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  • These players all have one thing in common: this logo

  • -- even though he plays on a team in Germany

  • and they play for a team in Russia.

  • It's also on this team in Serbia, at games in England, and on sidelines in Italy.

  • The logo belongs to Gazprom, a Russian natural gas company.

  • Logo sponsorships are normal in soccer:

  • Teams make money offering jersey space to sponsors selling things like credit cards,

  • cars and cell phones.

  • But Gazprom isn't like most sponsors: private companies with products soccer fans can buy.

  • Instead, it's a company owned by the Russian government that makes money selling natural

  • gas to foreign countries.

  • Yet, it's everywhere in European soccer.

  • So, if soccer fans can't buy what they're selling,

  • why is Gazprom spending millions to sponsor soccer games?

  • The answer is part of a larger story that's changing the sport of soccer.

  • Foreign countries using companies they own to burnish their reputations abroad,

  • and to understand why Russia is involved, you need to look at a map.

  • Russia has the world's largest natural gas reserves and most of them

  • are located in Arctic gas fields controlled by Gazprom.

  • The company is led by Alexey Miller, a close ally of Vladimir Putin.

  • Since 2005, the Russian government has owned a majority stake in Gazprom.

  • Meaning company profits are under Putin's control and gas sales, along with oil,

  • account for around 40% of Russia's annual budget.

  • This map shows how dependent various European countries are on Russian gas and you can see

  • that Eastern European countries are more dependent than countries further west.

  • At the end of the 20th century, Germany represented the biggest opportunity for Gazprom.

  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had announced plans to phase out coal and nuclear power,

  • which meant Germany would need more natural gas to maintain their energy supply.

  • Gazprom wanted to get it to them, but there was a problem.

  • To get to Germany, Russia's gas needed pass to through pipelines

  • crossing countries charging Gazprom transport fees.

  • And most of them went through Ukraine

  • a country that has a complicated relationship with Russia.

  • Today, Ukraine still charges Russia $2-3 billion dollars every year to pump gas through to Europe.

  • So, starting back in 2005, Russia began working on a strategy to bypass Ukraine

  • and ship their gas directly to Western Europe.

  • This is the Nord Stream pipeline

  • a route through The Baltic Sea straight to Northern Germany.

  • In late 2005, Gazprom was in the final stages of financing the project

  • and Germany's chancellor was preparing for an election.

  • During his time in office, Gerhard Schroeder had become friendly with Putin and critics

  • in Germany were increasingly concerned about the Russian leader's growing influence.

  • Just a few weeks before the election, Schroeder met with Putin

  • to sign an agreement officially approving the pipeline.

  • Two months later, Schroeder lost his re-election but by March he had found a new job:

  • overseeing Gazprom's pipeline to Germany.

  • It also came out that, before leaving office, Schroeder had approved a secret Gazprom loan

  • that provided over a billion euros to finance the project.

  • Soon, the story of Gazprom's big project in Germany was becoming a story of scandal,

  • corruption, and the creeping influence of Russia.

  • But then the story changed.

  • In 2006, Gazprom signed a deal to sponsor the German soccer team FC Schalke 04.

  • At the time, Schalke's finances were worrying team officials and Gazprom's sponsorship

  • provided money the team desperately needed.

  • At a press conference announcing the deal, a Gazprom chairman said Schalke's connections

  • with the German energy sector were why they decided to become their sponsor.

  • Schalke plays in Gelsenkirchen - a town in Germany's Ruhr Valley, where much of the

  • country's energy industry is based.

  • It's also close to the town of Rehden, a hub for pipelines to the rest of Europe and home

  • to Western Europe's largest natural gas storage facilities.

  • Schalke wasn't Gazprom's first soccer deal.

  • The year before, they had bought a controlling stake in a team on the other end of the

  • Nord Stream route: the Russian team Zenit St. Petersburg.

  • Gazprom's investment made Zenit a major force in soccer.

  • Two years after taking control, Zenit won their first-ever league championship.

  • They've been able to sign expensive foreign stars, like Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel

  • and the Brazilian forward Hulk,

  • and Gazrpom uses Zenit for marketing stunts:

  • like having players scrimmage on the side of their offshore gas platform.

  • In 2006, as Gazprom logos were revealed around Schalke's stadium, German headlines were

  • hailing the Russian gas giant for pumping millions into the German team.

  • To celebrate the deal, Schalke's new jersey was unveiled in a ceremony before Schalke

  • and Zenit played a friendly match in Russia.

  • And, over the next few years, the Gazprom logo would become a team symbol displayed

  • at Schalke games and printed on official merchandise.

  • Schalke also won a championship in 2011 and by then, Nord Stream had been completed, and that year,

  • Gerhard Schroeder, Angela Merkel and other European officials gathered to celebrate

  • as it began pumping gas to Germany.

  • There was also another struggling team whose jerseys started featuring Gazprom's logo:

  • The Serbian team Red Star Belgrade.

  • Red Star was about 25 million dollars in debt when Gazprom signed to become their jersey sponsor.

  • And, again, there was also another pipeline: The South Stream would have bypassed Ukraine

  • by going directly through Serbia to Southern Europe.

  • That project closed in 2014, but Gazprom has continued increasing their access to Europe

  • by building Nord Stream 2, a second pipeline doubling the amount of gas

  • flowing from Russia to Germany.

  • Gazprom has also expanded their soccer empire to include energy partnerships with Chelsea

  • football club, Champions League and the sport's most famous tournament: the FIFA World Cup.

  • These sponsorships have made Gazprom's logo familiar not just to fans in Europe,

  • but across the world.

  • We light up the football. Gazprom. Official partner."

  • It's in commercials before games, and on jerseys and sidelines once it starts.

  • FC Schalke fans have also started to see Nord Stream 2 ads at home games.

  • And, while climate activists like Greenpeace have staged protests to point out Gazprom's

  • threat to Arctic resources, Gazprom had no trouble renewing their sponsorships.

  • Now, Russia controls nearly half the gas consumed by Europe

  • and other countries are learning from their example.

  • Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways all are owned by sovereign states in the Middle East

  • with interests that go beyond selling airline tickets.

  • As the example of Gazprom shows, having a prominent soccer sponsorship offers a way

  • around bad publicity by winning approval on the field.

  • If you're a fan, that can feel like a big opportunity: their money helps teams win major tournaments,

  • but it's starting to change the sport itself.

  • Now that it's become common to see a Serbian team sponsored by Russia's gas company facing

  • off against a French team sponsored by Dubai's state-owned airline, it's starting to seem

  • like the field is hosting two competitions at once:

  • A match between two teams,

  • and a larger play for foreign influence that continues long after the final whistle.

These players all have one thing in common: this logo

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Why this Russian gas company sponsors soccer teams

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/09/10
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