SAP Deepens Local Roots, Backs Bundesliga Team

Photographer: Fredrik Von Erichsen/EPA

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim players celebrate after the second leg of the playoff against FC Kaiserslautern in Kaiserslautern, Germany, May 27 2013. Close

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Photographer: Fredrik Von Erichsen/EPA

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim players celebrate after the second leg of the playoff against FC Kaiserslautern in Kaiserslautern, Germany, May 27 2013.

With Germany's Bundesliga soccer league attracting greater attention since monopolizing last month's UEFA Champions League final at London's Wembley Stadium, software giant SAP is seeking to tap some of the afterglow by sponsoring a team. But SAP didn’t choose to back a heavyweight such as finalists Bayern Munich -- sponsored by Deutsche Telekom -- or Borussia Dortmund, which is endorsed by chemical maker Evonik Industries.

Instead it went with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, a side that won just eight matches and lost 19 last season, narrowly escaping relegation to the second-tier.

The company will pay Hoffenheim 4.5 million euros ($6 million) annually for three years, according to newspaper Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, an amount SAP declined to confirm. Apart from printing its blue logo on the team's jerseys and securing rights for advertising around its stadium, SAP will also develop a mobile app for fans and a program to help players analyze their training results.

But SAP may have had a few other reasons for placing its bet on this team from rural south-west Germany. For starters, the deal is cheap: Airline Emirates is paying £150 million ($233 million) to sponsor London club Arsenal over 5 years, including stadium naming rights -- or almost eight times as much annually.

And shareholders in SAP, which won contracts in 2012 with the U.S. National Football League and the National Basketball Association, last week voiced concerns that Germany's only global software player is focusing too much on the U.S. Sponsoring Hoffenheim, which plays 20 minutes from SAP's Walldorf headquarters, will shore up its home-turf credibility.

The deal is also a nod to SAP's billionaire co-founder Dietmar Hopp, who has donated money to the club -- support that helped it climb from amateur soccer to a challenger for the German championship in the last decade (despite its woeful results this past season). Hopp, who still owns more than 5 percent of SAP, sports the team's fan scarf during his frequent visits to the stadium.

Perhaps SAP's support will help him avoid another season of suffering in the stands.

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