(new: more details and background)

DÜSSELDORF/DORTMUND (dpa-AFX) - Just a few days before the Champions League final, Bundesliga soccer team Borussia Dortmund has caused a stir with a sponsorship deal. The arms manufacturer Rheinmetall will be supporting BVB for the next three years. This was announced by the Westphalian club and the arms manufacturer on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Düsseldorf-based company did not want to comment on the financial volume, but according to the Handelsblatt it is a single-digit million euro amount per year. The partnership reportedly includes the use of high-reach advertising space, marketing rights as well as event and hospitality services in the stadium and on the club grounds. Rheinmetall will become BVB's "Champion Partner", i.e. a particularly important financial sponsor.

BVB braces itself for criticism

BVB boss Hans-Joachim Watzke pointed out that security and defense are cornerstones of democracy. "That's why we think it's the right decision to take a very close look at how we protect these cornerstones." The company is looking forward to working together and "as Borussia Dortmund, we are deliberately open to discussion". Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger expressed his satisfaction. "BVB and Rheinmetall are two partners whose ambitions, attitude and background are a good match," said the armaments manager.

The discourse mentioned by Watzke could come at an inopportune time for Dortmund and distract from sporting issues ahead of Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid. "There is only one topic now, and that is this final," said BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl on Tuesday: "I would like us to concentrate on this game."

First time a weapons company has sponsored a Bundesliga soccer team

This is probably the first time that an arms company has sponsored a soccer club - the Federal Association of the German Security and Defense Industry (BDSV) is not aware of any comparable case. The association welcomed the move. "Sponsorship is a way of conveying to a broad section of the population the feeling that weapons are not something 'unsavory' for maintaining our security and peace, but are simply a normal part of our social reality if we want to live in peace and freedom," said BDSV Managing Director Hans Christoph Atzpodien.

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck also commented on the deal. "The fact that Rheinmetall is now sponsoring a soccer club is indeed unusual at first, but it shows where we stand," said the Green politician in Berlin. We are in constant contact with Rheinmetall to ensure that the company produces even more ammunition to support Ukraine, said the minister, who is also responsible for arms exports.

"We know and unfortunately have to admit that we are in a different, more threatening world." This is why "the practiced and understandable restraint" in public dealings with the arms industry is no longer sustainable and correct, said Habeck. "In this respect, this sponsorship certainly also reflects the reality of the turning point to some extent." After the Russian attack on Ukraine, the German government declared a "turnaround" and made 100 billion euros available to get the Bundeswehr up to speed. Rheinmetall is also benefiting from this package.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for sport, did not want to comment on the Rheinmetall-BVB deal. A ministry spokesperson said that, as a matter of principle, they do not comment on sponsorship agreements with sports clubs.

Criticism from fans and pacifists

Some soccer fans and other sections of society reacted negatively. The German Peace Society - United Opponents of Military Service launched an online petition calling on BVB to back down and issuing a "red card for the advertising deal". "A weapons manufacturer as a sponsor does not fit in with the values that BVB - and soccer as a whole - represents," the pacifists said.

On "X" (formerly Twitter), numerous users vented their displeasure - for many, the logo of a weapons company has no place on advertising banners on the sidelines. There was also ironic and biting criticism: a photomontage showed a miniature tank driving onto the edge of the pitch and bringing a soccer to the referee. The satirical party Die Partei also published a photomontage showing a tank standing on a soccer pitch with the headline: "BVB - we don't just score goals".

Rheinmetall already active as a sports sponsor

Sponsoring a sports club is not new territory for the armaments group, which is also active as an automotive supplier - Rheinmetall already sponsors the handball club Bergischer HC from Solingen, not far from Düsseldorf. With the soccer club and Champions League finalist BVB, however, Rheinmetall's sports sponsorship has reached another level.

With around 30,000 employees, Germany's largest armaments group is on a growth trajectory, with demand for ammunition, tanks and anti-aircraft guns skyrocketing after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Since the beginning of 2022, the order backlog has risen by around 10 billion euros to 24 billion euros, with turnover expected to reach 10 billion euros this year. This would be almost twice as high as in 2021, i.e. before the war in Ukraine (5.7 billion euros). The share price has more than quintupled since February 2022. Rheinmetall is important in the defense of Ukraine, the company supplies military equipment on a large scale and is paid for by the German government./wdw/DP/jha