Football Leaks Bayern Munich Explored Exit from Bundesliga and Champions League

Germany's leading football team, Bayern Munich, tasked the international law firm Cleary Gottlieb in 2016 with exploring the circumstances under which the club could leave both the country's national league, the Bundesliga, and the Champions League.
Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Foto: REUTERS/ New Pool/ Benedikt Rugar/ DER SPIEGEL

Specific questions were discussed, such as whether Bayern Munich would still be obliged to allow players to play for the German national team or whether national and international football associations could hold the club accountable for its withdrawal from competitions. The mandate to the law firm was issued by Bayern Munich's chief legal counsel, Michael Gerlinger. In 2016, the team worked in secret with six other top European football clubs to come up with a plan for founding their own Super League.

The European umbrella organization UEFA was only able to avoid a scenario in which the continent's top football teams walked away from the established system of competitions by promising the leading clubs significantly more money and power starting in the 2018/19 season.

This information comes from a dataset provided to DER SPIEGEL by the whistleblower platform Football Leaks . The Hamburg-based newsmagazine shared the more than 70 million documents with the research network European Investigative Collaborations (EIC). Around 80 journalists from 15 European media outlets spent eight months analyzing the data trove.

That the potential foundation of a Super League remains current is made clear by a draft of a "binding term sheet" sent on Oct. 22 of this year by the firm Key Capital Partners to Real Madrid's president, Florentino Pérez. If everything in the "binding term sheet" were to come to pass, the Champions League would cease to exist in 2021. Instead, 11 of the continent's most important teams would break away from UEFA and found a new elite league, to be called the "European Super League."

The 11 founding teams could not be relegated and would be part of the league for 20 years. An additional five clubs would be included as "initial guests," putting the total number of teams in the new elite league at 16. The document lists Bayern Munich as one of the "founders" and Borussia Dortmund as one of the "initial guests."

The document also lists the possible ownership stakes that would be held by the individual clubs in the joint European Super League company, with Bayern Munich receiving an 8.29 percent stake, making it the company's fourth-biggest shareholder.

The project, the document makes clear, is extremely confidential. The date by which the 16 clubs are to sign the "binding term sheet" is listed as November 2018. The precise day, however, is left open.

When contacted by journalists, Real Madrid, Key Capital Partners and Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke all declined to comment on the concrete document. But the fact that discussions about the Super League are currently ongoing, said Watzke, "is clear, and I also believe that a few of Europe's large clubs are clearly working on it." Still, the BVB boss says, such plans are apparently "not very concrete" yet. He says that also has to do with the decisive question: Should the Super League take place in addition to, or instead of, the Bundesliga? "That is the firewall," says Watzke. "For as long as I carry responsibility around here, BVB will not leave the Bundesliga." Beyond that, though, Borussia has to "keep all its options open." Because if a Super League ever became a reality, "that couldn't happen without BVB."

Michael Gerlinger and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had the FC Bayern Munich media director respond on their behalf to written requests for comment on the new Super League plans and on the agreements made by the secret group. The club, he wrote, was aware of "neither the existence nor the content" of the draft of the "binding term sheet." Furthermore, he added, Bayern Munich "as a matter of policy, does not comment on confidential discussions."

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