When RB Leipzig started leading the Bundesliga in 2016, people started going crazy (and not in a good way). The footballers from RB Leipzig showed it to everyone – and not only made friends with it. If time has shown anything, it’s that Red Bull teams are here to stay and proliferate. Let’s find out how and why.
Red Bull: Giving Wings To Football
The success of RB Leipzig led to a lot of protests in the beginning. The team bus was attacked with paint bags. BVB managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke was not exactly a fan of Leipzig either. “We don’t need this league leader,” he said. “Football shouldn’t be played by an energy drink can”. Because what bothers many fans of other clubs: Red Bull is behind RB Leipzig.
The football club would not exist without the drinks company from Austria. RB Leipzig was only founded in 2009 on the initiative of Red Bull – which critics see as the final straw in the commercialization of football. The common refrain against Red Bull football teams is that it’s no longer about tradition, only about money. But it is also clear that with the financial support of Red Bull, RB Leipzig has achieved an unprecedented rise – from the Oberliga to the Bundesliga and there in the first season at the top of the table. The football club has copied the company that sponsors it. It’s a success story that has repeated itself on multiple occasions (the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team is another great example).
The rise of Red Bull in the drinks market
Red Bull’s founder Dietrich Mateschitz has succeeded in making a popular drink out of caffeinated sugar water. Even those who don’t like it can do something with the logo and advertising slogan. “Red Bull gives you wings”: That sticks – whether you like it or not. Red Bull now sells almost six billion cans a year.
Strictly speaking, Red Bull is not a beverage company at all. The company has completely outsourced production and bottling – unlike the US company Coca-Cola, which still produces the cola powder itself. Red Bull, on the other hand, has its drinks produced entirely by the Austrian family company Rauch, which is known in the country for its Happy Day branded juices. The fact that Red Bull leaves the production of its main product to others says a lot about the company and its business model. The focus is not on the drink – but on the fuss that is made about it. Red Bull now employs more than 10,000 people worldwide: and almost all of them work in marketing and sales.
It’s all about the image
“Everything we do, we do for the value and image of the brand,” founder Mateschitz is said to have once said. Its success is so amazing precisely because it is not based on any great invention. Mateschitz didn’t develop any complicated machines and didn’t discover any new technology that changed the world. Instead, he “just” imported a drink from Asia, put a new name on it, and told a story around it.
Mateschitz did not invent the Red Bull drink himself either. In 1982 – at that time he was the marketing director of a toothpaste company – he discovered the sticky drink on a business trip in Asia. “Krating Daeng” is the name of the drink in Thailand. In English: Red Bull. Mateschitz then teamed up with the Yoovidhya family, which still sells the drink under its own brand in large parts of Asia. The Austrian used all of his savings to bring Red Bull to Europe. Many thought it was crazy, the term “energy drink” didn’t even exist in the 1980s. Critics, therefore, asked: who would buy sticky sugar water infused with caffeine and taurine?
But that is Mateschitz’s strength. He knew how to make this strange drink palatable to Europeans. His first commercial showed a red-faced bull with points flying off his tie for drinking Red Bull. Just two years later, in 1989, he began sponsoring athletes. Today, Red Bull has over 600 athletes under contract. In addition to Leipzig, Red Bull owns other football clubs in Salzburg, New York and Sao Paulo. Red Bull has taken over two Formula 1 racing teams (Red Bull Racing and Alpha Tauri Racing) and regularly finances extreme sporting events. Red Bull is the famous sponsor of Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the stratosphere to earth – millions watched, and it ended up being a huge marketing stunt for Red Bull. Mateschitz’s message is clear: Whoever drinks his drink should feel cool, courageous and awake.
How much does it cost to produce a Red Bull can?
With his marketing ploy, Dietrich Mateschitz not only managed to sell his sugar water successfully but also to sell it well above its value. Red Bull employees used to throw empty cans of Red Bull on club floors all across Europe, making club goers think that everyone is drinking Red Bull, thereby building the brand. This incredible marketing strategy is buoyed by the miniscule production cost. The production costs per can are less than 20 cents. Nevertheless, customers are willing to pay more than $1 for 250 ml. Such a high profit margin is unusual for any industry. At most, only fashion groups from the luxury segment can retain such a large share of sales.
What was Dietrich Mateschitz like?
Mateschitz was a billionaire for a long time. At the time of his death in 2022, his net worth was estimated to be $27.1 billion. Little is known about him. Mateschitz lived a secluded life and was sparse with private information. Which in itself was surprising. One would assume that behind Red Bull there was a flamboyant, outgoing man. Someone who liked to market themselves as well as their product. But far from it. As loud as Mateschitz trumpeted his brand message to the world, he revealed little about himself. In his hometown of Sankt Marein in Styria, an attempt was said to have been made to make him an honorary citizen – but Mateschitz refused. He allegedly banned people who knew him from the past from speaking. He was controlled, careful, and distrusted by many. Banks for example. Except for a building loan, he is said to have never taken out a loan for his company. He invested what he earns. Nothing more.
Red Bull also owns a media company
What Mateschitz has created is all the more astonishing. Almost 70 subsidiaries now belong to his empire. For example, he also built up a media group: it owned magazine publishers, a television station and a book publisher. Red Bull also spreads its message through these media – mostly uncritically, of course. For example, if an RB footballer is fouled, the Red Bull TV moderator should not be allowed to ask about it.
But as uncanny as its success is, there are increasing signs that it is quite finite. Because even if the sales figures are increasing worldwide, the problems are piling up. The World Health Organization WHO, for example, warns against consuming Red Bull. Doctors believe that if you drink too much of it, you could have cardiac arrhythmias or seizures. In Latvia and Lithuania, Red Bull can therefore no longer be sold to minors. In addition, the competition is growing. In particular, the US group Monster Beverage is lured away from Red Bull with its drink of the same name.
Founder Mateschitz was probably never afraid of that, and his followers are expected to be similar. When extreme ski jumper Shane McConkey died while filming for Red Bull in 2009, the company released the film anyway. With the subtitle: “You only have one life. Live it.”