Hopp. There was a lawsuit before the DFB court, which was ultimately dropped. Allegedly, a single employee had installed the speaker system. Hopp critics assumed, however, that Hopp was aware of the “public address campaign” and also supported it.
Since then there have basically been posters and protests of Dortmund against Hopp at every meeting between the two clubs.
Why were there so many protests this weekend?
This weekend the situation escalated in many stadiums in the Bundesliga. Anti-hopp banners were held up in Cologne and at Union Berlin, among others. A week earlier, when Mönchengladbach played against Hoffenheim, Gladbach fans presented a Hopp portrait in the crosshairs. The fans actually criticized the DFB with these actions because the association recently lifted a suspended sentence imposed on BVB supporters in 2018. At the last BVB away game in Hoffenheim last December there was again abuse against Hopp. As a consequence, BVB supporters will not be allowed to go to the Hoffenheim stadium in the next three seasons to support their team. In response, parts of the German fan scene showed solidarity with the Dortmunders. Collective punishment, which the association actually did not want to impose or temporarily suspended after a corresponding decision from 2017.
At the same time, the criticism in the stands was always directed personally against Hopp, who was insultingly insulted and shown again in the crosshairs. This also happened on Saturday in the Hoffenheim stadium through ultras from FC Bayern Munich. When it was 6-0 for Bayern shortly before the end of the game, posters appeared in the Bayern fan block that criticized the alleged verbal breach by the DFB and at the same time insulted Hopp, who was personally present in the stadium, as “son of a bitch”. The game was then interrupted. FC Bayern players and officials went into the curve and tried to make their fans see reason. The referee temporarily led the teams into the cabin. When the game finally continued, the players from both teams played asSigns of solidarity in the center circle for 13 minutes until the referee finally ended the game after 90 minutes.
Is there a solution in sight?
On the contrary: the fronts are hardening. The DFB and DFL do not want to appear as toothless tigers and are now reacting to any protest with consistent severity. The Sunday game between Union Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg, for example, already used the first stage of the three-stage plan, which is supposed to take hold of insults against individuals and racist or homophobic incidents, as Union fans with a rather harmless poster criticize the DFB practiced and not personally at Hopp.
There was an interruption in the game and an announcement by the stadium announcer. Afterward, the Ultras presented another banner shortly before the half-time break – this time with Hopp in the crosshairs and a personal insult to the Hoffenheim patron. The referee used level two and temporarily led the teams into the cabin. The game could only be continued after another call from the stadium announcer and the warning that any further incident would lead to the game being stopped immediately.
The situation is wrong. While the fans are unreasonable, find themselves in the criminal corner and sometimes even see themselves on a par with terrorists, the association and the league are no longer in the mood to tolerate insulting poster campaigns and critical opinions. Discussions between the DFL, DFB, and fans were canceled by the fansite in late summer 2018. While the organizers want their premium Bundesliga soccer product to run smoothly, fans – especially those who consider themselves to be some kind of guardians of the grail of real soccer culture – want their concerns to be heard, accepted as equal contacts and not just seen as consumers.
Nobody has any understanding of the other side so that the long-smoldering conflict between the association and fans will probably not be resolved so quickly. Hope gives hope that the clubs of the dispute are now tired and want to play football again undisturbed. The joint strike by the players from TSG Hoffenheim and FC Bayern was a strong sign. However, it remains questionable whether it would also have happened if it had not already been 6-0 for Munich at this point.