It was roughly two weeks ago that Borussia Dortmund announced a new kit sponsorship agreement with German web hosting company 1&1 Ionos.
The company, a subsidiary of United Internet, will become the club’s new kit sponsor for all Bundesliga matches beginning with the 2020-21 season. Longtime kit sponsor Evonik Industries will sponsor the BVB kits for both the DfB-Pokal and continental competitions.
This has coincided with significant developments in regard to BVB’s Aktionärsstruktur (shareholder structure). As a result, there will likely soon be a new face on Borussia Dortmund’s Supervisory Board, the equivalent of the club’s Board of Directors.
So what’s changed and who’s the new guy?
Like all football clubs in Germany, ownership of Borussia Dortmund is divided up into shares.
What makes Dortmund unique is that a portion of BVB’s ownership shares are available for purchase on the German stock exchange. BVB the only publicly traded sports club in the German stock market.
As a result, Dortmund has a lot of shareholders. Just under 60% of the club’s shares are free float, meaning that they are publicly traded and can be purchased by anyone. It’s a pretty good bet that there’s a Dortmund shareholder or two among all the thousands of people in the Westfalenstadion’s Südtribüne (Yellow Wall) at every home fixture.
However, there are certain groups and individuals who own significant portions of the remaining BVB shares. Prior to February, this was how the remaining 40% or so of Dortmund shares were divvied up:
Evonik Industires AG – 14.78%
Bernd Geske – 9.33%
BVB 09 e.V. Dortmund (the BVB sporting club itself) – 5.53%
Signal Iduna – 5.43%
PUMA SE – 5.0%
The club’s Aktionärsstruktur features some very familiar names to Dortmund fans. It includes the club’s kit sponsor (Evonik), the club’s main equipment supplier (PUMA) and the Westfalenstadion naming rights holder (Signal Iduna).
All of the major shareholders have a place on Dortmund’s Supervisor Board. Evonik’s Executive Chairman (Christian Kullmann) is also the Vice Chairman of Dortmund’s Supervisory Board. Joining him on the Board are Bernd Geske, the largest individual BVB shareholder, PUMA’s CEO Bjørn Gulden, and Signal Iduna Chairman Ulrich Leitermann, among others.
The Aktionärsstruktur had remained relatively static for the previous few years until last week.
A week after the new kit sponsor announcement, reports indicated that Evonik Industries was selling approximately one third of its stake in BVB, the equivalent of roughly 5% of the club’s total shares. This wasn’t entirely surprising considering that the company had already surrendered its sponsorship of the club’s Bundesliga kit for next season, cutting back on its previous agreement that wasn’t due to expire until 2025, but it was still a significant development.
Evonik has been Dortmund’s main kit sponsor since 2007 and has been Dortmund’s biggest collective shareholder for several years, owning greater than 5% more than anyone else. The chemical company had a considerable amount of pull within the club as a result. The two entities became successful partners as Dortmund’s global footprint expanded in the last decade and the club’s success on the pitch has helped Evonik become one of the most recognizable sponsors in the Bundesliga.
While Evonik still owns the biggest stake in the club, reducing it by a third means that the gap between it and the club’s next largest shareholder (Geske) has narrowed considerably. It stands to reason that Evonik’s influence at the club will be somewhat diminished in the future.
That then brings us to the question of who did Evonik sell its stake to?
For about a week, there wasn’t a clear answer provided by either Evonik or BVB itself as to who the buyer was. But on Wednesday afternoon, Ruhr Nachrichten reported that the CEO of United Internet, Ralph Dommermuth, was the buyer.
This rather anticlimactic reveal indicated that the club’s old Bundesliga kit sponsor had sold a third of its stake to the club’s new Bundesliga kit sponsor.
So who’s Ralph Dommermuth?
The New Kid In Town
Dommermuth is the Chairman and CEO of United Internet, the parent company of 1&1 Ionos. He founded the company in 1988 with initial funds saved from his time as a computer salesman. Starting from a borrowed desk, Dommermuth built the company into a successful marketing service provider in Germany within 4 years. A further 4 years later, Dommermuth converted 1&1 into an internet service provider and since then, the company has become one of the leading ISPs and web hosting companies in Germany.
As a result of the company’s success, Dommermuth became Germany’s sole Internet billionaire and the country’s youngest self-made billionaire.
So how will this self-made billionaire fit in with Dortmund’s existing hierarchy?
It’s not currently what role Dommermuth himself will have with the club, but given how senior leaders of the club’s other major shareholders are included in the club’s Supervisory Board, it stands to reason that Dommermuth will soon be sitting at the table with Kullmann, Geske, and the others.
After the transfer of shares, the club’s Aktionärsstruktur now looks like this:
Evonik Industries – 9.83%
Bernd Geske – 9.35%
BVB 09 e.V. Dortmund – 5.53%
Signal Iduna – 5.43%
Ralph Dommermuth – 5.0%
PUMA SE – 5.0%
What does all this ultimately mean for the club? Well, besides a new kit sponsor and a new advertising partner, nobody really knows at this point.
It will be interesting to see what changes are in store for the next Bundesliga season, what initiatives BVB and 1&1 will take on together, and what Dommermuth’s personal role within the club’s hierarchy will be.